Chicago Bears: Mailbag
Thanks everyone for participating. Let's get started:
@mikecwright: Just because I believe Christian Jones is the future at strongside linebacker for this team doesn't mean I think Shea McClellin doesn't belong on the team or the NFL. Jones is just better suited to play the position than McClellin. But I still think there is a place for McClellin on this team as a reserve and as a designated pass-rush specialist.
@mikecwright: They sure make it seem that way, don't they? I personally don't believe that Marquess Wilson is going to add significantly to the offense upon his return. I know Wilson and Jay Cutler developed a rapport during the offseason, but from what we've seen thus far, the quarterback rarely throws to anyone not named Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Martellus Bennett or Matt Forte. So I don't see Wilson making a huge impact once he's back out on the field. Also, I don't consider Wilson a player capable of taking the top off the coverage. I think he will fare well in the slot, but he's not a speed-burner by any means. And I think when you have got a speed receiver in the slot, you force teams to play you more honestly. When Wilson returns, I anticipate teams continuing to devote the extra coverage on the outside to Jeffery and Marshall. Now if Cutler hits Wilson down the seam a few times when he comes back for big gains, it will make defenses respect the threat of a slot receiver.
@mikecwright: That is a great question that unfortunately I don't have a good answer for. Ted Phillips played a key role in the Bears hiring Phil Emery, and obviously, you know what the general manager did in terms of firing Lovie Smith and bringing in Marc Trestman. The thing about Chicago's ownership is the group doesn't meddle, which can be both a positive and a negative. I think the best course of action for ownership is to hire football people to run the football side of things. Obviously, you know that Phillips isn't a football person. I certainly think Phillips should be held just as accountable by ownership as he and George McCaskey hold Emery and Trestman.
@mikecwright: With the Bears being what I'd consider a mom-and-pops organization, I don't think ownership would be interested in eating another contract with Trestman the way they did when the club parted ways with Smith and Jerry Angelo prior to that. Besides that, I think you would have to consider what a new coach would mean for Cutler. Emery wanted to give Cutler stability with the coaching staff when he brought in Trestman. Now that the team has invested so much financially in Cutler, do you want that stability Emery has built around the quarterback to be disrupted? So if Jim Harbaugh does become available, I don't think the Bears will be interested unless ownership decides to get rid of Trestman. I seriously doubt Emery would want to fire Trestman regardless of what transpires over the last half of the season. Then again, ownership could take that decision out of Emery's hands. I don't see that happening.
@mikecwright: You're not going to like my answer here, and although I never played in the NFL, I did play from the age of 6 through four years of college. From my own playing experience, all the talk about leadership is way overblown. No player needs another player for motivation. At the NFL level, even on the college level, if a player isn't self-motivated, the truth is he shouldn't be on the team. He shouldn't be in the sport. Honestly, it used to irk me to have those teammates who used to yell all the time, give the rah-rah speeches, and scream out, "Let's go guys." That's all unneeded hot air. Leaders do their thing by example. In Brian Urlacher's case, he produced on the field, worked hard in practices and in the weight room, and the other players saw that and figured if they conducted themselves in a similar fashion, they would achieve success, too. That is leadership. So do I see a lack of leadership in the locker room? Not really. When a team is 3-5 like the Bears, "leadership" or lack of becomes one of those low-hanging fruit types of storylines. Leadership truly starts with the coach and his staff. If the coaching staff consistently puts players in the position to succeed, they gain the trust of the players, who will run through a brick wall for their coaches. Lovie Smith built that type of trust from players during his tenure in Chicago, which in turn led to the players self-policing in the locker room to make sure the team took the lead of its coach. That is not what's currently going on with the Bears. But it's not a locker room leadership thing. I think it's more an issue of the coach not getting through to the players..
Thanks to all who participated in today's edition.
@mikecwright: Spencer, it’s just my opinion. But if you really spend the time to watch all the team’s linebackers and how their individual skill sets relate to their specific position, I’d say that Christian Jones is probably the only true SAM linebacker on the roster. Once Jones becomes acclimated to the NFL through repetitions and gains a strong grasp of the system, I think he’ll move into the starting lineup and be there for several years to come. That’s how high my opinion of him is. Bears general manager Phil Emery always talks about the importance of a team keeping its picks, but Jones was an undrafted free agent. So basically, he’s a bonus. I honestly believe if the Bears swapped out Shea McClellin for Jones, the defense would eventually be better off.
@mikecwright: Let’s talk about Shea McClellin first. As the top pick of Emery’s first draft class as GM, McClellin enters the final year of his rookie contract in 2015, and he’s set to earn $775,600 in base salary that season in addition to a $771,227 roster bonus. McClellin’s cap figure will be $2.629 million in 2015. So it wouldn’t surprise me if the Bears find that cap figure to be a tad too high and make the necessary moves to alleviate the problem. As for Lance Briggs, I don’t see him coming back. When teams get to that negotiating table, they always try to find ways to devalue the player. Well, Briggs has now missed games in each of the last two seasons. So in addition to questions about age, the team will probably bring up durability concerns. Also, Briggs is currently receiving $4.75 million in base salary for 2014. I don’t see the Bears paying anywhere near that to bring Briggs back for 2015. As good as Briggs has been over the years, I don’t think he’s as beloved as Brian Urlacher. And you saw what happened to him.
@mikecwright: What’s that cliché about hindsight? It’s so easy to look at Bruce Arians' 6-1 record in Arizona and dream about what could have been. But I’m a firm believer of another cliché: It’s about the Jimmys and Joes, not Xs and Os. That’s not to say Arians isn’t a better coach than Marc Trestman. I really don’t know. But what I do know is it would be overly simplistic to try and compare what Arians and Trestman have done over their respective tenures because there are too many other dynamics at play. Obviously, the personnel in Arizona and Chicago are different and roster turnover rates at the respective franchises aren’t the same either. Also, you’ve got to remember that Arizona had been horrible for quite a while, meaning the Cardinals probably have more high picks than the Bears. That’s not even getting into the differences in the coaching staffs top to bottom. In my estimation, something as seemingly insignificant as a strength and conditioning staff could truly be a difference maker between what might be going on with one ballclub compared to the next. So while it would be easy for me to say the Bears would be better off with Arians, you could truly be able to say that only if he were placed in the exact same situation as Trestman and flourished.
@mikecwright: Ouch. I’d say it’s the responsibility of the franchise’s fans to hold ownership accountable. We all know the various methods of making such an endeavor reality, but I don’t want to put them into words here because I don’t want to condone such a thing.
@mikecwright: It would be an awesome story considering his father’s influence on the franchise in the past. But if Emery is responsible for the hiring, I don’t see it, because the GM doesn’t strike me as someone looking for such fiery personalities. Besides that, the Bears currently don’t have the personnel to play Ryan’s style of ball. Obviously, if Emery and the guys in personnel are committed to finding what Ryan would need, I could see it working out. But I don’t really see Ryan as a fit based on the feel I get for Emery and Trestman’s style, not to mention the Bears have invested heavily on the personnel side to grab players who fit in the team’s current scheme.
From here, we’ll get the takes of several Hall of Famers on a variety of current subjects concerning the NFL.
But for right now, let’s get to this week’s Twitter mailbag. Thanks, everyone, for participating.
