Today, ESPN Monday Night Football play-by-play announcer Mike Tirico, analyst Jon Gruden and sideline reporter Lisa Salters participated in a media conference call to discuss the 2012 NFL season. They were joined by MNF producer Jay Rothman. A full audio replay is available at ESPN MediaZone. The transcript is as follows:
MIKE TIRICO: Good morning, everybody. Love getting back with our team. It’s tremendous to have Lisa with us, worked with Lisa at the NBA over the years. She’s a great friend, terrific at what she does and we are excited to have her. Working with Jon is a treat and will continue to be such. Our team is very cognizant of the history of Monday Night Football. There’s nothing that’s had a run like this on the history of American sports television and it has been a great six‑year experience so far. Look forward to many more with Jon, Jay, our producer, and all of the talented folks.
Our schedule is much better and I think the games will be better, including the Bears. The Bears are a team I think will have a great year and we see them three times, all against marquee opponents. The Texans, my choice in the AFC, we see them a couple of times against the Jets and Patriots. I’m excited about the schedule, people we are with and look forward to kicking it off here in a week and a half.
JON GRUDEN: Very excited about the upcoming season and doubly excited about the team I’m on with Mike and Lisa, Chip Dean, Jay Rothman and the team of experts, it’s truly the best and it’s a lot of fun and hopefully we can bring a lot of quality, hard‑fought type football games to our fans. We are really excited about it.
LISA SALTERS: Obviously I am just honored, humbled, thrilled to be a part of the team. Like Mike said, I’ve worked with Mike for a few years now, so I feel really comfortable with him and he’s always been a great friend and a great leader, whether it be the NBA or the NFL.
Jon Gruden, the passion that he brings, every day, not just on game day, you learn so much. He’s like Hubie Brown, except for the NFL. Just so smart and so talented. It’s a great team with Chip and Jay and all the other folks behind the scenes. It’s a great team and just in the couple of weeks that we have been doing the preseason, I’ve just been honored to be a part of it and to see what a family it really is. Nobody is above anybody else and everybody helps each other out. I think it’s going to be a great season and I’m looking forward to it.
Q. Your feelings about opening with the Ravens, and what they bring to a telecast, either in the style of play they have or the reputation they have. Can you talk about the Ravens a little bit as a primetime TV team?
MIKE TIRICO: I think they are outstanding for the main two reasons; the guys who will someday be in Canton, Ray Lewis and Ed Reed. It’s very rare that defensive players become the face of the franchise for multiple years in this era of the NFL, and they have certainly done that. And it’s rare that defensive players bring people to the TV. When you promote a game, usually you’re promoting the quarterback or the wide receiver.
With the Ravens, you promote their defense, and in the team sports that I’ve been lucky to be around, the college level and the NBA for last 10 years and now the NFL, It’s hard to find an individual whose personality imprint has become the calling card of the team like Ray Lewis has with the Baltimore Ravens. So from that standpoint, they have become a very interesting team. I think they are appealing for many reasons. Is there enough offense? (Joe) Flacco and (Ray) Rice keep getting better. The atmosphere is always good there.
I know visiting with the owner Steve Bisciotti at the owners’ meetings the last couple of years, there’s been a great desire to have Monday Night Football back and we are looking forward to starting the season with what’s going to be a great division game and that Baltimore atmosphere. I think to this point with the Ravens, they are a dropped pass from the Super Bowl last year and most of the key people are coming back, so we are starting right out of the gate with a team that is Super Bowl or else this year and I think that will just add to the experience.
JAY ROTHMAN: The only thing I would add, from the stadium perspective, it’s a great stadium for television for night games there.
Lastly, I would say in an AFC North battle, they are always great and hard‑fought games and they always mean a ton. They are a treat to cover. We are pretty fired up to be opening up there.
(after follow up question…)
The crowd is colorful. The camera positions in terms of the angles we get are great. Our overhead, SpiderCam system just gives us really great shots because the crowd is close to the field; and it’s intimate, colorful. And the huge HD screens are a lot of fun to play with and fire up the crowd and they are very visual for television. We love being there. It’s a great place to be. And they love having us, so that’s just as nice.
