Chat with Michael Wright
Welcome to ESPNChicago.com! On Friday, our Chicago Bears reporter Michael Wright makes his weekly appearance.
Wright joined ESPNChicago in April 2010 after spending the previous four seasons covering the Jaguars. He also covered the Redskins for two seasons. A native Texan, Wright was a four-year football letterman at West Texas A&M University. He covers the Bears for both ESPNChicago.com and Chicago's ESPN Radio 1000.
Send your questions now and join Wright Friday at 12:30 CT/1:30 p.m. ET!
Michael (1:29 PM)
Packing up to head to San Diego in a couple of hours. But I'm here to take your questions right now, so let's get this thing rolling.
Joey Motto (LEMONT)
Hey Michael, a big question I'm wondering is who do you think will emerge as the number 1 wideout out of Johnny Know, D.A. and Hester?
Michael (1:32 PM)
Initially, I was really high on Devin Aromashodu; still am. But I'd say that Devin Hester -- if he leans on what he's learning, and doesn't revert to old ways -- will be the most improved of the group. He's quietly having a solid camp. Johnny Knox, in my mind, will have the biggest season. He had a few concentration lapses during the offseason, and dropped some easily catchable balls. But at camp, he's shown the ability to catch contested balls in traffic pretty consistently. So Let me give the nod to Knox on this one. But my guess is you're gonna see balls thrown all over the yard this season.
charles (gary in)
who do u think is a better strong safety this year for the bears if major wright wins out for free safety?
Michael (1:36 PM)
Charles, if we're going off pure ability, I'd say Danieal Manning would be the lead candidate. If we're going off veteran savvy and polish, I'll go with Chris Harris. The problem with Manning lately is he seems to be diagnosing things late, which always seems to put him a split-second behind on things. Harris, meanwhile, is diagnosing things very quickly. He's not as fast or athletic as Manning, but makes up for it with knowledge of the system. Jay Cutler dropped back on a blitz the other day to throw to a hot receiver. By the third step of his drop, Harris was already breaking on the route. So when the ball came out of Cutler's hands, out of nowhere comes Harris, who ended up dropping the sure interception. Manning has to get better at diagnosing things before I'd feel comfortable with him at strong safety. So I'd give the nod to Harris.
Kevin (Chicago, IL)
MW - great job so far on the Bears. Happy to have you in the family. What are your feelings about the importance of starting fast in a season or ending w/ momentum? I know both are important, but I'd rather us stay a game or two over .500 and then end the year on a tear. We end the season w/ a brutal stretch of games last 4 weeks, and if we can go 3-1 or even 2-2 I think we're in. Thoughts?
Michael (1:38 PM)
Kevin, you're a prince. Thanks for the warm welcome. As for your question, I can't stress enough the importance of starting fast, then getting hot at the end of the year. You're right on the money in your assessment here. Obviously, you'd like to seize control of your destiny as soon as possible, but to me, it's more important to go on a tear in late November and December to contend for the division crown and possible first-round bye. But hey, you get in how you get in. I'm sure the Bears don't care how they get into the postseason.
Dave (Glendale Heights)
Hey Michael...how "vanilla" do you expect the Bears offense to be tonight? I've heard that typically teams run only base packages in preseason so as not to give other teams an idea of what they'll bring in the regular season. Do you think the Bears will follow that philosophy tonight or will they try to get some of their timing down against a "live" opponent?
Michael (1:41 PM)
Dave, I wouldn't count on "vanilla" to be honest. This is a new system, and based on how Mike Martz has handled things so far, I wouldn't be surprised if they threw the kitchen sink at the Chargers offensively (obviously, they won't show any situational/trick plays). Martz likes to put his quarterbacks through some pressure-packed situations to see how they'll fare later down the road. So I don't think they'll necessarily be "vanilla". We've seen some Wildcat formations in practice with Matt Forte at QB and Jay Cutler split out wide. Maybe we'll see a little of that Saturday.
Haven't heard a peep about Al Afalava all camp. Is he on the bubble to make the team?
Michael (1:44 PM)
Julio, I'd say he's on the bubble. I spoke to him last week, and asked how did he go from starter to forgotten man so quickly. He said there was a combination of injuries, and subpar play. But he's pretty optimistic he can work his way back up the depth chart. Time will tell. He's made a few plays so far at training camp; even had what appeared to be a sure interception bounce right off his helmet. Afalava probably won't be getting a lot run this season, but I'd say it's more a function of the upgraded talent at the position than anything else.
How concerned should Bears fans be that there's no solid backup to Cutler?
Michael (1:45 PM)
Frank, fans should be concerned; very concerned. But my national-writer friend Pete Prisco put it into great perspective the other day. He said, "If you're down to your No. 2 quarterback, you're probably doomed anyway." There's a lot of truth to that statement.
Who's better: Rivers or Cutler?