Sorry for any inconvenience, but the plan is to continue running this feature on Saturdays throughout the offseason.
Let’s get started with this question about safeties Major Wright and Chris Conte:
Jay Cutler joins Waddle & Silvy to answer fans' questions on Alshon Jeffery, defeating a pass rush, and what happens when he hates one of Mike Tice's play calls.
Want to ask Jay a question next week? Ask it here.
Maybe there’s just nothing else left to discuss.
Either way, while perusing today’s mailbag, it was clear that most Bears fans have turned their attention to free agency, most notably receiver Plaxico Burress. So let’s get right to it.
A: I like your thinking here, Terry. I covered the AFC South for a few years and got a chance to watch Haynesworth play twice a year. When motivated, he’s a beast for sure. But let’s be realistic about this: The Redskins won’t release Haynesworth -- who signed a $100 million contract in 2009 -- anytime soon. The best chance for landing Haynesworth would come from a trade, but my guess is the price would be pretty steep. Besides that, it’s been reported that Haynesworth could miss some time at training camp because his misdemeanor sexual abuse trial is scheduled to start on Aug. 23. I’m not sure the Bears would want to deal with that type of distraction, and based on Haynesworth’s history, there could be more. Just last year, Haynesworth reportedly dealt with multiple lawsuits from an exotic dancer, a bank, and a man injured in a car accident, not to mention his numerous run-ins with Redskins officials. Redskins coach Mike Shanahan suspended Haynesworth for the last four games of last season for conduct detrimental to the team. So my gut tells me that although he’d be a nice addition, the Bears won’t try to trade for Haynesworth. Excuse the bad grammar here, but Lovie Smith don't do drama.
Q: Do you think the Bears will try and acquire another possession wide receiver? -- Ryan (Chicago)
A: Ryan, by “possession” receiver, I take that to mean a big target to complement the club’s current group of wideouts. I could see that happening. At the same time, it wouldn’t surprise me if the Bears didn’t do anything to address the position. Clearly, there’s a need for more weaponry in Jay Cutler’s arsenal. But the problem is the team has to find a player that fits the system of offensive coordinator Mike Martz. Countless times we’ve seen players dominate the league playing for one team, only to join another in free agency and produce mediocre performances. That player didn’t all of a sudden become an average Joe. He just didn’t fit as well with the new team. So that’s something the Bears will strongly consider when pondering whether to bring in new talent at the position. Bears coach Lovie Smith has indicated the team will look to add a veteran to the position somehow in free agency. But I’m not sure Smith is thinking along the lines of some of the big-name receivers currently on the market.
Q: I understand the experts saying that Plaxico Burress couldn’t fit in a Martz offense. But so what, and who cares? Plaxico is undeniably a good wide receiver. The Bears need him only to be that on third-and-long and short to draw attention away from Devin Hester, Johnny Knox, or Earl Bennett so that we can pick up a first down. I think Martz could fit him into the “system” with no problem, and he can once again become a threat. What do you think? -- El Capitan Beam (Chicago)
A: I like him only if the price is right. But even then, it might be more of a risk than I could stomach. I agree with you that Burress was a talented receiver when we last saw him on the field. Is he still that? I don’t know. Time off undoubtedly erodes talent. You said the Bears only need Burress to perform on third down, and I also agree with that thought. But Burress’ skill set, in my opinion, minimizes his viability in Martz’s scheme. Burress isn’t the explosive route runner that Martz covets, and he’s not a speedy deep threat, which I think limits him in terms of the routes the team would call for him. So if I’m a defensive player, and I see Burress lined up in the slot across from me, I’m thinking there are just a few routes he could run. That situation would lead to predictability on Chicago’s offense. So really, Burress wouldn’t necessarily be drawing any attention away from the other receivers, and that defeats the purpose in my opinion.
Q: Is there any chance the Bears will actually address the obvious needs of the team? If they don't know let me help them out. The Bears need a No. 1 receiver: Vincent Jackson and/or Santonio Holmes would be ideal. They don't want Braylon Edwards, but I would even take him over not signing anyone. They also need cornerback help. Can we please sign Nnamdi Ashomugha? We need him or someone like him to cover the Greg Jennings and Sidney Rices of the world. Antonio Cromartie would also be an improvement. There is no way anyone can tell me we don't need these players. So why not sign them? That's what legitimate franchises do. It’s about time the Bears started acting like one. -- Walter (Roanoke, Va.)
A: You said quite a bit there, Walter. To be succinct, the answer is yes. They’ll explore all the needs, and make acquisitions accordingly. Remember, this team made it to the NFC Championship game last season, and it’s clear the franchise doesn’t want to take a step back. In addition, the Bears have plenty of money to play with in free agency. General manager Jerry Angelo and Lovie Smith just need the green light from ownership to spend it, and I could definitely see that happening. What I don’t see is this team going after Nnamdi Ashomugha. He’ll likely sign a blockbuster deal. The Bears already have quite a bit invested on the defensive side of the ball, and I doubt they’d give another defensive player Julius Peppers type of money.
A: Is Santana Moss a big enough name for you? He’s not often mentioned with some of the other receivers out there. But Moss fits Martz’s scheme, is coming off a career season, and he won’t break the bank. At the end of the day, though, Eric, players win games, not names. I think sometimes we get too fixated on big names, when really it’s more about finding the right mix of players who fit what you’re trying to do offensively and defensively.
Q: With Earl Bennett and Matt Forte needing new contracts soon, Johnny Knox needing a new contract at the end of the 2012 season as well as a few players on defense, will the Bears be able to re-sign their young talent and hold onto players like Devin Hester and Chris Williams, who may be underachieving at their positions? -- Mills (Matteson, Ill.)
A: Theoretically, they could Mills. As it stands now, the Bears have less than $80 million committed to salaries for the 2011 season, and from everything I hear, the salary cap -- once there’s a new CBA -- would be in the neighborhood of $120 to $130 million. So I don’t really see money as being a huge issue. As far as underachieving goes, I disagree with you on Hester. As for Williams, yes he’s underperforming. But his base salaries for the next two seasons (nearly $1.1 million for 2011 and $1 million for 2012) aren’t prohibitive.
Q: Corey Wootton has better speed and quickness to get around the edge, but Israel Idonije put up career numbers last season. So who do you believe will earn the starting role opposite Peppers?
A: I’m putting my money on Idonije. After years of moonlighting at other positions, Idonije was finally given a chance to focus on one position and responded masterfully. Idonije tied for the team lead in sacks (eight), forced fumbles (three) and tied for second in quarterback pressures (nine), in addition to ranking second amongst the defensive line in tackles (46). With yet another year to focus on the intricacies of his position, Idonije will likely see even more improvement in his second year as the full-time starter. Wootton, meanwhile, is still very raw. One of the biggest knocks on Wootton is his tendency to play with his pad level too high. Well, that’s something preached at the earliest stages of football, and something Wootton still has to master before he can seriously challenge for the starting job. In addition to his speed and quickness, one thing Wootton has on his side is intensity. But he still has to harness the fundamentals before he can fully unleash it. A year in an official offseason program would have really helped Wootton.