Q. Jon, as you know, 10 teams are going with a starting quarterback with one season or less experience. Nobody has spent this time of young quarterbacks than you or Jay. I wonder what the factors are that go into that acceleration of getting guys on the field right away and are we going to see those days of Rivers and Brees and Rodgers, holding the clipboard for a season or two? Are we going to see those days again or is it just getting on the field as fast as you can?
JON GRUDEN: It’s no coincidence that Jay and I’s QB camp helped these young guys get ready. We probably deserve as much credit as anybody already. (Laughter).
I think if you look back at the Drafts, there may have been a period of a couple years there where the quality of quarterbacks and the quantity of quarterbacks maybe wasn’t as good. Maybe there were a couple down years, and those are cycles sometimes.
Sometimes you have a year where four or five outstanding young players come in together and sometimes you go through it for years before you get a dominant player behind the center. College football is changing, dramatically. There’s a lot of no‑huddle offenses. There’s a lot of check‑with‑me‑at‑the‑line‑of‑
Coaches are demanding more and more from these quarterbacks at a high tempo. They are coming into the league, much more accomplished in terms of throwing the football, recognizing defenses, and with this 20‑hour‑a‑week schedule in college football, the quarterbacks have taken charge of their football teams in the off‑season. They are running workouts. They are running passing academies on their own, so they are becoming dynamic readers. I think it’s really enhanced the play at quarterback, just the style of college football.
I really think when you meet Cam Newton, when you stand next to some of these physical prospects, they are so big now, they are bigger than ever, guys like Ryan Mallett, they are 6‑5, 6‑6, they are taller, stronger, faster than they have been and again a lot of that is because of the style of offense that’s being run in college football where the quarterback is a runner, as well as a passer. It is, to me, one of the most astounding statistics that I’ve seen in football in the last 25 years is the amount of young quarterbacks that are now playing early, but playing well.
Q. Just from the outside looking in on what your brother, as a rookie coordinator was able to do with a rookie quarterback last season so effectively, what most impressed you about what Jay did there?
JON GRUDEN: I think Jay (Gruden) became a fabric of the team first of all. They played good defense. They played to win games; not accumulate statistics. He did a good job I think of featuring A.J. Green, getting him in some positions where he could play the ball and get some one‑on‑one opportunities. (Jermaine) Grisham became more and more involved. They have some young, dynamic players. But I think he became a fabric of the team and he fit right in with the offensive staff. He didn’t come in with a new staff; he came in with a lot of coaches that had already been there. And I think the Cincinnati Bengals football team deserves a lot of credit. But Jay is good with people, he’s certainly good with quarterbacks, and I really think he’s going to be an outstanding coach for years to come.
Q. What’s a realistic expectation for Peyton Manning this year?
JON GRUDEN: I think the realistic expectation is for Peyton Manning to be a big factor in the Broncos winning the AFC West and having a double‑digit win season, because that’s all he’s done for the last 10 or 12 years as a starting quarterback.
But as I look at it, I hate to be a devil’s advocate, I think the schedule is tough. The battery of Tom Moore, Jeff Saturday, Howard Mudd, the men that trained him and helped develop him and put that offense in for him are no longer with him. I think he’s doing a lot of things on his own from installing the offense to calling the offense to executing the offense. He’s going to have to do it with a very short period of time and a lot of young players around him.
So I think it’s going to be a little bit more of a struggle than people remember. But I do think physically he’s back, he’s quick, he looks natural to me behind the center. I think a realistic expectation is 8‑8 if you ask me.
Q. Talk about how the dynamics of a two‑person booth is going to affect the broadcast; why you decided to go to two and how it will change things compared to the last few years.
JAY ROTHMAN: Well, the only thing I would say about that is Jon is a unique talent and has a lot to offer. I think it’s very difficult and you’ll see there’s really no three‑man booth out there in terms of football coverage, really in NFL or college football.
