Chicago Bears: Reggie Bush

Eight in the Box: NFC North camp issues

July, 19, 2013
NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

What are the three key camp issues facing each NFC North team?


Offense: Kyle Long's readiness
The Bears drafted Long in the first round to help an offensive line that has struggled for years to protect quarterback Jay Cutler. Long, however, had a short Division I career and missed almost all of the Bears' offseason work because of the timing of Oregon's final academic quarter. The Bears will find out in camp, and during the preseason, whether Long is ready to be an immediate starter as you would expect based on his draft position.

Defense: Configuring linebackers
After the retirement of Brian Urlacher and the departure of Nick Roach, the Bears gave themselves two tiers of options at linebacker to play alongside Lance Briggs. If all else fails, they can use veteran D.J. Williams in the middle and James Anderson on the strong side. But they also drafted two players who one day will get their chance: Jon Bostic in the second round and Khaseem Greene in the fourth. The process of determining the best combination will begin in training camp.

Wild card: Coaching transition
This will be the Bears' first training camp in 10 years without Lovie Smith as the coach. Marc Trestman began the transition process during offseason workouts, but training camp is the time for establishing the meat of his program. How does he expect players to practice? How quickly does he expect scheme assimilation? How do players know when he's happy? When he's angry? The first training camp will set the parameters.


Offense: Line changes
One way or the other, the Lions will enter the season with three new starters on the offensive line. Riley Reiff is at left tackle after the retirement of Jeff Backus, and there will be competition at right guard and right tackle. Pulling off an overhaul of the offensive line in a win-or-else season is an ambitious task. All discussion of improvement for quarterback Matthew Stafford, and the impact of newcomer Reggie Bush, is made on the presumption that the offensive line won't take a step back.

Defense: Ziggy Ansah's development
Usually, the No. 5 overall pick of a draft is ready to step in and play right away. But Ansah was a late arrival to football and was almost an unknown to NFL scouts a year ago at this time. There was a sense during pre-draft evaluations that Ansah would need more development time than the typical No. 5 pick, but the Lions have high hopes of putting him into the starting lineup right away. They gave themselves some flexibility by signing free agent Israel Idonije, but they'll find out in camp if Ansah is going to be ready to play a full-time role in Week 1.

Wild card: Ryan Broyles' status
Broyles was a value pick in the 2012 draft, but he is very much needed after the release of Titus Young. Nate Burleson has returned to play alongside All-Pro Calvin Johnson, but the Lions' depth would be thin if Broyles isn't ready to play soon after tearing his ACL in Week 13 last year. The Lions hope Broyles can be full-speed by the start of the season, a pace he must confirm with at least some significant work in training camp.


Offense: Running back rotation
The Packers added two rookies, Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin, to a group that includes holdovers DuJuan Harris, James Starks, Alex Green and John Kuhn. Unless the Packers suddenly convert to a run-based offense, an impossibility as long as Aaron Rodgers is at quarterback, the Packers will have to thin this herd in training camp. Not everyone from that group will make the team, and a few who do aren't likely to get much action in games. Harris, Lacy and Franklin seem the likeliest candidates -- in that order -- to be feature backs.

Defense: Replacing Woodson
The Packers have openings at safety and cornerback following the release of Charles Woodson. Training camp should provide significant insight, if not an outright answer, into who will start at safety -- M.D. Jennings? Jerron McMillian? -- alongside Morgan Burnett. We'll also get a sense for who is ready to step into the cornerback and nickel job opposite veteran Tramon Williams. Top candidates for that job include Sam Shields, Casey Hayward and Davon House. The Packers' cornerback group is by far the deepest in the NFC North.

Wild card: Crosby's state of mind
No one expects Giorgio Tavecchio to beat out place-kicker Mason Crosby, who went through a well-publicized extended slump last season. But how will Crosby react to the first competition of any sort he has faced since taking over as the Packers' kicker in 2007? That's what the Packers want to find out, frankly. If he isn't sharp in camp, the Packers might need to consider their options elsewhere.


Offense: Cordarrelle Patterson's development
The Vikings know they want Patterson to be their kickoff returner, replacing Percy Harvin, but is Patterson ready to take over any part of Harvin's role as a primary offensive playmaker? Patterson's short stay at Tennessee once suggested he will need some development time before contributing regularly on offense. His performance in offseason practices, however, suggested he might be further along than once believed. Training camp will tell us for sure.