A: No, so far Enderle has not participated in any of the offseason workouts led by Jay Cutler. My understanding is the Bears' fifth-round pick has been working out diligently in Idaho in preparation for the season. However Vince, you bring up a good point. It probably would be a good idea for Enderle to join the workouts, assuming the lockout remains in place for the immediate future which would make these unofficial offensive player gatherings still a necessity. Not only would it be a nice way for Enderle to meet his new teammates, like Fantuz did last week, but he could certainly pick up some things being around Cutler and Caleb Hanie in these practice-type settings. If the lockout continues to linger, I'd say there is a decent chance Enderle arrives in town and begins the process of developing chemistry with the Bears receivers and fellow quarterbacks.
JD, Andy Fantuz? Are you serious? Has the lockout caused you to go mad? Who cares about a CFL receiver who probably won't even make the team. Talk to me about Plaxico Burress or Chad Ochocinco, but not Andy Fantuz. What's wrong with you? -- Jack, Bridgeport, Ill.
A: Jack, what is there to talk about when it comes to veteran free agent wide receivers right now? The Bears can't sign anybody until there is labor peace -- which may be on the horizon -- so why not report on a player you are actually guaranteed to see in action at Bears camp. Nobody is saying that Fantuz is a slam dunk to make the roster or make an immediate impact in 2011, but you have to admit, he's an interesting player with a proven track record of success in the CFL. Now, the CFL is much different from the NFL, but the guy did rack up pretty big numbers the past five years in Canada. So at the very least, Fantuz has my attention.
At 6-foot-4, 220 pounds, he's got the size the Bears are looking for to complement smaller wideouts Hester and Knox. I like the fact Fantuz arrived in town last week to meet Cutler, Hanie and the rest of the wide receivers, and the reviews of his performance were fairly positive. Obviously, he's new to the offense and new to running these specific types of routes, but several players in attendance mentioned Fantuz's impressive size, athleticism and pass-catching ability.
There will be plenty of time to lust after big-name free agents the Bears probably won't sign. You'll get your fill of Burress, Ochocinco, Randy Moss, Santonio Holmes, etc. once the lockout ends. Fantuz isn't a big name, but he's a big receiver who's already under contract with the Bears. We'll see if he pans out, but one thing is for certain: He will definitely be a player to watch in training camp and the preseason.
A: Actually, I think Toeaina is a solid member of the Bears yet-to-be-fully-determined rotation at the defensive tackle spot. I've had more than one player tell me in the offseason that Toeaina's improved play was one reason the Bears removed Tommie Harris from the starting lineup for much of 2010. Toeaina signed a modest extension with the Bears prior to the end of last season, so he's clearly in their plans on the defensive line. I don't know if he'll ever reach the level of being considered an elite defensive tackle, but it won't be for a lack of effort. Toeaina has put in a ton of work in the offseason, and he will be physically ready when camp begins. If he stays healthy, I see no reason why he can't mirror or exceed his 2010 statistics of 33 tackles, two sacks and seven quarterback pressures.
Lifetime NIU Huskies fan who's worried about Garrett Wolfe. Will he play again in the NFL? Because right now, I'd say it's not looking good. -- Fred, Hickory Hills, Ill.
A: Fred, I would certainly hope a team signs Wolfe considering his value on special teams, but it's impossible to know for sure until the running back's legal issues are settled. It was obvious Wolfe wasn't in the Bears' plans moving forward when the team failed to issue him a restricted free agent tender before the lockout began, but I always assumed he would latch on to another organization once football related activities resumed. Right now, I guess we can call his football future cloudy at best.
But here is what I do know. We live in a society where people are guilty until proven innocent, not the other way around like it's supposed to be. Up to this point, we've only heard the Miami Beach police's account of what happened that night in the South Beach club. When the time is right, I'm fairly certain Wolfe will tell his side of the story, and then it will be up to each person or NFL team to decide what they believe to be the truth. So until I have all the facts, or at least both sides of the story, I can't say for sure which way it's going to break for Wolfe. But having covered Wolfe since 2007, and I think my colleagues on the Bears beat would agree, the type of behavior Wolfe is being accused of on the night in question is out of his character. That's why I feel strongly there is more to this story than any of us know. I could be wrong, but that's how I feel.
How much roster flexibility will Jerry Angelo have to go after free agents when that time arrives? -- Chase, Chicago
A: Plenty. Right now, the Bears have 47 veteran players under contract, five rookies who will receive contracts, and a handful of players given restricted free agent tenders (Danieal Manning, Corey Graham, Nick Roach, Kahlil Bell, Hanie, etc). So Angelo has plenty of room to re-sign his own veterans, add a few veterans via free agency and fill out the roster with undrafted rookie free agents.
But what would the defense gain from these workouts? Extra practice covering air? Urlacher (11), Lance Briggs (eight), Charles Tillman (eight) and Chris Harris (six) have a combined 33 years of NFL experience, most of that time spent playing in the Cover 2 defense. These guys haven't forgotten their drops, keys and reads since the lockout began. Plus, if you add defenders to these non-padded workouts, the risk of injuries on both sides of the football skyrockets. If the Bears are going to lose a starter to an injury, I'd much rather it happen during the actual season as opposed to some Tuesday in June on a local high school field without any trainers or support staff to help out in the event of an emergency. And why would any player in their right mind want to take that risk during the lockout?
What really matters is when the lockout ends, players report to work in good enough physical shape to begin football-related activities. Most Bears players have spent the bulk of the offseason staying in excellent condition, and while there could be a few guys who eventually show up to camp overweight or out of shape, that number is expected to be small. So take it easy, Jorge. A seven-on-seven passing drill at the end of May isn't going to help the Bears in September versus the Atlanta Falcons or New Orleans Saints.
Q: Guys, what are the Bears' top two areas of need in free agency? -- Buster, Chicago
A: In my mind, it always starts up front on the offensive and defensive lines. Even though the Bears drafted offensive tackle Gabe Carimi in the first round, and defensive tackle Stephen Paea in the second round, I think GM Jerry Angelo needs to take a hard look at offensive guard and defensive end in free agency. That's where I'd start because I don't view Chris Williams as a serviceable left guard. Maybe the Bears should let Williams and Carimi compete for a starting tackle job in the preseason (if there is a preseason) and let the best man win. I realize that's not ideal for the Bears, especially since Williams was the 14th overall pick in the 2008 NFL draft, but money and draft status shouldn't stand in the way of protecting the quarterback.
When it comes to harassing the opposing quarterback, the Bears still need help at defensive end to complement Julius Peppers, who faces at the minimum a double team on almost every snap. Not to take anything away from the season Israel Idonije had in 2010, but the Bears still need more sacks from the end spot opposite Peppers. Also, Idonije is only under contract through 2011.
Of course, the Bears could use depth at wide receiver, cornerback and linebacker, but I'd be OK if the Bears opened up the regular season with a starting lineup that included Devin Hester, Johnny Knox and a healthy Earl Bennett (something we did not see last year) at receiver, Nick Roach at strong side linebacker (if the Bears don't attempt to bring back Pisa Tinoisamoa) and Zack Bowman at cornerback.
Q: What happens to Frank Omiyale now that Carimi got drafted in the first round? Are they going to get rid of Omiyale for once and for all? Please, Bears nation is dying for some good news during this stupid lockout -- Brady, Winnetka, Ill.
