Q: Jeff, I’ve read positive stories about Corey Graham in recent weeks, is he the nickel back for the Bears? Thanks for the input. –- Dennis Kurwitz, Denver, Colo.
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.
Q: Is it just a matter of time before Major Wright replaces Danieal Manning at safety? Thanks Jeff for always taking the time to respond. – Phil T., Lockport, Ill.
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.