It’s very difficult in a game with a play clock and the short window in which you dissect the game and analyze the game, that sort of thing. It’s cluttered. That’s why you don’t really see it.
I think this allows for more space and it allows for us to be more precise and on point. It allows us to showcase Jon and Mike’s talents, and we think it’s the right move.
MIKE TIRICO: I would say the difference, simply, having more of a conversation with one person, as opposed to spreading it out back and forth. That’s where the dynamic of the broadcast changes. People were under the false impression that a three‑man booth led to more chatter. Like any other broadcast ‑‑ there are no plays that go by with complete silence so, there’s just as much real estate.
We’ll be able to take a conversation and develop it and follow‑up on things. I’ll give you a great example, there was a screen pass in the game that we had in the preseason and Jon talked about the perfect phasing of the offensive line. And I know that term only because I’ve been around Jon for last four years and he’s taught us that. I was able to follow up with him on the next play, as opposed to going somewhere else.
So I think we’ll be able to do more of that. Just the nature of ‑‑ a conversation with two people who like each other, love football, and are prepared for the entirety of what’s in front of us that week with the two teams. I think you’ll get more of that in the broadcast with two, as opposed to three.
Q. Are you surprised Jon is still with you after four years later; that Jon is not coaching? And same thing for Jon.
MIKE TIRICO: I think that after all the stories I read that Jon was not going to be back after year one, here is what I’ve learned over time. The more energy you spend predicting the future is wasted energy. You have no idea what’s going to transpire and what’s going to go on.
The unfortunate thing with a three‑man booth because I know that if at some point, Jon leaves, it’s because he gets sick of me.
But hopefully Jon enjoys what he’s doing ‑‑ and he can speak for himself, he’s a big boy. But we love having him and every day, whether it’s for the next 20 years or the next 20 months, every day that I get to work with Jon has made me a better broadcaster and I look forward to it and I hope the run doesn’t end, I really don’t.
JON GRUDEN: When I got fired from coaching, obviously I had a tremendous loss. I didn’t know what to do. I’m grateful to have the opportunity to be on Monday Night Football and be on with Mike Tirico and have a chance to work with Ron Jaworski at ESPN that have helped train me, and I know that I have to get better.
But when you work at ESPN, they call it “the worldwide leader” for a reason; if you can see the tape that they send me to watch, that’s what has really quenched my thirst for coaching. I get plenty of video to evaluate. I get to go to different teams and spend days there and watch them practice and see their facilities, meet their players and coaches.
So it’s really been a tremendous growing opportunity for me professionally, trying something new, and also staying on top of what’s going on in football. I’ve really enjoyed it.
Q. With the concussion lawsuits and Bountygate, is the game becoming more violent?
JON GRUDEN: Obviously it’s an area of concern and player safety is paramount right now. Not only on the field but the treatment of concussions immediately following a direct hit. Very hard to evaluate.
My brother is a doctor. I know a lot of people that I’ve visited over the years, team doctors have tried to do some research to try to determine what is and what isn’t a concussion.
It’s a very, very difficult assignment, I think, but the league is on the right track, I believe, to try to minimize the high impact collisions and educate and get tolerance from the players to follow through the best they can accordingly. Some of the rules have been changed, for instance, kicking the ball off, where there’s a lot more touch backs that minimized concussions. That’s been well documented. I don’t believe the game is getting more and more violent. I just think awareness of injuries like concussions that can have permanent damage, is well scrutinized right now and for good reason.
Q. What most impressed you about (Ryan) Tannehill? Was there any concern you had about the body of work with 19 starts? And do you think appearing on Hard Knocks for HBO was counterproductive to teams and their success?
JON GRUDEN: Tannehill really impressed me because he’s such a great athlete. Not only did he play wide receiver, he broke freshmen receiving records at Texas A&M. I think people need to understand what kind of athlete Ryan Tannehill is and what he brings to the quarterback position.