A: Actually Brady, I believe the Bears should keep Omiyale on the 53-man roster as a backup swing tackle and guard. This might surprise people, but a lot of Bears players thought Omiyale did a decent job at left tackle last season, even though his sacks allowed numbers tell a different story. Unfortunately for Omiyale, those somewhat positive reviews didn't extend upstairs to the coaching staff, so I imagine his days in the starting lineup are over, barring an injury to J'Marcus Webb or Carimi.
But there is great value to having a backup with 31 career starts (including playoffs) at left tackle, right tackle and left guard. Maybe things would have turned out differently if the Bears hadn't signed Orlando Pace in 2009 and allowed Omiyale to play offensive tackle, the position he was brought to Chicago to play. Instead, Omiyale was moved inside and struggled badly at left guard before being bounced back outside the following season. I'm not asking anybody to feel bad for Omiyale -- he did get paid a nice chunk of change to sign a four-year contract with the Bears -- but in my opinion, he's been the scapegoat for a lot of the team's problems on the offensive line the past two years. Omiyale is a serviceable player, certainly a better tackle than people give him credit for being, and somebody the Bears would be wise to keep around for another season.
A: Once business resumes in the NFL, I expect the Bears will try to hammer out a deal with Forte either before the season or early in the regular season. Once Forte is locked up to a lucrative deal, the Bears will probably turn their attention to tight end Greg Olsen. I view Forte and Olsen as the must-deals for the Bears during the actual season, but I'd also keep a close eye on Earl Bennett, Chris Harris and Bowman, who like Forte and Olsen, are entering the final year of their respective contracts.
Bennett and Harris certainly seem like strong candidates for extensions at some point, but Bowman's situation is completely up in the air. If he returns to the starting lineup and begins to make plays a la 2009 (a team-high six interceptions) the Bears might be interested in getting something done. But that all hinges on Bowman's performance on the field and ability to stay healthy. Tight end Kellen Davis and veteran guard Roberto Garza are also in the final season of their deals with the Bears.
Johnny Knox is signed through 2012, but could be in-line for a new deal at some point if he keeps producing.
Q: This probably sounds like a silly question in light of all the hardcore NFL news right now, but what are coaches doing during the lockout? -- Ted, Paxton, Ill.
A: Ted, the only silly questions are from middle-aged men who volunteer to be tackling dummies for Urlacher. This is a good question, but the answer is kind of boring. Coaches, at least the Bears coaches, have been going to work during normal weekday work hours. Most just go through their playbooks, change a few things and wait for the lockout to end. Most coaches plan their vacations around the time OTAs end (the Bears last OTA is tentatively set for June 23) and training camp begins (report date is scheduled for July 22), but if the NFL doors are forced back open by the court system in early July, there will be no vacations for coaches in 2011. That stinks for them, but I'm sure most would welcome the return of football activities regardless of the personal inconveniences.
Submit your questions for the next Bears mailbag.
A: Should you be nervous about the lack of organized Bears workouts? No. Almost every single player on the roster has been training for the upcoming season since March. Running back Matt Forte and tight end Greg Olsen have been working out together back in Chicago for weeks. Other players like center Olin Kreutz, guard Roberto Garza, linebacker Nick Roach, defensive tackles Matt Toeaina and Anthony Adams, and wide receivers Johnny Knox and Rashied Davis (just to name a few) have spent much of the offseason training at professional off-site facilities in the area. Others like safety Chris Harris, cornerback Zack Bowman, defensive tackle Marcus Harrison and quarterback Caleb Hanie (just to name a few) opted to train the past few months out of state. I’m sure there is a risk that a few players could report to training camp unprepared -- the first practice is scheduled for July 23, lockout permitting -- but the majority will be in shape. Now, would it be nice to see Cutler throwing to the receivers, tight ends and running backs? Sure. Is it vital to the success of the 2011 Bears? No. Be nervous about the NFL being potentially forced to cancel regular season games in the fall because of the labor dispute. Don’t sweat Cutler and the receivers not playing catch and running a few routes in May.
A: Enderle will be the No. 2 if Hanie pulls the NFL version of Steve Sax and somehow forgets how to throw a football. I mean that with absolutely no disrespect towards Enderle, but there shouldn’t be any question about whether or not Hanie is worthy of the being the primary backup. Forget for a moment that Enderle is a rookie fifth-round pick out of Idaho who will probably require quite a bit of seasoning before he is NFL-ready; Hanie came off the bench ice cold and almost led the Bears past the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship game. How can that not buy him the benefit of the doubt from the coaching staff?! The Bears took Enderle for two reasons, (1) Martz likes him, obviously and (2) Hanie is expected to leave via free agency whenever he gets the chance -- probably in 2012. But in 2011, barring an injury or a totally unexpected collapse, the Bears quarterback depth chart will read: No. 1 Cutler, No. 2 Hanie and No. 3 Enderle.
Q: Guys, as a graduate of West Virginia, I’m excited the Bears took linebacker J.T. Thomas in the sixth round of the 2011 NFL Draft. What are his chances of playing next year? -- Elliot (Crystal Lake, Ill.)
A: Bears general manager Jerry Angelo probably feels good about Thomas’ chances of making the 53-man roster, since he chose Thomas at No. 195 over a few other linebackers the Bears also liked in the draft. Unless Thomas turns out to be the second coming of Michael Okwo or Marcus Freeman, he should step in and provide relief on special teams while also giving the Bears a little extra depth at the linebacker position. While the Bears are expected to attempt to re-sign Brian Iwuh, it would be nice if the organization could find an eventual replacement for Lance Briggs on the weak side. Don’t get me wrong, Briggs is still a great player, but he’s going to be looking for a new contract in another year or two (Briggs is under contract through 2013) and will be the Bears be willing to pay another linebacker in his early 30s? Anything can happen between now and then, but if Thomas turns out to be a good player, he could figure into the future plans of the organization. Of course, Okwo was drafted in 2007 to be the heir apparent for Briggs, and we all know how that turned out.
Q: What’s the likelihood the Bears bring back punter Brad Maynard? He was terrible last year, in my opinion, and the Bears need to cut their losses and move on. What’s the deal? -- Luke (Waukegan, Ill.)
A: Right now, the odds of Maynard playing for the Bears in 2011 are remote. Although the punter is still regarded in many NFL circles as the best directional kicker in the game, the Bears were unhappy with Maynard’s statistics and performance last season -- 35.2 yards per punt net average. The Bears sound content to move on and sign a new punter in free agency (whenever that begins) to compete with Richmond McGee for the starting job. However, I continue to believe the Bears would be better off bringing back the veteran for another year. Unlike in 2010, not only will Maynard be healthy when the season begins, he’s going to extremely motivated to prove his doubters inside the building wrong. Plus, why make a change at punter in the same year when the rest of the special teams units could undergo a major overhaul depending on the free agency rules put in place for the upcoming campaign. The Bears have a really good thing going with their trio of specialists -- Maynard, kicker Robbie Gould and long snapper Patrick Mannelly --why screw up the chemistry?
Q: I’ve heard you guys talk about the Bears’ need at defensive end. Why? Didn’t they sign Julius Peppers last year? Isn’t Izzy Idonije coming off a career year? That doesn’t make any sense. -- Joe (Niles, Ill.)