Michael (1:48 PM)
Joe, this is tough comparison. Obviously, Rivers is more of a proven winner than Cutler. But Cutler has a crisper throwing motion, and lightning-fast release, and - in my opinion - a bigger arm. With that being said, Joe Montana was inferior to Cutler and Rivers when it comes to physical tools. But who would you say was the better quarterback? See what I mean? Tough comparison.
Charles Tillman has had what I would consider a quiet camp in terms of the media focus. Has his play been poor/below-average or have there just been a lot more stories to focus on for reporters?
Michael (1:50 PM)
Tillman has been a little up and down at camp, but for the most part solid. I think he'd probably admit that he's got to improve somewhat, but I wouldn't worry about him getting torched every week. Tillman has been very good when the club is operating out of zone coverage. He's got a good feel for zone, and does well anticipating. When he's struggled at camp, it's been mostly when the club is blitzing and the secondary is in man coverage.
KC (Westside, IL)
MW - I'm guessing he'll be "redshirted" this year, but how has J'Marcus Webb looked in camp so far? I'm intrigued by his size and potential.
Michael (1:54 PM)
KC, I'd say there's a good chance for that. But at the same time, I spoke with offensive line coach Mike Tice the other day, and he seems to love the guy. Tice said that Webb is arguably the nastiest o-lineman on the roster, and Tice knows a thing or two about offensive linemen. Webb, to me, is like any other rookie. He's had a few technical kinks pop up (he doesn't consistently keep his hands up) in practice, but nothing he can't fix without hard work. The Bears aren't gonna be able to hide him on the practice squad; I promise you that. He'll definitely be on the active roster. If Frank Omiyale continues to struggle, Webb might be a darkhorse candidate at that right tackle spot.
With injuries always being a concern, it probably is the safe play to not have live tackling in practice. But I cant help but feel that poor tackling was a big part of why the Bears defense struggled last year. Have the Bears done anything in training camp so far to turn that embarassing trend around?
Michael (1:56 PM)
Ben, unfortunately, the answer to that question would be no. But the Bears aren't any different than any other team in the league. At practice, defenders are only allowed to "thud up" as they say, offensive players. Truthfully, the only way the Bears defense can get good work at tackling is to do it in the preseason games. So keep a close watch on how the defense tackles Saturday in San Diego.
Is it possible if omiyale really looks bad in this preseason game like it has been reported in training camp, he will be in hot water to be replaced by shaffer, marten, or webb? If these guys really have a chance to replace him who would u say has a high chance to win that spot?
Michael (1:58 PM)
That's a distinct possiblity, Charles. The problem is the Bears don't have a lot of time to keep tinkering with that offensive line. The top candidates in my mind to replace Omiyale would be Kevin Shaffer or J'Marcus Webb. Shaffer is a savvy, consitent veteran. Webb possesses the tools to dominate, but as Mike Tice tells me, he's got to do a better job of absorbing the coaching.
MW, what do you think the split will be at RB? Forte on 1st and 2nd, Chester on 3rd? Who's getting the ball inside the 5? Thanks!
Michael (2:01 PM)
Matt Forte is the starter, so obviously, he'll get the bulk of the carries with Taylor likely taking on third-down responsibilities, because he's a much better blocker. I'm told the Vikings really hated to lose Taylor because it was a luxury to have such a gifted blocker protecting the quarterback on third downs. As for who's getting the ball inside the 5, I'd say Taylor. He's proven to be a violent inside runner, while Forte strikes me as being more of a finesse back. You want to say that Forte will get the larger percentage of carries. But at the same time, the Bears made quite a financial investment in Taylor. When a team does that, that player isn't gonna be riding the pine.
Eric (Waterford, MI)
Michael, I want your job, or at least a job like it. What must I do?
Michael (2:04 PM)
Say your prayers every night, Eric. Light candles, sip holy water, and tie a rabbit's foot to your left pinkie toe when you go to bed at night. Seriously, man, go to journalism school. Write all you can, and ask for constructive criticism from writers you respect. Make sure you do tons of internships if possible, and write, write, write. Like anything else, the only way to get good at writing is to do it frequently. If you're serious, hit me up on email and I'd be happy to give you some tips that helped me.
do you think cutler will beat erik kramers 1995 season of 29 tds and 3900 something yrds?
Michael (2:07 PM)
Not to rag on Jon Kitna; I'm sure he's a great guy. But if he could have back-to-back 4,000-yard passing seasons (2006 and 2007) working with Mike Martz, it's basically a rap for Cutler to do it. Cutler came close to the record last year playing in a basicaly - blah - type of offense. Under Martz, I see Cutler breaking several franchise records this season.
Shomshon (Chicago, IL)
Am I wrong in thinking that Jarron Gilbert is on the bubble this year?
Michael (2:07 PM)
Nope, you're absolutely right, Shomshon (is that your real name, man?)
Hey MW, how would you rate Cutler's performance thus far? Last year he struggled with interceptions and with making the right throw. Does he seem confident, or do you think we could still have a problem getting our offense going?