Secondly, he played in an NFL system under Mike Sherman, plenty of opportunities to read NFL progressions, understand different protections. So he was really further along than a lot of kids that came through the QB camp school and with that I think he’s on the fast track with Mike Sherman and Miami.
Yes, the body of work did concern me. You would like to see a three‑year starter for sure. You would also like to see a quarterback that finished games better. You would like to see a quarterback dominate the third and fourth quarters.
I thought Texas A&M, Ryan Tannehill, they dropped plenty of passes, but I would like to see more dominant, consistent play down the stretch at some games. The Arkansas game sticks out to me. I think they had opportunities to finish some off in the second half and they didn’t quite do that. That’s a big concern I had with Tannehill.
Q. And being on Hard Knocks, is it a bad idea for a team?
JON GRUDEN: It all depends on who you talk to. We were offered opportunities to be on that show when I was a coach.
I have always been old school. I believe what happens in the locker room stays in the locker room. Personnel conversations, what goes on in the practice field, it’s nobody’s business. That’s just the world I come from. Hard Knocks is a great show, it’s tremendously entertaining. But it’s not for me.
Q. Coach, could you also talk about the development of the young receivers and how that process speeds up now also? It seems to be the three‑year developmental rule with guys like Julio (Jones) and A.J. Green?
JON GRUDEN: Great receivers don’t have a problem developing. … They don’t struggle in their development quite as much as some of the others for obvious reasons.
But with the passing game being accentuated the way it is now, receivers are coming into the league just much more accomplished. They know how routes adjust against a hard corner force. They know how to adjust against bump and run. They have a pretty good understanding of how patterns work against man‑to‑man and zone coverages. They have lined up in a lot of formations now in college football.
Heck, I used to look at college film and a certain receiver might line up in two or three different formations the whole season. Now when I watch college football, they are in no-back sets, unbalanced sets, two-back sets, one-back set; they are all over the place.
So they are quickly, I think, able to digest complexity in terms of formations, shifts, motions, route adjustments and it allows them to showcase their stuff faster. And they all develop faster when they are with a great quarterback and I think when you look at Julio Jones, obviously A.J. Green, they are with young quarterbacks that are very skilled in their own way.
Q. With Andy Dalton and A.J. Green, how much are the sophomore slumps kind of interpreted different this year based on the lockout last year? And what do you expect with them? And also with the Bengals signing Jeff Faine yesterday, how much will just having his offense help ease him into what he has to do here?
JON GRUDEN: I think you make a good point. I don’t think it’s just a sophomore slump. I think sustaining success in the NFL, period, no matter who you are, is a very difficult thing. The great ones do it. The good ones might have a year or two back‑to‑back. And there’s a lot of people that never achieve what some of these players have done.
But I don’t foresee a sophomore slump for Dalton and A.J. Green from a work ethic standpoint. They are going to see a different schedule. They are going to have different teammates, and you know, sometimes change has a lot to do with production tapering off. So you just have to keep an eye on that.
But Jeff Faine is a great luxury for the Bengals to have access to, given their situation. I mean, when you lose your starting left guard in the first preseason game and you lose your starting center in the third preseason game, that is doomsday for a lot of teams.
Fortunately they had a draft choice in the wings to play left guard; to get a guy like Jeff Faine who has started, been productive, is healthy, and has a pretty good understanding of those offensive line terms and calls, I think it’s a good sign for the Bengals in a tough situation.
Q. I wanted to ask you about Russell Wilson, you had some positive things to say during your QB Camp show about him and during the Draft. I wanted to ask you about your level of surprise that he was named the starter in Seattle.
JON GRUDEN: I think the surprising thing that goes along with Russell Wilson being a starter, is they went out and gave Matt Flynn a big contract, where some people probably felt Flynn was the guaranteed starter, given the money he was given. But if you look at the body of work, what Russell Wilson did in college, and what Matt Flynn did in college; it’s to me not even close.
