On the NFL
3:47 PM CDT, November 3, 2012
Early last offseason, Bears safeties coach Gill Byrd received a text.
"I feel this is going to be my year."
And then, "I need you to coach me and be there for me."
The sender was Major Wright. It was the first sign something would be different about Wright in 2012.
He had been working out in Miami with Lions safety Louis Delmas, former NFL defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth and Chargers wide receiver Richard Goodman. When he reported to Halas Hall for offseason work, he weighed 194 pounds, six lighter than his previous playing weight.
But that wasn't all that was different about Wright.
"He came back with a different mindset, to be the best he could possibly be and not leave anything out there," Byrd said. "He's doing more studying. Asking more questions. He is focusing more than he did three years ago or two years ago, and it's showing in his play."
After the Bears chose him in the third round of the 2010 draft, Wright's first two years in the NFL were a struggle. He was shuffled back and forth from free safety to strong. When he was made a starter last year, he performed unevenly and didn't stay healthy.
And then, in the offseason, the light bulb went on.
"I knew what type of player I can be," he said. "Those first two years, I wasn't playing like Major. Seeing that on film, I was like, I can't go through another season without giving this team all I've got."
On Sunday in Nashville, Tenn., the Titans are likely to see a confident, gifted young safety who is a force in the box and can make plays on the ball. His transformation from a player who appeared to lack instincts and awareness has been remarkable.
Byrd said Wright has been better at reading his keys, staying disciplined, adjusting on the run, communicating and knowing where he is supposed to be.
Wright feels faster at his new playing weight. It has helped that he has been able to concentrate on strong safety, which is what he was drafted to play.
"I know the formations, the offenses, the things they can do against our defense," Wright said. "I'm a little more aware. I know the defense, what I'm doing now, so they can do more with me. And they have been getting loose with the defense, doing more zone pressures, more (Cover-3), more things to try to confuse the offenses."
It wouldn't be possible for the Bears to do that if they didn't have confidence in him.
"Major has hit home now," Byrd said. "I'm proud of him."
Numbers games: Pro Bowl Streaks
Come January 27, Lance Briggs could have an exclusive streak.
As of now, the linebacker has played in seven straight Pro Bowls. That is the longest streak of any NFL defender.
The only active player in the league who has played in more consecutively is Chargers tight end Antonio Gates with eight. Given his performance so far this year, it is safe to say his streak might be in jeopardy, so Briggs could equal his accomplishment.
Briggs has a long way to go to catch the record holder, however. Defensive end Reggie White played in 13 straight.
Brigg's is tied for third best among all-time Bears. center Jay Hilgenberg also played in seven straight, as did defensive end Doug Atkins.
This season Briggs can tie Dick Butkus, who played in eight straight. Mike Singletary holds the team record with 10.
Brian Urlacher has been voted to eight Pro Bowls but his streak is only at three. Julius Peppers has been to seven, but his streak is only at four.
Front office chess: Peanut poker
With every award Charles Tillman earns and every big play he makes, he gives the Bears a more difficult decision.
Tillman has one year left on his contract after this season. He is scheduled to earn $8 million in 2013, which would make him the fourth highest-paid player on the team as of now.
When the Bears signed him to a six-year contract in 2007, they never intended to pay a 32-year-old cornerback in a zone scheme $8 million in the last year of his contract. The last season was added as an incentive either to restructure his deal or cut him.
But now Tillman is playing like an $8 million corner. Whether or not he can continue to play like that next year is the question general manager Phil Emery will have to ask himself.
Complicating matters is the Bears also might have to sign Jay Cutler to a massive extension, and the salary cap is expected to shrink by about $10 million.
Keeping Tillman's contract in place is one option. Restructuring and extending is another, but it likely would not be any more economical for the Bears. The third option would be cutting him.
With the way Tillman is playing now, cutting him doesn't seem like an attractive option.
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