A: First off, you can never have too many players with the ability to rush the passer. If anybody knows that, it’s Bears head coach Lovie Smith, who saw the defense fail to consistently pressure the quarterback in 2007, 2008 and 2009. What did those years have in common? The Bears missed the postseason, putting Smith on the hot seat in 2010. Secondly, Idonije, 30, has only been a full-time starter for one season, and while it’s certainly possible he puts together another solid year, to simply assume it’s going to happen would be foolish. Corey Wootton, a fourth-round pick in 2010) is best known for effectively ending Brett Favre’s legendary career, but besides that one memorable snap, Wootton didn’t provide too many other highlights. It would be wrong to write off Wootton after one season, but the Bears need to protect themselves in the event Idonije’s production tails off or Wootton fails to pan out. Plus, Peppers, who faces at minimum a double-team every play, turned 31 years old back in January. Maybe Henry Melton moves outside if rookie Stephen Paea or somebody else locks down the under tackle spot, but right now, that’s impossible to predict. What the Bears need to do, and I believe they will do, is address defensive end in free agency for the second consecutive year.
We kick off our first mailbag in what seems like forever with no signs of football in the immediate future. But hey, at least we can discuss the sport we love, right?
Let’s take care of Mankins first.
One of the 10 named plantiffs in the former union’s lawsuit against the NFL, Mankins was assigned the franchise tag in February, which means the all-Pro guard likely won’t be signing with another team. In tagging Mankins, the Patriots protect one of their best assets by securing his rights for the short term while essentially buying more time to discuss a long-term deal with him. Had the Patriots not tagged him, Mankins could test free agency with no restrictions.
But now that he’s tagged, Mankins can sign an offer sheet with a new team, but if the Patriots decline to match, they’ll receive two first-round picks from the new club as compensation for losing him. Let’s remember that Bears general manager Jerry Angelo has said he’s no longer interested in mortgaging the team’s future by giving up draft picks.
Where this gets hairy is the uncertainty associated with the current labor situation. As it stands, the league’s owners and the former union disagree about the validity of the franchise tag. Players believe franchise tags are worthless because there’s no collective bargaining agreement in place for 2011. The former union’s stance is that players restricted by franchise tags have a strong case for unrestricted free agency because they can’t be restricted by such tags at the same time they’re locked out by the owners.
It’s believed that Mankins doesn’t plan to sign his tender once the league year begins. But would it even be valid? Until the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis makes a decision about whether to grant a permanent stay of the lockout injunction, it’s up in the air as to when free agency will actually kick off, and what the rules will be.
So based on the limited information available, the prospects for seeing Mankins in a Bears uniform in 2011 appear to be a long shot.
Now, let’s get to your questions.
Q: If there is no season next year, how would the draft order for the 2012 draft look: completely random or would we have the 29th pick? -- Andrew (Champaign)
A: Good question, Andrew. But I’ve got bad news. Since 1936, teams have selected players in reverse order of their records from the previous season. But under the scenario you described in your question that would mean there’s no collective bargaining agreement in place, and thus no 2012 NFL draft. What does that mean? Well, if there’s no draft, that means there’s probably no salary cap, and no floor, either, making it possible for teams to pay as much or as little as they wanted to acquire talent
General managers and personnel men around the league have described such a scenario as total chaos. Some have said that the without a draft, the period in which teams would be allowed to sign college players would be very much like unrestricted free agency with players receiving blockbuster deals once the signing period began.
Some believe it would turn the NFL in to a league of haves and have nots (for the teams and the players) because teams would simply have to outbid one another to get the top players. Others have said such a scenario would greatly benefit the teams with top-notch scouts and personnel departments.
The draft exists because the union and owners agreed to its terms in the CBA, but that agreement came to an end with the 2011 draft.
A: I won’t call Forte “elite,” Martin. But the numbers don’t lie when it comes to placing a value on Forte’s contributions, and I’d say he’s close to being on the cusp of that status. Forte is the first player in franchise history to gain at least 1,400 yards from scrimmage in each of his first three NFL seasons. Since entering the NFL in 2008, Forte ranks fifth in the NFL in yards from scrimmage (4,731) behind Tennessee’s Chris Johnson, Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson, Jacksonville’s Maurice Jones-Drew and St. Louis’ Steven Jackson. And no, you didn’t see Bush’s name among those players.
It’s important to remember the Bears already invested $7 million guaranteed in backup running back Chester Taylor, and before the lockout they were in talks with Forte about an extension. I understand your excitement about potentially adding Bush. He’s an exciting player. But Bush has proven to be inconsistent and injury prone over his first five seasons. Did I mention that statistically, Forte has done more over his three-year career than Bush (19 fumbles) has done in five years? As I said, the numbers don’t lie.
Q: Where does Herman Johnson fit into the offensive line plans? The Bears have said they need to get big inside because of the division's nose tackles (Raji, Suh, Williams, etc.). He has massive size. Does he get a chance at guard? -- Mike (Valparaiso, Ind.)
A: Mike, Johnson is one of the players who will be hurt most by this lockout because he’s basically been robbed of the opportunity to impress the coaching staff by the strides he could make in an offseason program. At 6 foot 7, 360 pounds, Johnson definitely fits the mold of the humungous players coveted by offensive line coach Mike Tice. But whether he gets an opportunity -- a legitimate one, anyway -- remains uncertain because under the current circumstances with the labor strife, the team simply might not have enough time to cultivate him and/or thoroughly evaluate him. Johnson’s best shot at competing for a chance to contribute in 2011 is to report to the team (whenever they’re allowed to) in tip-top shape. The Bears have told me they’re not concerned about players reporting out of shape. But with a guy as big as Johnson, you’ve got to be at least a little worried.
Q: Why doesn't the Bears front office just fork up some more cash for a couple of years and snag a veteran WR with talent and quickness? We seem to have soldiers who have played in the trenches plenty of times and vets playing at virtually every position other than WR. With Chad Ochocinco, Steve Smith and Sidney Rice expressing a desire to search other options, I say why not? -- Chris (West Des Moines, Iowa)
A: Chris, I don’t think cash is the issue as much as finding the right fit for Martz’s offense. With this lockout going on, I’ve had a chance to spend a little time studying Martz’s playbook from his time with the Rams. And from what I’ve seen of it, I can understand Chicago’s reluctance to just go out and sign the tall receiver that everyone is clamoring for. Ochocinco and Smith possess the skill set (great route running, spatial awareness, and change-of-direction skills) necessary to flourish in Martz’s offense. I’m not sure the Bears would want to deal with Ochocinco’s personality (Lovie Smith doesn’t do drama, trust me) and Rice simply doesn’t fit. Smith, meanwhile, might be an option. He’s on the downside of his career, and could mentor the younger receivers, and I’d be willing to bet that if they haven’t already, they’ll get a report on Smith from Julius Peppers, his former teammate at Carolina.