I haven’t met anybody who has been a team captain at quarterback on two major college teams in back‑to‑back seasons and taken their teams to Bowl games. When Russell Wilson walks in the room, you feel his presence. He has an incredible vibe about him that’s outstanding for an offensive football team and a team. And I think he can play it.
The only downside to this kid is he’s just not tall in some people’s eyes, and I’m just happy that he’s proved the critics wrong so far and I’m pulling for him. I really like this guy.
Q. The Niners and their pursuit of more offense, making changes in the offseason … what kind of impact do you see Randy Moss having?
JON GRUDEN: I think it’s one of the great unknowns. I always took pride as a coach, having learned from Bill Walsh, that if a player has played great before, there’s a chance he can play great again. And I remember the old 49er teams when we were out there, they brought in numerous players, Matt Millen, you can go on and on, the number of players, Hacksaw Reynolds, Fred Dean, guys that came in at the end of their career and had a major stake in the 49ers turning it around.
All depends where Randy is, physically, mentally, emotionally. If he has 90 percent of what he once had, he’ll help anybody. But that’s the great unknown. It will be interesting to see.
Q. What do you remember from the week with the replacement refs in 1991, was there a big difference? How big an issue do you think this is going to be?
JON GRUDEN: I do remember that game. It was in Kansas City. I remember, I believe ‑‑ I didn’t recognize any of the people. I didn’t know any of the faces. That was a little strange for me. Normally you know the core of NFL officials on a first‑name basis. Obviously when penalties go against you, you have a tendency to think that maybe they missed the call because they are not experienced; maybe that was the childness that I had in my mind at the time. You know what, looking back on that, I really think they did a great job in an adverse situation. I think these replacement referees have done a great job in a tough situation.
And remember, you know, they didn’t go to the SEC or the Big Ten or the Big East or the Big 12 to get their referees. They are still working for their conferences. A lot of these referees and crews have been put together from the smaller college ranks. They have never met each other. They have never worked a game together, and I think it’s a really great accomplishment for the way that they have maintained order and gotten better on a weekly basis. But I still think it’s going to be a challenge. And looking back on the replacement refs, you all remember the one that asked for Jerry Rice’s autograph, that was a funny story that went around the league for a while. I think these guys have been great in the preseason and are doing the best they can in a tough situation.
Q. Can you talk about what SpiderCam is going to add to the telecast this year and also any production enhancements, cool, fun production toys that you have added to Monday Night Football this year?
MIKE TIRICO: I just know from an angle standpoint, it’s a little more nimble and you’ll see some neat shots similar to what we use at US Open tennis. I know, Jon, from the defense’s perspective, or the offensive’s perspective looking at the defense, loves the angles you get off that camera and I think we are going to be able to see more things this year with SpiderCam than we did with our other aerial camera from the year before.
JON GRUDEN: I’d just like to say, with SpiderCam, I’m addicted to it. I think it’s the best view of a football game I’ve ever seen. And when we didn’t have it for the first two preseason games, I couldn’t even walk straight, I was so disappointed. It’s such a great teacher. I take some of this film, I’m not kidding you, around the country to different colleges studying film. The players love it. The coaches love it. I know the fans love it, and I certainly love it as well. We are also I know going to have an end zone camera put up in the goal post again. I think they are calling it post‑cam. Certainly when we get into a goal line situation or if the offense is backed up on their own one‑foot line, we’ll be able to get some great views of the center-quarterback exchange, guys like Haloti Ngata, some of the dominant players that play inside in key situations. So we are excited about those two cameras.
MIKE TIRICO: We adjusted and moved cameras around to get a look at the defenses, as well, a little bit better. And for Jon being such an offensive‑minded coach and such a great play caller, he’s really just brought so much of an awareness with our group to the defense. I feel like we are going to do a better job covering what the defense does this year in terms of how we deploy our cameras in these stadiums.
