<
>

Mailbag: Wolfe vs. Bell

Garrett Wolfe lacks size but he could be a weapon in Mike Martz's offense. Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Q: Jeff, I was thinking about the Bears taking Harvey Unga in the NFL supplemental draft, and how that changes the dynamic in the backfield. I'm stuck on this: who is the better running back, Garrett Wolfe or Kahlil Bell? I haven't seen much from Wolfe since he was drafted, and Bell only joined the Bears last year. Help. -- Christoper, Kansas

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.