Defense: Linebacker alignment
Will newcomer Desmond Bishop play middle linebacker or on the outside? What would that mean for Erin Henderson, who spent the offseason transitioning to the middle position? It seems pretty clear that Bishop, Henderson and Chad Greenway will be the Vikings' three linebackers. Training camp should give us a better idea of where they will line up and, importantly, who will come off the field in nickel situations.

Wild card: Chemistry in passing game
The Vikings are expecting a jump in the efficiency, if not raw numbers, of their passing game this season. Quarterback Christian Ponder will have to accomplish that by developing quick chemistry with his new receivers, including Patterson and veteran Greg Jennings. That task appeared to be a work in progress during offseason practices.
Reggie BushRonald C. Modra/Sports Imagery/Getty ImagesIt's one thing for Reggie Bush to talk about titles, but it's another for the Lions to win them.
While the groundwork for every NFL campaign is primarily laid in the offseason, championships are never won in May.

But organizations need to set lofty goals. Have you ever heard of an NFL team striving for mediocrity?

So while a part of me wants to cringe when I read Lions defensive tackle Nick Fairley quoted in the Detroit News saying that his team is "going to the Super Bowl”, or watch a video of Detroit running back Reggie Bush tell reporters that he signed with the Lions "to win championships," the reality is that every NFL player should feel that way about the prospects of his respective club this time of the year.

(Read full post)

Eight in the box: RB status check

May, 24, 2013
NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

How does each NFC North team look at running back, and what still needs to be done?

Chicago Bears: If you were drawing up plans for an experienced but diverse backfield, you could do a lot worse than modeling after the Bears. Starter Matt Forte is a shifty off-tackle runner and one of the NFL's top pass-catching running backs, a collection of skills that will fit neatly into new coach Marc Trestman's offense. Forte has caught 267 passes since his career started in 2008, the third-most in the NFL by a running back over that stretch. Backup Michael Bush, meanwhile, is a bigger and stronger inside threat who gives the Bears a better option in short-yardage and goal-line situations. He produced a first down on 24.6 percent of his rushes last season, according to ESPN Stats & Information, the 10th-best percentage in the NFL. As long as Forte and Bush are healthy, the Bears' relatively thin depth behind them is irrelevant.

Detroit Lions: Free agent acquisition Reggie Bush figures to benefit from opponents' attention on receiver Calvin Johnson to much greater extent than the Lions' backfield did last season. Early indications are the Lions will use Bush similarly to the way the New Orleans Saints did earlier in his career. With the Saints in 2006, Bush caught 88 passes. Training camp should bring competition for the right to be the "thumper" behind Bush. Will it be 2011 second-round draft choice Mikel Leshoure, who looked slow and not very elusive after returning last season from a torn Achilles tendon? (No NFL running back had as many touches as Leshoure without at least one play of at least 20 yards.) Or will it be the lesser-known Joique Bell, who as Pro Football Focus points out, made defenders miss regularly last season. He forced 26 missed tackles in 82 carries and actually averaged more yards after contact (2.99) than Bush did with the Miami Dolphins (2.06).

Green Bay Packers: The team re-made its backfield through the draft after years of transition, throwing the situation into unknown territory. At some point, the Packers will have to thin the herd of a group that includes returnees DuJuan Harris, James Starks, Alex Green and John Kuhn, along with rookies Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin. The competition is wide open, although both Starks and Green have failed when given previous opportunities. Lacy's build and pedigree suggests he has an excellent chance to ultimately win the starting job, but Harris impressed the team late last season and could get the first shot this summer.

Minnesota Vikings: Adrian Peterson. Is there much more to say? Historically, runners who put together a 2,000-yard season tend to fall back the following year. But nothing about Peterson's career suggests he will fit neatly into a trend. He has set a goal of 2,500 yards, and however unrealistic it might be, he has earned the benefit of the doubt. Backup Toby Gerhart is in his fourth and presumably last season as Peterson's understudy. While Gerhart hasn't shown much explosion in short stints in Peterson's place, you would think he'll want to look elsewhere for more carries when his contract expires after this season.