One other thing, we were talking about the officials before and all the issues. We are really excited that we had in preseason, Gerry Austin in the booth with us; that Gerry will be the best resource possible in the game broadcast, to tell you what’s going on with the referee. Gerry, as Jon Gruden likes to say, wore the white hat ‑‑ he was the referee in two Super Bowls. To bring that experience to the viewers will be invaluable. He’s been under the hood looking at the replays. He has dealt with every rules situation. He’s a supervisor of officials for Conference USA, still.
So Gerry has that eye to be able to understand that the officials do the right thing or the wrong thing. It has frustrated Jon over time, the amount of time we’ve spent talking about rules and I’ve come around to agree with Jon. It’s a drag on the momentum of the game; but to have as great an expert as Gerry Austin with his on‑field experience to pop in when something happens to explain, clearly, concisely what is going on, is a great addition to our Monday Night season.
Q. What are the transitional issues for pass rushers making it in the NFL? Why do some of them struggle?
JON GRUDEN: A lot of college players, if you really study the game, some of them carefully, they never really get a chance to unleash the pass rush. There’s a lot of third down and eights and nines where you’re seeing a standard drop back attack. You are seeing spread offenses. You are seeing options from third down and seven.
So a lot of defensive linemen, they have multiple assignments with defending the option, their different assignments, the hash marks are different. They have field blitzes and boundary blitzes, and the amount of time where they can become specialized rushers is minimized with the 20‑hour a week schedule and the kind of games they played. You might play against a wishbone one week, and you might play against a no‑huddle spread attack the next and you really don’t get a lot of time and individual work to really polish your pass rush. So I think those are a couple reasons why some men might struggle initially. When you come to the NFL, if you watch the great rushers, they play right end, they play left end and they stand in multiple stances.
Q. Who are the pass rushers?
JON GRUDEN: Well, I love Melvin Ingram at South Carolina because he did it from a lot of different alignments. He rushed over the center. He rushed over the guard. He rushed it right end and left end, and I think that’s going to really help him well. We like Courtney Upshaw at Alabama, because he played in the 4‑3. He played in the 3‑4. He played defensive end in the nickel. Those were two of the guys that we really liked coming into this draft.
Q. Regarding the influx of young quarterbacks and using them right away; if this is a trend and anomaly, does that mean that the quarterbacks ‑‑ if the quarterback is drafted high or is a young quarterback starting – will they get less of an opportunity to show if they can’t prove themselves right away? Will you see quarterbacks getting a quicker hook because the next wave of kids are coming in?
JON GRUDEN: I don’t think you can ever count on taking a quarterback in the first round and having a quick hook with them a year or two later in his development. Now the Cleveland Browns took Colt McCoy and a couple years later drafted Brandon Weeden. Carolina took Jimmy Clausen and the next year they took Cam Newton.
Here is what I know about this position: You’d better have a quarterback, and you’d better have a good one, or you’re not going to be in this business very long. And with the new contracts that are given to rookies, you’re not having to give the $50 million deals that (Sam) Bradford, JaMarcus Russell got. So, yes, you’re going to see, I think, two years and if the quarterback doesn’t show significant progress, you’re going to see change at that position, or change at the coaching position. That’s just how this league has worked in the last decade, at least.
Q. In a follow‑up to that, your impressions of Brandon Weeden, what kind of success can he have with a team that’s already banged up a little bit?
JON GRUDEN: Well, we like Brandon Weeden, his arm strength and his poise and his ability to learn and adapt. Those were the strengths that he had at Oklahoma State in our opinion.
I think if you watch the Green Bay Packer film, you’re going to see that he stood in the pocket and made some great throws with defenders beating around him and that impressed me a lot. You’re going to see a very difficult throw I think on the first play of the game the other night on left sideline of the Browns, to a rookie receiver, that’s impressive. He can make the difficult throws.
Now the question is, is Richardson going to be back? Are they going to be able to pound the football, get into some second and mediums, some third down and shorts, and which receiver or receivers are going to really explode on to the scene for Cleveland this year? Is it Little? Is it the supplemental pick from Baylor? Every quarterback needs a running game and talent at the receiver position around him. But I like Weeden; I think he’s going to be a good one.
