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Mailbag: How do you like McClellin now?

11/8/2013

Here are your questions from this week's mailbag:

1. Hey genius, great analysis on Shea McClellin struggling to be a defensive end in a 4-3 front. Did you walk up to him this week and personally apologize to him after he lowered the boom on Aaron Rodgers? -- Phil, Buckley, Ill.

Dickerson: Is this Phil Emery? I'm only kidding. McClellin had the best game of his short NFL career against the Green Bay Packers with 3.0 sacks and two tackles-for-loss. McClellin was rewarded by being named NFC Defensive Player of the Week. Good for him. Finally, the Bears got a pass rush from the defensive line with McClellin and Julius Peppers leading the charge. But did I apologize to McClellin? No, because it was only one game. Let's see how McClellin (doubtful for Sunday) follows up that performance whenever he returns from the hamstring injury he suffered in practice on Thursday. And quite honestly, what exactly do I need to apologize to McClellin about? My opinion of McClellin was/is solely based on his lack of production since the Bears drafted him No. 19 overall in 2012. I never took a personal shot at him. In fact, I believe McClellin will have an above-average NFL career because of his speed, athleticism and work ethic, but I still question whether he is a good long-term fit in this style of defense. One solid performance isn't going to change that.


2. What's the latest on Jay Ratliff, and when can we expect to see him on the field? Bear down. -- Matthew, Crystal Lake, Ill.

Dickerson: Jeremiah Ratliff, as he now prefers to be called, still appears to be a couple of weeks away from returning to the field after his one-year layoff. Ratliff is with the Bears at Halas Hall, working on the side during practice with a helmet. Conditioning and getting himself into football shape is now the key for Ratliff. It's not easy to take a year off and just jump right back into it. If all goes well with Ratliff's conditioning, I could see him making his Bears debut sometime in the next couple of games, but he will not be active Sunday against the Detroit Lions.


3. Should the Bears bench Chris Conte? He consistently misses tackles that help opposing offenses get into the end zone, specifically on that James Starks run Monday night. -- Mitch, Glen Ellyn, Ill.

Dickerson: Conte just needs to make a big play on Sunday to restore his confidence. Conte has all the necessary talent to be an above average NFL free safety. Conte's main problem right now is that his mistakes are snowballing. It looks as if he is taking bad angles when attempting to tackle ballcarriers in the open field. That can be corrected. It would also help Conte if one of the Bears defensive linemen or linebackers would actually touch a running back before he reaches the second level, but that's a story for another day. Conte needs an interception, or a forced fumble, or something positive to go his way. I've always believed that Craig Steltz is an adequate and underappreciated safety, and I would have no issue if the Bears allow Conte to watch a couple of plays or series from the sideline to clear his head, but it doesn't sound as if the team is thinking that way. Steltz is more of an in-the-box safety, kind of like starting strong safety Major Wright. Anthony Walters is another option. But the Bears probably figure they are better off sticking with the current combination of Conte and Wright rather than making a change.


4. Keep Cutler out and let's see what the kid has got! He played a great game Monday night and in some instances is smarter than Jay! I would love to see Josh McCown play the rest of the season! -- Ted, Chicago

Dickerson: I love your enthusiasm, Ted, but McCown is 33 years old. He's not a "kid" by NFL standards. And he's the Bears' No. 2 quarterback. I realize that McCown did an unbelievable job when he replaced Cutler against Washington and Green Bay, but when the starting quarterback says he's ready to come back and play, well, the team usually allows it. McCown is earning a veteran minimum base salary of $840,000. Cutler's base salary is $8,470,000. See the issue here? I completely understand the argument that McCown should start on Sunday. In fact, I kind of agree with it. But when the starting quarterback is medically cleared to play, it is almost impossible to keep him off the field, especially if the player is as determined as Cutler was to return before the original four-week minimum timetable. All McCown can do is prepare as he usually does in the event Cutler re-injures the groin or suffers a setback against the Lions.


5. JD, tell me what you think: Is Charles Tillman the greatest Bears defensive back of all-time? -- Mason, St. Cloud, Minn.

Dickerson: I think he is. Safeties Gary Fencik (38) and Richie Petitbon (37) are ahead of Tillman (36) in career interceptions, but Tillman holds the franchise records for defensive touchdowns (nine), interception returns for touchdowns (eight), and forced fumbles (42). Tillman is an outstanding tackler with 934 career regular season stops and is one of the most durable and toughest competitors to wear a Bears' uniform in the last 20 years. If Tillman eventually receives an extension from the Bears, there is no doubt that he will be remembered as the greatest defensive back in franchise history. But even if Tillman never plays another game for the Bears, I believe he is still worthy of that distinction.