Q: Last offseason we heard from Martz that the Bear's wide receiver group was one of the strengths of this team, and then their limitations appeared to come out on the field. Are the Bears planning to go after a free agent or two at the position, or are they still hoping for real development from their young group? -- Ben (Chicago)
A: Ben, as I told Chris, it’s more about finding the right fit than anything else right now. Do the Bears want to find a veteran free agent to bolster the receiving corps? Sure they do. But they’ve got to find guys who fit the system. Say your team had trouble getting to the quarterback last season. Well, that problem doesn’t automatically get solved by adding a defensive end. You have to add the right defensive end. It’s the same thing with this team’s receivers. The Bears are optimistic that guys like Johnny Knox, Earl Bennett and Devin Hester will make huge strides between Year 1 and Year 2 of Martz’s system. But that jump is in jeopardy with this lockout. I think the Bears have a couple of potential free agent targets in mind, but I don’t see them going after one of the big-name guy like Ochocinco.
A: Randall, I don’t want to say you’re wrong. I’d say it’s a little bit of both -- inconsistent play and disappointment he hasn’t lived up to first-round billing -- from the team’s standpoint. Even Lovie Smith mentioned that Williams didn’t quite live up to expectations at guard or tackle last season. Smith said the team’s offseason project is to put Williams at one position and leave him there for the duration to give him a chance to flourish. So don’t expect Tice to play musical chairs with Williams once the team gets back to business. This is sort of a put up or shut up year for Williams, based on everything the coaches have told me.
Q: Hey fellas, Chris Conte: was he a reach in the third round or an under the radar, potential starter? They're obviously high on him, given coach John Hoke's ties to Cal, but I think the pick could have been used to address depth at cornerback, center, or receiver. Can we agree that Conte probably would have been available in the fifth or sixth round, thus making him a wasted pick? Please tell me I'm wrong. -- Michael (Philadelphia, Pa.)
A: Like you, my first inclination was Conte was a major reach. But then I heard Jerry Angelo talk about the high marks given to Conte by Clancy Pendergast, the defensive coordinator at Cal, and I gave it a little more thought. Sure it’s one thing to give a good recommendation to your guy, but Pendergast is a guy who spent 14 years coaching in the NFL and has a reputation to maintain/protect. I spent a little time covering the Cowboys while Pendergast was coaching defensive backs there, and I can tell you he knew his stuff when it came to developing younger players in the secondary. Angelo mentioned that Pendergast said that it was a “no brainer” for the Bears to draft Conte.
I agree with you that Conte probably would have been available later in the draft, but I will say that I’ve heard different things about him from the scouts that I know. The biggest knock I’ve heard on Conte is the fact he’s got only one year of experience at the position. But some of the scouts I spoke to saw that as a plus because they believe he’s got upside. The scouts also liked his size (6-2, 197 pounds). Let’s remember that the Bears didn’t draft Conte to start in 2011. He’s kind of more of a jar-in-the-cupboard type of player the Bears hope to develop for the future.
Q: Hey guys, I'm curious about the Bears’ plans for J'Marcus Webb. It seems like the starting tackles for 2011 are Webb and Gabe Carimi, and now the Bears are just trying to figure out who plays on the left and right side. Is J'Marcus really good enough to play on the blind side? Is Carimi? Add Chris Williams and Frank Omiyale, and it seems like the Bears have four right tackles and zero left tackles. Who will play on the left side in 2011? -- Matt (San Carlos, Calif.)
A: Matt that was the first question we asked once the Bears drafted Carimi, and Lovie and Tice have said that the plan is to try the rookie on the left side first. Carimi held his own last season against three players (Adrian Clayborn, Ryan Kerrigan, Cam Heyward) drafted in the first round, not to mention his day-to-day practice battles with former Wisconsin teammate J.J. Watt, also a first-rounder.
Based on Carimi’s college production as a four-year starter at left tackle, his reputation for being a hard worker, and surprisingly polished technique, the Bears expect him to be able to step in and protect Jay Cutler’s blind side as a rookie. The team also expects offensive line guru Tice to quickly help Carimi refine some of the technical deficiencies in his game to have him ready by opening day.
Q: Great work guys. What are the chances that we see a contribution from Joshua Moore this year? Unless we are planning to sign some cornerback help in free agency, we didn't do anything in the draft to fortify the position. Are they hoping for Zack Bowman to learn from spending a lot of the year on the bench? With the Packers and Lions receiving corps, I am worried about the position. -- Vik (Tampa, Fla.)
A: Thanks for the compliment. I would say there’s a decent chance you could see some contributions from Moore in 2011. Lovie Smith is extremely high on him, and told me he almost considers Moore a 2011 draft pick who got somewhat of a redshirt season in the NFL in 2010. As for Bowman, it’s the same thing. Smith told me that he thinks Bowman can “be a star” in the NFL, but will have to regain his confidence after a shaky 2010 campaign. I can pretty much guarantee you that Bowman will be given ample opportunity to regain the starting job he lost to Tim Jennings. But Moore will also be in the mix as a potential starter.
Q: Does Andy Fantuz from the CFL have a chance at making the team? He has the height that the WR corps sorely lacks. -- Ben (Great Falls, Mont.)
A: Ben, I’m just giving you my honest opinion here (I’ve been wrong before), but I don’t think so. Fantuz received a $10,000 signing bonus when he signed in February, but in my opinion, if he were as much of a sought after a commodity as advertised, the Bears probably would have had to outbid other teams to sign him. I mentioned earlier that the statistics don’t lie. Well, in five CFL seasons, Fantuz had only one 1,000-yard season, and never scored more than seven touchdowns. Because of his size (6-4, 221 pounds), I disregarded those numbers at first.
Then, I got on YouTube to watch some footage of Fantuz. It could be just me, but Fantuz looked really slow against CFL defenders. I acknowledge that speed isn’t everything. But watch his footage and judge for yourself. That lack of speed just seems a bit unsettling to me.
A: This is an interesting debate because the Bears probably won't be able to keep both Wolfe and Bell on the active roster. After Wolfe was placed on injured reserve midway though last season, Bell did a decent job, rushing 40 times for 220 yards, including a 72-yard run on his first NFL carry. Bell is also roughly four inches taller and 25 pounds heavier than Wolfe, and posses a more traditional frame for an NFL running back. Taking that all into account, I still believe Wolfe is a better all-around player, and therefore more deserving of a roster spot between the two. Facts are facts -- Wolfe hasn't done much on offense since being taken in the third round in 2007. We know Wolfe isn't a between-the-tackles runner, but in the right offense, he could be a dangerous option on third down. At least that's the hope. But with Matt Forte and Chester Taylor firmly entrenched at the top of the Bears' depth chart, Wolfe doesn't get the nod over Bell just because of his potential on third down. Wolfe is on my 53-man roster, because despite being 5-foot-7, he's surprisingly tough, recording 30 special teams tackles in his last 21 games. I tend to prefer players who value substance over style. Wolfe has the reputation in the locker room as somebody who just loves to play football, and who values winning over individual accomplishment. Maybe that doesn't matter to some people, but I like Wolfe having a spot on the Bears if possible. Now, if Unga blows us away in training camp, Wolfe may be in trouble. He's certainly not guaranteed a roster spot, but I think it would be a mistake to write him off prematurely.
