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Chalk Talk

Will Ball challenge for a starting job?

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Wondering about a player, a past game or another issue involving the Bears? Senior writer Larry Mayer answers a variety of email questions from fans on ChicagoBears.com.

What role do you think Alan Ball will play with the Bears this season and do you see him starting?

Brian L.
Homewood, Illinois

As Bears coach John Fox has said on multiple occasions this offseason, it's difficult to speculate about players' roles until the team gets onto the practice field. With that being said, I think that cornerback Alan Ball was an excellent addition at a position that is continually growing in importance given the proliferation of the passing game in the NFL. Personally, I feel that Ball will challenge Tim Jennings for a starting job. Ball started the past two years for the Jaguars before suffering a season-ending biceps injury midway through last season. At the recent NFL owners meetings, Fox made it clear that he's expecting Jennings to perform better than he did last season. When asked whether Jennings fits better outside at corner or inside at nickel back, Fox said: "I think Tim will tell you the same thing, I don't think he had one of his better years a year ago, No. 1. I think he can play outside and play inside as far as experience. I think our biggest thing is to get him to perform better than he did a year ago."

With the NFL passing a rule to allow linebackers to now wear uniform numbers in the 40s, do you think the Bears will retire Brian Urlacher's number?

Evan B.
Oceanside, California

When the Bears retired Mike Ditka's number last season, they indicated that "Da Coach" would be the last player to be honored in that fashion. That hasn't changed, even with the new rule permitting linebackers to wear numbers in the 40s. When Bears chairman George H. McCaskey was asked the question you posed, he said: "We're going to keep it the way it is for now. [The new rule] helps a little bit because we have a lot of linebacker numbers retired. [Mike] Singletary is another person that would be worthy of consideration if we could do it. What I'd like to see down the road is more flexibility in assigning numbers. Right now it's very strict; this position can only have this range of numbers. In college there are duplicate numbers and they've got d-linemen wearing single-digit numbers. But no other team is in as difficult a spot as we are, so there's really not a lot we can do." In the NFL, linebackers are now required to wear numbers that range from 40-59 and 90-99. The Bears have retired 14 numbers, the most in the NFL. That includes three numbers in the 40s: Gale Sayers (40), Brian Piccolo (41) and Sid Luckman (42), and two in the 50s: Dick Butkus (51) and Bill Hewitt (56).

Are the Bears the only team that's been in the NFL since the league was founded?

Clint K.
Oak Forest, Illinois

The Bears and the Cardinals are the NFL's two charter franchises. Both were among 11 teams that formed the American Professional Football Association during a meeting at Hay's Hupmobile Agency in Canton, Ohio, on Sept. 17, 1920. The APFA was renamed the National Football League in 1922. The Bears were known as the Decatur Staleys in 1920 and the Chicago Staleys in 1921. The Cardinals were originally known as the Racine Cardinals—named for the Chicago street, not the Wisconsin town. They later became the Chicago Cardinals before moving to St. Louis and later Arizona

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