Bears mailbag: expectations for Knox

Johnny Knox may be able to make an even bigger impact under Mike Martz. AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh

Can tell me why people care so much about these offseason practices? I mean, they don’t wear pads or hit, who cares if certain players fail to show up? I love the NFL, but enough is enough. Thank you for your comments. --Philly T., Racine, Wisc.

Coaches definitely care if players fail to show up. Every person on the Bears roster knows Lovie Smith expects full participation during the offseason voluntary workouts, and those who skip the sessions do so at their own risk. While players don’t wear pads, they do work out, polish up on technique, and in the case of the offense, begin to learn a brand new system. This year, in particular, it’s critical for skill position players to show up every day ready to work, because Mike Martz arrives with a reputation of not tolerating mistakes on the practice field. Better to screw up now then during training camp, when the stakes are much higher. Desmond Clark missed one week of the program, but he returned after receiving some clarity about his role on the team. Outside of fellow tight end Brandon Manumaleuna, I haven’t heard of many other offensive players skipping workouts. On defense, Danieal Manning reported a few weeks ago, leaving Charles Tillman as the only member of the secondary MIA. Tillman is likely trying to preserve his body for the upcoming season, but I’d be surprised if he fails to show up for the mandatory mini-camp that kickoffs on May 21.

You media people are so annoying. All I read about is how tough [Mike] Martz’s offense is to learn. It’s football, not rocket science! They’ll figure it out. Do something useful with your time and stop wasting ours. -- Michael, Chicago

Since I obviously don’t play in the NFL, I can only relay things heard from current and former players in regards to Martz’s offense. I’m told it’s high volume, with more formations and play calls than anybody is used to learning. People say it’s all thrown at you so fast, that even assistant coaches are sometimes slow to pick it up. If you want to act like the learning curve is no big deal, fine by me, but I think it’s a mistake to underestimate the complexities of this offense, especially compared to what the Bears ran the last five years under Ron Turner. Nobody is saying any of the current players on this roster are incapable of learning the new offense, but I think adding a veteran quarterback and receiver, familiar with the scheme, would be a wise and prudent move. What’s the risk? All it would take is signing two guys for the veteran league minimum.

What can we expect from our top rookie last year: Johnny Knox. How much better can Knox be under Martz? -- Alexander Franklin, Champaign, Ill.

Good question. If Knox finds his role in Martz's offense, I bet he'll turn into a much more dangerous receiver. I thought at times last season Knox displayed good hands and toughness, in addition to that blazing speed. But I'd like to see a little more consistency from Knox in his sophomore campaign , because 235 of his 527 receiving yards came in just three games (Games 1, 2 and 13). I realize certain people get sensitive when addressing the issue of younger receivers learning the offense, but remember, Knox is only one season removed from playing at a small college. Isn't it fair to wonder if completely digesting a second brand new offense in two years could be a lengthy process for any receiver, especially one of the younger variety? But Knox will figure it out, and when that happens, I'd like to see 12 to 15 of his receptions go for 20 plus yards in 2010. Knox caught 7 passes for 20 plus yards in 2009.

JD, you talked last week about Kevin Shaffer at left guard, how is that going? Is he the front-runner? – Nate H., San Francisco

I think a few people -- Shaffer, Josh Beekman, Lance Louis, Johan Asiata -- are going to have a legitimate chance to win the left guard job, but every report about Shaffer this offseason has been positive. Not only is he an experienced veteran, Shaffer is a pretty big guy, which gives him a leg up on Beekman. Personally, I think Beekman is a solid, athletic player, who loves to mix it up on the field. That being said, the Bears made it a point to beef up the interior of the offensive line, and while Frank Omiyale failed to pan out at guard in 2009, it sounds like the overall philosophy remains unchanged. Shaffer is still working at guard during the voluntary workouts, and will be one guy to watch closely during the preseason games.

Jeff, do you anticipate any surprises on the final 53 man roster? – Jake Hardy, Dallas

It’s way too early to make any final roster predictions, but here’s a battle I’ll be watching closely in camp: Kellen Davis vs. Richard Angulo. Probably not the tight end competition you were expecting, so let me explain myself. There is a strong chance the Bears keep four tight ends this year, even though most teams tend to keep only three, and that final spot could come down to Davis or Angulo. Conventional wisdom suggests Davis has the edge because of draft status, but Angulo is a strong blocker, not to mention a hard worker, who previously played for Martz in St. Louis and Tice in Jacksonville. After displaying a questionable work ethic as a rookie, Davis picked up his game last offseason when the Bears signed Michael Gaines, who was ultimatley released October 17. My understanding is Angulo will be much stiffer competition for Davis, so let's see if the 2008 fifth-round choice is up to the challenge.