Q: With the loss of Jason McKie and not picking up any full backs in the offseason, do you feel that Mike Martz's offense will over-utilize Greg Olsen as a blocker? Will his role as a receiver be diminished? -- Michael, San Diego
A: Actually, the Bears do have two fullbacks on the roster, Eddie Williams and Will Ta'ufo'ou. Some people around the NFL feel Unga is better suited to play fullback not tailback. So the Bears have numbers at the position. Of course, I'll argue none of the three are better than McKie, but the tight ends should help pick up the blocking slack. However, the Bears would be foolish to "over-utilize" Olsen as a blocker. Why? We've all seen the tape. Of the four tight ends expected to make the roster, three are better blockers than Olsen -- Brandon Manumaleuna, Desmond Clark and Kellen Davis or Richard Angulo. Olsen and Clark are the most skilled receivers of the bunch, so let them make plays in the passing game. In my opinion, this comes down to understanding your personnel, something the Bears' offense failed at the past few years. Instead of ramming the preverbal square peg in a round hole, why can't we all recognize Olsen's true value is as a receiver. Granted, he's not perfect, but Olsen helps this team way more running down the field as opposed to lining up with his hand on the ground. To answer your question Michael -- and thank you for letting me vent -- if the Bears diminish Olsen's role as a receiver to focus more on blocking, it's going to be a long year my friend.
Q: In the latest mailbag you made it seem like Danieal Manning is the best player we have. I just don't see what you see in him. He can't cover for his life, and he's a terrible tackler because he's always going for the ball (Charles Tillman does that too, but he's actually good at forcing fumbles). All he has going for him is his speed, so if anything he should be an exclusive special teams player. I just don't know what you and Lovie see in him? --Dan, Oswego, Ill.
A: Wow, this may be the first time I've ever been accused of seeing eye to eye with Lovie Smith. That's a first. I did write that if Manning excels at strong safety, given his already excellent credentials in the return game and insane athleticism, you could make the argument for him being one of the top players on the team. I don't really agree with your points about Manning being a poor tackler -- he was fifth on the team in tackles last year with 77 in 15 games -- but the coverage critique is valid. Without question, Manning has made his share of mistakes playing the deep ball, and there are no excuses for the memorable blown coverages on Reggie Wayne and Andre Johnson. The hope is that adding Harris, a veteran with a deep understanding of the defense, helps Manning erase those mental errors.
Of course, all of that hinges on Manning's ability to flourish and co-exist on the field with Harris. Even though the two had good chemistry in offseason workouts, it's a whole new ball game when the pads come on at the end of the month. Actually, I think Manning will be OK, but it's Harris I worry about. Is he physically capable of handling his assignments at free safety? Remember, Harris prefers strong safety, so what if he struggles at free safety? If that happens, it could easily set up a scenario where Harris slides up to strong safety while rookie Major Wright steps in at free. That would leave Manning on the outside looking in, a predicament the former second-round selection has faced multiple times over the past few seasons. That's just speculation on my part, but we've all seen the safety position juggled around relentlessly since the Super Bowl. Nothing surprises me anymore when it comes to Manning or the safety position.
Q: JD, how many linebackers make the team? -- Gregory, Palatine, Ill.
A: There are seven linebackers good enough to be on this opening day roster: Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs, Nick Roach, Pisa Tinoisamoa, Brian Iwuh, Tim Shaw and Hunter Hillenmeyer. I can make a strong case for keeping all seven, but you never know if other positions will suffer training camp injuries and require an extra body or two on the final 53-man roster. Most of these are no-brainers. I will say Hillenmeyer probably would like to remain a starter in this league, and that's unlikely to happen barring another rash of injuries at linebacker. So, I'll always leave the door open for the Bears to trade Hillenmeyer, but he's a dependable and accomplished backup at middle linebacker. The surprise of the group is going to be Iwuh, who quickly made a name for himself after signing a deal following a tryout at minicamp. Iwuh is extremely talented and should immediately become a four-phrase special teams contributor, not to mention a quality reserve at weak-side linebacker.
Q: All this speculation about when first-round picks will sign and who will holdout has me thinking about past Bears' training camp holdouts. Who was the last good one? Cedric Benson? Keep up the great work and thanks for the response. -- Tyler, Waco, Texas
A: Tyler, I'm not sure I'd classify Benson's holdout as "good", but it's certainly the most memorable I've covered. Come to think of it, I've only personally witnessed two players, Benson and Devin Hester, skip camp due to contract disputes. Hester's unhappiness only lasted a few days, so unlike Benson, it didn't provide many, if any, fireworks. My most memorable near-holdout was Thomas Jones back in 2006. Several media members, including myself, got suckered into waiting for Jones on the lawn in front of the players dorm all day until he finally showed up at roughly 11:58 p.m. to check-in before the midnight deadline. Jones, who rode to camp with Adewale Ogunleye, jumped out of the Hummer and rushed past the media without saying all word. We waited 12 hours for this guy to show up only to be blown off. Such is the life of an NFL reporter.
A: Dennis, in my opinion, Corey Graham is the best nickel back on the team (now that Danieal Manning is playing strong safety) and third-best overall cornerback, but Lovie Smith is a fan of D.J. Moore. Remember that. That’s not to say Graham won’t open camp as the first-team nickel (he deserves to), but for whatever reason, Smith just doesn’t seem to hold Graham in high regard. Very puzzling, especially since Graham played well in nine starts during the 2008 season. So despite looking good during all the offseason workouts, I hesitate to officially pencil in Graham as an opening-day starter just based on history alone. Of course, making the team shouldn’t be an issue, because Dave Toub feels Graham has tremendous value on special teams, which he does. But I’m sure the former fifth-round pick would one day like to be known for more than just playing special teams. I wrote last year at the NFL trade deadline that maybe the Bears should’ve considered dealing Graham, an idea I still fully support if Smith decides to put Moore on the field in passing situations.
Q: I’m tired of reporters like yourself constantly hedging your bets on stories. Stand up and tell us who is the best wide receiver on the Bears. Jerry Angelo made a big mistake not going out and signing a veteran receiver, so I want to know who on the roster can play. –- Douglas Greenfield, Cedar Rapids, Iowa
A: Earl Bennett is the most complete receiver on the roster. Is that blunt enough for you? Now, I say that knowing full well Bennett didn’t shine this offseason after having his knee scoped. I also know, like the other receivers, Bennett’s head was spinning trying to learn three new positions in the Mike Martz offense. Taking that all into account, Bennett is still viewed by many as the most quarterback-friendly receiver on the team, due to his excellent hands, solid route-running ability and above average speed and strength. I was on the fence about Bennett after his rookie season, but he showed me something last year catching 54 passes for 717 yards. He may not be flashy on the field, but Bennett gets the job done.
I’d rank Devin Aromashodu a close second, but he needs to get stronger. I fear teams will try and press Aromashodu (and Johnny Knox) to neutralize his size and speed. Right now, I don’t know if Aromashodu is able to push away a defender and force the necessary separation. Unlike last season, Aromashodu is no longer a secret, and will be watched closely by opposing teams.
Q: My friends and I are pumped about the additions of Julius Peppers, Chester Taylor and Mike Martz. But what about subtractions? Other than Alex Brown, did the Bears make any more mistakes letting people go? –- Timothy, Galena, Ill.