Q. If you had to give RG3 some advice what would that be going into his rookie season?
JON GRUDEN: Just try to show steady improvement. Don’t try to play outside yourself. Try to learn this offense. Trust Mike Shanahan. Trust this system; it’s a proven system that works. Take care of yourself. Just be careful when you’re scrambling. You’re going to create a lot of plays with your legs, but try to learn a little bit from Michael Vick. You don’t want to take too many hits unnecessarily. You want to be on the practice field on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. That’s key for his development: So trust Mike Shanahan, lead the team in effort; be there early, be there late, set a tone and just trust your God‑given ability, because you’ve got a lot of it.
Q. Have you seen coordinators in the NFL be more willing to adapt their philosophies to these young quarterbacks? And what have you seen with RG3 this summer?
JON GRUDEN: I haven’t seen a lot of RG3 unfortunately. I watched the game last night and I was waiting to see him come in and they never put him in the game. I was disappointed. Haven’t played extensively and I really know for a fact that Washington has not shown all of the things that they are going to do with Robert Griffin.
But I think you make a great point. Your whole offense has to be set up to make the quarterback successful. It doesn’t matter what you know or what your assistants know. You have to do what the quarterback likes and what he does well and you have to really accentuate those things.
If you look at what they did, Carolina, the elements of the spread offense, the options with Cam Newton were just very difficult on defenses. I think you’re going to see with the job that (Mike) McCoy did in Denver with Tim Tebow, just a phenomenal job of adapting to your quarterback.
So I think you’re going to see elements of what Robert Griffin did at Baylor ‑‑ I’m saying elements. You’re going to see an occasional read option. You’re going to see an occasional designed quarterback run because this kid is special with the ball in his hands, as well as throwing it.
Q. What’s reasonable expectation for the Bears and how do you see the NFL North shaking out this year?
JON GRUDEN: I know they have upgraded their offense, they are going to be much improved there, I believe. But the heart and soul of the Chicago Bears is Brian Urlacher. I look at the Baltimore Ravens with Ray Lewis in a similar light – tempo‑setter, just the leader behind the scenes and on the scenes in Chicago, is Brian Urlacher. I think that’s the question; not only can he play, can he play at the level that he’s played for the last decade in the middle of that defense and on every single down.
What I do like in this offense, they are going to be much improved with the addition of the big back, (Michael) Bush, from the Raiders. They now have a 1‑2 combination. And Jay Cutler, healthy, in a system I think he enjoys, he likes, he’s excited about and they have surrounded him with some big, talented receivers. So I think the Bears are going to be a real threat to win the North and go deep in the playoffs provided Urlacher is healthy and they stay healthy as a team.
MIKE TIRICO: I second that. As I said earlier, that’s my NFC Super Bowl pick, not that anybody’s picks are right or followed as the season goes on. But Jon mentioned Cutler. Cutler doesn’t get hurt last year, this is a playoff team. The addition of Michael Bush is very significant for this team. Alshon Jeffrey along with (Brandon) Marshall can give them a really diverse look on the offensive side. They can put up some really good personnel groups.
Very excited that we are going to see the Bears three times in a couple of key games, playing the Niners and we are in Chicago to see them play the Lions. I think the games we happen to see Chicago in this year might be the games that determined if they can end up winning this division. And I think division win or not, I think this would be a team that if they can, as Jon said, keep Urlacher healthy, would be my pick to get to the Super Bowl.
Lisa Salters mentioned the profile story she has about Brandon Marshall on an upcoming ESPN E:60 show…
LISA SALTERS: Just that it’s going to be very interesting. I mean, Brandon, as you guys know, he’s gotten into some trouble over his career in the NFL. And he sat down with me, we just did the interview on Sunday, at least two hours, talking about all these different incidents. And the borderline personality disorder that he was diagnosed with a couple of years ago; why he chose to make that public; what he has tried to do with his life since, and I think it’s going to be a side of Brandon Marshall that few people have ever seen before.
FastScripts by ASAP Sports (please excuse any typos).