Receiving opportunities for Forte, Bush

May, 17, 2013
Reggie Bush's appearance Friday morning on the NFL Network reinforced what should be a fun 2013 trend in at least two sectors of the NFC North: Running backs catching passes. Lots of them.

How many? Well, we can say this: We have two connections to this chart of the most catches in a season by a running back in the NFL's post-merger era.

First, you might recall that Bush caught 88 passes for the New Orleans Saints in 2006, the start of a four-year stretch in which he made 260 receptions. Bush said Friday morning that the Detroit Lions' offense appears set to use him in a way similar to the Saints'.

"It's a lot like what we did in New Orleans," Bush said "It's a lot of spread ... passing. Obviously we can attack downfield, and with the running game. A lot of screens, draws. Just basically everything I did in New Orleans."

Meanwhile, Chicago Bears tailback Matt Forte will be playing in a scheme that got Charlie Garner 91 receptions for the Oakland Raiders in 2002. Bears coach Marc Trestman, of course, was the Raiders' offensive coordinator at the time.

Forte had at least 50 receptions in his first four seasons before dipping to 44 last season. He has proved to be an adept route runner in addition to excelling on screen plays and short passes into the flat.

"I would expect [to be used more in the new offense]," Forte told reporters last month. "Coach Trestman, I think he said he watched a lot of film on me and has seen me run different routes. So we'll get back to catching the ball out of the backfield like we did the prior years."

So we have two offenses that have supported 88-plus receptions by a running back in previous incarnations. Could Bush or Forte approach that number? Why not?

Related: Bush also appeared Friday morning on ESPN Radio. Here is a link.

Eight in the Box: FA winners or losers?

March, 22, 2013
» NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

A look at whether each NFC North team has been a winner or a loser in free agency.

Chicago Bears: A hot start in free agency netted left tackle Jermon Bushrod and tight end Martellus Bennett. The Bears had been trying for five years to find a genuine left tackle, and Bushrod's arrival should boost the faith of quarterback Jay Cutler. Bennett, meanwhile, gives the Bears the kind of pass-catching tight end they once had in Greg Olsen. But Bushrod and Bennett accounted for most of the salary-cap space the Bears had budgeted to use, and now they are nibbling the edges. Overall, however, the Bears improved two important positions, making them winners in free agency.

Detroit Lions: The NFC North's most active offseason team has added three new starters in running back Reggie Bush, defensive end Jason Jones and safety Glover Quin. Bush will have a big impact on balancing the explosiveness in the Lions' offense, and Quin will pair with the returning Louis Delmas to give the Lions their best safety duo in recent memory. The Lions have improved as many positions as they could have given their tight salary-cap situation.

Green Bay Packers: It's difficult to win when you don't play, and general manager Ted Thompson is notoriously reluctant to compete financially in the market. He allowed receiver Greg Jennings to sign with the Minnesota Vikings and didn't make a good enough offer on running back Steven Jackson. But the Packers have made the playoffs in four consecutive seasons by following a similar approach. These days, their focus is on saving enough salary-cap space to re-sign quarterback Aaron Rodgers and linebacker Clay Matthews. The Packers won't find two players better than that on the free-agent market.

Minnesota Vikings: In essence, the Vikings traded receiver Percy Harvin for Jennings, along with a first-, third- and seventh-round draft pick. They won't replace Harvin's unique skill set, but that's not a bad recovery. The Vikings are also in a better spot at backup quarterback with Matt Cassel rather than Joe Webb. But they don't have a middle linebacker after bidding farewell to Jasper Brinkley, and they remain thin at cornerback after releasing Antoine Winfield. The Vikings remain a work in progress this offseason. They haven't won or lost yet.

Midday update: Jerome Simpson and more

March, 12, 2013
The pace is starting to accelerate as free agency draws closer, so let's touch on a few developments before heading off into our SportsNation chat.

The Minnesota Vikings re-signed receiver Jerome Simpson to a one-year contract, giving him a second chance after a disappointing season in 2011, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter. He caught 26 passes for a 10.3-yard average and no touchdowns in 12 games, all while battling a murky back injury of uncertain severity.

With that said, the Vikings have no choice but to be in receiver collection mode after trading Percy Harvin on Monday. By default, Simpson is the most established receiver on the Vikings' roster. I expect the team to continue in this mode throughout the offseason as it attempts to assemble a functional and reasonably deep group on the fly.