Michael (2:10 PM)
The most striking thing about Cutler to me is he's demonstrated complete trust in Mike Martz's system, which was one of the biggest concerns to me about this new Cutler-Martz marriage. In Martz's system, Cutler is asked to make most of his throws blindly, basically expecting his receiver to get to the designated spot to catch the ball. Cutler has shown complete faith in that, and has had no problem just flinging it out there. As skeptical as I was at first, the system appears to work, and Cutler has shown complete confidence in it. It's been really interesting to watch every day.
How is the defense looking to you with addition of peppers and harris and healthy urlacher.
Michael (2:13 PM)
The defense hasn't done anything in quite a while. Yet in training camp, the unit has shown a tremendous swagger (which I like). I spoke with Lovie Smith about it the other day after practice, and he explained to me that a lot of the folks that have been Bears for a while have this feeling of desperation knowing that this could be the end. He singled out Harris, Urlacher, and Tillman. Smith is quietly giddy about the situation, and after a little prodding, he admitted that to me.
With the concerns about the offensive line and the frequent 5 and 7 step drops involved in Martz's scheme, do you see the Bears balancing that out with screens and draws? Forte and Taylor both seem well equipped to make big yards on those relatively low risk plays
Michael (2:14 PM)
I like your thinking, Ben. And if you look back at Martz's history, that's where a guy like Marshall Faulk got a lot of his yards.
Who will be the suprise player on the Defense?Thanks Michael, always good to hear from a professional.
Michael (2:16 PM)
I don't know what it is, but for some reason, I'm really high on Nick Roach and Pisa Tinoisamoa. In fact, I'm gonna hate to see one of those guys lose the battle for the starting job at strongside linebacker, because both are ballers. Roach is fluid and powerful, while Tinoisamoa - for a small guy - plays with that "dog" in him that I like to talk about. I think the winner of the starting job there could be the surprise player on defense.
Wright, do you think Mark Anderson is going to turn up the heat this year?
Michael (2:19 PM)
Anderson seems to talk a good game (maybe it's because us reporters keep asking him about it), but I'm skeptical, man. His sack totals have gone from 12 as a rookie to 5, 1 and 3.5 last season. Maybe we're seeing a pattern here, and the sack total wll rise again this season. I mean, it should given all the attention Julius Peppers will receive, which should put Anderson in more one-on-one situations.
Shomshon (Chicago, IL)
Hopefully because of my fun name, you'll indulge one more questions from me. which player has been, in your opinion, the biggest suprise in camp so far?
Michael (2:21 PM)
Yeah, that name deserves another answer for sure. I'm not sure it's a surprise to you guys, but for the coaching staff, the biggest surprise has been rookie safety Major Wright. The Bears were skeptical about his coverage skills when they drafted him. But since returning from his groin injury, Wright has been all over the place making plays against the pass. Wright also has this inspiring personality that can elevate the play of teammates, which can be big on this defense.
i know its still early, but whats your prediction on TDs to INTs for cutler this season?
Michael (2:25 PM)
I'd tell you to look for an increase in both. The thing about the INTs though, is I don't think a lot of them will be Cutler's fault. As I mentioned before, he'll be throwing blindly a lot of the time. If the receiver doesn't get to the spot, the result many times will be an INT. The receivers are already raw as it is. Throw in a new offensive system, and you're gonna see some struggles. Alot of folks don't realize that receiver -- even if a guy has played it his entire career; Pop Warner on up -- is the hardest position in to transition into in the NFL.
Mike - Lets talk turkey. From what you've seen at camp so far - can we beat the Packers this year? I want at least ONE game for bragging rights...
Michael (2:26 PM)
Sam, anything is possible, my man. Sure the Bears can beat the Packers. Put heat on Aaron Rodgers, force some bad throws/turnovers and take advantage of the field position. Then, let Cutler and the boys work their magic. I think it's definitely do-able.
What's your oppinion regarding Chris Harris and rumors out there saying that the Panthers more so released him due to injuries (back)?
Michael (2:28 PM)
Anthony, I don't think the injury issues are rumor. Lots of folks in the know have told my colleague Jeff Dickerson and me that. I'd say durablity might be an issue with Harris. But isn't that the case with any player playing 16 games over the course of a season? It's a risk, but a sound one given the fact the club still has Danieal Manning, who is undoubtedly the better athlete anyway.
Did John Clayton and JD share a dorm room again when he was in town?
Michael (2:29 PM)
I can confirm that it didn't happen. JD is right down the hall from me in his own room. Clayton, JD, and I did have some great conversations though.
What's the best part about camp for sportswriters?
Michael (2:31 PM)
When that last horn signifying the end of practice is blown. Seriously, and I think I can speak for JD on this one, too, it's just being around football again after not having it for so long. I'd say that around 80 percent of the sports writers love the game as much -- if not more -- than the fans. So we love being around it.
Michael (2:32 PM)
Guys, that's my time. I've got to get ready to hit the airport to go to San Diego. I really appreciate you guys taking the time to participate. JD and I will be chatting this Saturday during the game, too. So please come by and holler at us.