A: That’s an easy one; tight ends coach Rob Boras. Of all the suspect coaching staff moves made since the Super Bowl, showing Boras the door may be the worst. Before you scream about Ron Rivera, Don Johnson or Wade Wilson, let me explain. Boras is highly thought of in NFL circles because of his preparation, intelligence and attention to detail. You bring in an offensive coordinator (Martz) who is known for the same exact things. It would’ve been a perfect match. If Boras was still in Chicago, perhaps Martz wouldn’t need to spread himself so thin coaching up the other positions (offensive line being the exception). That could become a problem because the position Martz needs to worry about the most is quarterback. The more time Martz and Jay Cutler spend together, the better. The less time, bad things may happen. Surrounding yourself with upper-echelon assistant coaches only makes it easier for the coordinator and head coach. Boras is an upper-echelon assistant, only now, he’s working in Jacksonville. See the problem.
A: Not so fast Phil. From what I hear, Manning turned in an excellent offseason after boycotting the early portion of voluntary workouts due to a contract issue. As we’ve stated before, Manning is perfectly suited to play in the box and matches up well against tight ends. Say whatever you want about Manning, but you can’t deny his strength and freakish athleticism. Now, there will probably be situations when Manning must drop back in traditional free safety-type coverage to allow Chris Harris to roll up into the box, and based on previous history, teams will likely test Manning with some deep balls. At least this time around, the four-year veteran stayed in the same spot for an entire offseason, which should improve confidence and performance on game day. Think about it, if Manning plays the type of defense he’s capable of, while at the same time excelling as a return man, he could turn out to be one of the better players on the entire team. Only time will tell, but I wouldn’t put Wright in the starting lineup just yet.
Q: JD, I haven’t read much about any of the undrafted free agents. Do any of these players have a shot to make the team? –- Edgar, Peoria, Ill.
A: Edgar, it’s extremely rare to see an undrafted rookie free agent make the final 53-man roster. However, I do keep hearing good things about defensive end Barry Turner out of Nebraska. I didn’t see anything from Turner at mini-camp, but he apparently flipped a switch during OTAs. If Turner performs well in the preseason, he could certainly earn a spot on the practice squad. Making the 53-man roster sounds a little ambitious at this point, since the Bears already have Julius Peppers, Israel Idonije, Mark Anderson, Jarron Gilbert and Corey Wootton in the mix at defensive end. But Turner is somebody to watch closely when the Bears report to Bourbonnais at the end of the month.
Still, we got some pretty interesting questions ranging from whether the Bears plan on changing the playing surface at Soldier Field, to a little NFL trivia. So here we go.
A: To answer your first question, the potential is definitely there. Although the Bears ranked 23rd in total offense last season, they ranked No. 13 in passing offense, which isn’t far out of the top 10. Also, Martz’s history indicates the Bears should expect to make a statistical jump. In San Francisco, Martz took a passing offense which ranked last in the NFL a year prior to his arrival to No. 13 (the 49ers also improved from 32nd to 23rd in total offense). During Martz’s tenure in Detroit, the Lions put up two of the most productive passing seasons in the franchise’s history (they passed 4,216 yards in 2007 and 4,298 in 2006, which ranks second and third, respectively).
As for the deep-playoff-run question, I don’t get that sense. At least, not from the standpoint of the offense being the catalyst for it. I can see the Bears going through some growing pains offensively this season as Cutler and Martz learn to work together. So far, the adjustment has gone pretty smoothly. But we all know things change once the pads start popping.
Q: To me, one small component to the Bears having a great season at home is the field they are playing on. Has there been any discussion of parting ways with the terrible surface at Soldier Field? The Bears preach speed and quickness on both sides of the ball. I can only imagine the impact [Devin] Hester and [Johnny] Knox will have on field turf in [Mike] Martz's offense. -- Darrius, Aurora, Ill.
A: There was some discussion about it back in May, but don’t count on the club going to an artificial surface for this season. There’s concern on the team’s end about a potential new surface raising the risk of lower-leg injuries for the players, which is understandable, given some of the studies out there. That’s not to say the Bears have ruled out changing the surface. It’s just not likely to happen this season. The Bears are actually doing some research to determine whether an artificial surface is the better alternative.
Q: I was wondering in OTAs if they had offensive line and defensive line one-on-ones yet? If they did, tell me how Chris Williams fared against Julius Peppers, an elite end in the NFL? -- T.J., Spokane, Wash.
A: Sorry T.J., you’ll have to wait for training camp to see or read about that. The NFL has very strict rules regarding the intensity and pace of offseason drills. In fact, the Collective Bargaining Agreement specifically prohibits one-on-ones between the offensive and defensive linemen. In the past, teams could skirt the rules a little and crank up the intensity during minicamps and OTAs. But given the tenuous situation between the league and the union, things like this are watched a lot more closely. This offseason, the league came down on the Lions, Jaguars, Raiders and Ravens for OTA violations, and docked the clubs' practice sessions. I honestly can’t remember in the last few years there ever being so many violations that were actually enforced.
Q: What teams were around when Super Bowl I was played that still have not won it? And who are they? -- Chris, Bettendorf, Iowa
A: Green Bay and Kansas City played in Super Bowl I (1967), which marked the first championship game between the then-new American Football League and the already well-established National Football League. The AFL, which consisted of the Houston Oilers, New York Jets, Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins, Boston Patriots, Oakland Raiders, Kansas City Chiefs, San Diego Chargers and Denver Broncos. The NFL consisted of the Dallas Cowboys, Cleveland Browns, Philadelphia Eagles, St. Louis Cardinals, Washington Redskins, Pittsburgh Steelers, Atlanta Falcons, New York Giants, Green Bay Packers, Baltimore Colts, Los Angeles Rams, San Francisco 49ers, Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions, and the Minnesota Vikings. The leagues didn’t officially merge until 1970.
Of those original teams in existence during Super Bowl I, the Cardinals, Falcons, Bills, Browns, Lions, Vikings, Eagles, Chargers and Oilers(they’re now the Titans) have never won a Super Bowl. The Cardinals, Falcons, Bills, Vikings, Eagles, Chargers and Oilers/Titans have gone to the big dance, but haven’t won. The Browns and Lions have never advanced to the Super Bowl.
Q: I grew up when the Bears were known for smash-mouth football, 3 yards and a cloud of dust. Any chances we'll see the running game flourish under Martz this year? -- K Swiss, Fort Worth, Texas
A: That’s the plan, according to Martz, Love Smith and new offensive line coach Mike Tice. But with Martz leading the offense, I wouldn’t count on 3 yards and a cloud of dust becoming the club’s offensive philosophy. Martz said he wants opponents to be distracted by the offense’s passing capabilities because. That, Martzsaid, gives the Bears an air of unpredictability that causes defensive coordinators to guess when making calls, thus opening up the ground game. Smith pretty much said the same thing, adding that the cold climate of the area makes the ability to run the ball potentially the most powerful weapon in the arsenal. The Matt Forte you saw last year, in my opinion, won’t be the same one you saw in 2009 when he was hampered by injuries. Forte looks exceptionally quick and shifty so far. I think his skill set fits Martz’s offense perfectly. Throw in Chester Taylor as a complement, and the ingredients for success are there.
In addition, you’ll see the blocking schemes change somewhat with Mike Tice running the show up front. The Bears will be a lot more downhill. Having covered Tice the past four years in Jacksonville, trust me, he wouldn’t have joined the Bears staff if they didn’t plan on running the ball. I even mentioned that to Tice at minicamp, and got that trademark baritone laugh.