According to multiple reports, beginning I believe with Mike Garafolo of USA Today, Detroit Lions place-kicker Jason Hanson decided this week to return for another season. There have been no contract negotiations of yet, but the guess is the Lions want Hanson back as well.

The Green Bay Packers issued a second-round tender to cornerback Sam Shields and a low tender to center Evan Dietrich-Smith, as we noted earlier. But they won't make offers to three other restricted free agents: tight end Tom Crabtree and linebackers Robert Francois and Frank Zombo, according to the Green Bay Press-Gazette. It's possible all three players could re-sign for deals less than the lowest tender value, which is $1.323 million, but for now they'll be able to test the market.

Finally, for now, I would suggest that perhaps the biggest slam dunk of free agency is the widespread notion that the Lions are the top candidate to sign running back Reggie Bush. There is every possibility that a team could jump out after the deadline and trump the Lions, but as of the moment I feel relatively confident that a deal will be worked out.

Before you ask, I'm not certain how the Lions will account for Bush from a salary-cap perspective. But the widespread speculation about the obvious connection between the sides is legitimate.

On Reggie Bush, Packers; Jake Long, Bears

February, 6, 2013
This is the time of year for wild and unreasoned speculation on NFL free agency, and so I want to forward you two important posts from our Insider staff. One is a thorough ranking of available players from longtime executive Bill Polian Insider, now an ESPN analyst. The other is a list of 10 players to stay away from, according to Khaled Elsayed of Pro Football Focus Insider.

Both require Insider subscriptions to be read in full, but I'll do my best to sneak you some morsels over the next couple weeks. In cross-referencing the posts, there are two names that I've been getting questions about in regards to NFC North teams, including during Monday's SportsNation chat.

The first is running back Reggie Bush, whom Jason in Milwaukee wrote would be "a match made in heaven" for the Green Bay Packers. Polian and Elsayed both provide reasonable sobriety to that excitement.

Polian: "He's a name, but at this stage in his career, he's a third-down guy."
Elsayed: "[T]he same old problems prevail, as he averaged just 2.06 yards after contact per carry [in 2012], a number that was better than only five backs with more than 100 carries. He just isn't a convincing runner between the tackles, teasing us with the idea he will be and then being quick to bounce the ball outside."

It's true that a player of Bush's receiving skills would be productive in the Packers' offense. But what would help the team more, in terms of balance, is a physical running back who can move piles and get yardage on his own. Bush will never fit that description.

The second player is left tackle Jake Long, who has been an elite player but is coming off two years that most agree were not as good as his first three. I can't count how many people have suggested the Chicago Bears pursue him in free agency, even if it is to play right tackle. Here is part of what both analysts wrote about Long:

Polian: "His reputation will make him an A player, but he is an injury and age concern to me. He is turning only 28 to start next season, but he already has played 74 games, making a long-term deal a risk."
Elsayed: "If you judge a left tackle by his work in pass protection, Long has gone from ranking first in our pass blocking efficiency stat in 2009 and 2010 to 13th (2011) and what would have been 14th (2012) if he had have played enough snaps to qualify."

Again, this is silly season in the NFL. It's tough to intelligently match teams with free agents when you realize that many of the players on these lists will be re-signed and thus taken off the market before free agency begins. Some Packers fans are eyeing Bush and many Bears fans are zeroed in on Long, but we don't know yet whether the teams themselves share those sentiments or would even have the opportunity to act on them if they did.

Bears mailbag: How about Mankins?

May, 10, 2011
First off, thanks for giving some semblance of normalcy in the life of this locked out NFL beat reporter with your thorough and insightful questions about the Bears.

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?

[+] EnlargeLogan Mankins
Tom Croke/Icon SMILogan Mankins earned All-Pro honors despite playing in just nine games last season.
As I perused several of your questions, I noticed two prevailing themes: New England Patriots guard Logan Mankins, and whether the Bears will be in the market -- when and if free agency ever begins -- for a veteran receiver.

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.

Reggie Bush
Chuck Cook/US PresswireThe Saints' Reggie Bush doesn't appear to be a good fit for the Bears.
Q: Maybe it’s time to get over the fact that Matt Forte isn't the elite back we all thought he could be. With the Saints looking to drop Reggie Bush, should the Bears look to acquire him? He'd be perfect for Martz system. Marshall Faulk all over again! -- Martin (Chicago)
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.

[+] EnlargeChris Williams
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesThe Bears are hoping Chris Williams can develop somewhere along the offensive line.
Q: Why do so many articles bash Chris Williams’ ability to play at least a guard position? My big knock on Williams is that he is repeatedly injured. But, from what I have seen, he can protect the blind side against the inside rush men. Am I wrong and he played poorly, or is it just frustration that is not lived up to a 14th overall pick? -- Randall (Kalamazoo, Mich.)
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.

Five things to watch: Seahawks-Saints

January, 7, 2011
The Seattle Seahawks and New Orleans Saints are potential playoff opponents for the Bears in the second round. Five things to look for in their first-round matchup on Saturday:

[+] EnlargeDrew Brees
John David Mercer/US PresswireSaints quarterback Drew Brees has been sacked just 25 times this season.
1. Pressure on Brees: Seattle couldn’t get to Drew Brees when the teams first met in Week 11, and the quarterback made the Seahawks pay, hitting 29 of 43 for 382 yards and four touchdowns. In fact, not many teams have gotten to Brees, who has been sacked 25 times all season.

With the Saints expected to struggle on the ground, the Seahawks could help themselves by putting heat on Brees, who will be under pressure to distribute the ball through the passing game. Part of the difficulty in sacking Brees is his quick release, but the Seahawks’ defensive line may be able to offset that by getting their hands up on the rush. Remember, Brees is just 6-feet tall, which means Seattle has a shot at batting down passes or tipping them to cause potential interceptions.

If they can’t, look for Brees to pick apart Seattle’s secondary with his large array of weapons.

2. Can Bush and Jones handle the load?: Saints running back Chris Ivory gained 99 yards against the Seahawks when the teams met in Week 11, but the club recently placed him on the injured reserve, along with Pierre Thomas, the top backup option.

That means the Seahawks should see plenty of injury-prone Reggie Bush and Julius Jones. Are they capable of generating enough production in the rushing to take pressure off Brees and the passing game? Seattle knows that despite the Saints’ depleted backfield, as long as they have Brees, the Saints can win.

But if Bush and Jones can’t produce, look for the Saints’ offense to sputter.

3. Hasselbeck’s experience: Making his 10th -- that's right -- 10th start in the postseason, Matt Hasselbeck has proven (in the regular season, and playoffs) he can defeat a unit led by Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. But the question is whether anything remains in the tank for Hasselbeck, who skewered the Saints for 366 yards and a touchdown in a Week 11 loss.

Hasselbeck hasn’t duplicated his performance from that Saints game, surrendering 13 turnovers in his next four outings, before he being benched against Atlanta, then suffering a strained hip the next week against Tampa Bay. So if Hasselbeck can call upon his vast playoff experience and eliminate the turnovers, the Seahawks might have a shot at pulling off the upset.

4. The Qwest Field crowd: Similar to the Bears’ use of the “4th Phase” moniker, Seattle calls its crowd the “12th man.”

The Seahawks’ fans definitely live up to the nickname.

Qwest Field is often referred to as the loudest outdoor stadium in the league. In the last six years, visiting teams have been flagged 104 times for false-start penalties, the most for any stadium in that period, and decibel readings there have reportedly been recorded as high as 115, which is the equivalent of a rock concert.

Given the intricate nature of New Orleans’ offense, crowd noise can play a major role in disrupting audibles and protection calls made at the line of scrimmage.

It’s also worth mentioning here that the Saints have never won a road playoff game.

5. How the Saints attack the middle: There’s a good chance the Seahawks take a conservative approach to covering New Orleans in the secondary in an attempt to eliminate big plays. But that shouldn’t slow down the Saints because they’ll just lean on intermediate routes, which are the bulk of the offense anyway.

Brees will have to be patient and settle for underneath throws to the slot receivers, tight ends -- such as Jeremy Shockey -- and running backs with the Seahawks playing so conservatively. But will he?

The fact is Brees has thrown more interceptions this season (22) than ever in his career. So the Seahawks are banking on the quarterback possibly making mistakes, which is precisely why they’ll force Brees to dink and dunk.