We sorted through a collection of e-mail inquiries and did our best to pick out a few Rex Grossman questions to answer. There were many. But we'll start with the new quarterback. Keep the questions coming and we'll get to another installment next week.
Q: I believe that Brian Griese is underrated. He was 5-1 and playing at a Pro Bowl level in 2005 as the starter in Tampa Bay before he suffered a season-ending knee injury. Do you believe it's possible that Brian is more than just a Band-Aid?
Mark, Parts Unknown
Mark: There is no question Griese has displayed the talent in the past to be a steady and productive quarterback over the long haul. I don't know that he was playing at a Pro Bowl level before his knee injury in 2005, but he played very well for the Buccaneers in 2004 and was a Pro Bowl choice with the Broncos in 2000.
Griese is 32 so unless he comes out and plays lights out, I think Jerry Angelo is going to be hesitant to annoint him the quarterback of the future. The Bears need Griese to be the quarterback of the now for a team that hopes to heal up on defense and get back into the thick of the NFC race.
Barring a major acquisition, I don't see how you're not looking at Griese as the starter entering 2008, though. Obviously, he's got to stay healthy, but this regime and this coaching staff is unlikely to draft a quarterback in the first round and then make him the starter from Day 1. I'm glad someone wants to see the quarterback stay in place for a while before the QB turnstile clicks again.
Q: Now that Rex has been benched, how long will it be until Cedric Benson takes his rightful place on the sideline as well?
Steve R., Grand Rapids, Mich.
Steve: Maybe if the Bears had signed Naperville North product Chris Brown during the offseason when he was a running back in search of a team, that would be an easier move to make. Benson has not performed well with just 189 yards through three games, but more concerning to me is the sloppy way in which he handles the ball at times.
The Bears are adamant Benson’s knee was down when Dallas’ Remi Ayodele ripped the ball out in Sunday’s loss to the Cowboys. Maybe. But if you hold onto the ball, it’s not an issue.
Benching Benson will be a more difficult move for Lovie Smith to make than sending Grossman to the sideline. Grossman will be a free agent following the season. Angelo invested $16 million of the McCaskeys’ money in Benson, so it’s an understatement when you say the front office has a vested interest in seeing Benson get every possibly opportunity to succeed. That being said, he needs to show he badly wants the opportunity. Benson complained about not being the man for two seasons. Now that he is, he needs to perform.
Q: I know the Bears and Mike Ditka are not on good terms since his firing, but why didn't they retire his jersey years ago. I would guess he is the only long-time Hall of famer without this distinction. It is really a slap in the face, would you not agree?
Michael B, Parts Unknown
Michael: While Mike Ditka is arguably the man most associated with the franchise, he does not have his No. 89 retired. In fact, it’s so available that practice squad tight end Fontel Mines currently owns it. Dustin Lyman, Ryan Wetnight, James Coley, Will Johnson, Keith Ortego, Mitch Krenk, Ken Margerum, James Scott, Mel Tom, Bob Wallace and Terry Stoepel have all worn 89 since Ditka left after the 1966 season. No offense to those men, yes, I would call it a slap in the face.
Say what you want about Ditka’s relationship with the club these days, but I know this: They know Ditka’s good business and that’s why he’s associated with the preseason telecasts each summer as an analyst. They’re at least related that way.
One of the problems in retiring the number is that the team has already honored too many former players in such a way. With 13 retired jersey numbers, the Bears have the most in the NFL and trail MLB’s New York Yankees by only two. The Boston Celtics have the most in sports with 21. It seems a lot of George Halas’ favorites got their numbers retired, and now Ditka isn’t the only great to have his number still in circulation. No. 50 has not been retired for Mike Singletary, although no one has worn it since his playing days ended in 1992. Remember, it took more than two decades for the franchise to retire No. 51 in honor of Dick Butkus.
The Bears and their retired numbers: 3-Bronko Nagurski, 5-George McAfee, 7-George Halas, 28-Willie Galimore, 34-Walter Payton, 40-Gale Sayers, 41-Brian Piccolo, 42-Sid Luckman, 51-Dick Butkus, 56-Bill Hewitt, 61-Bill George, 66-Bulldog Turner, 77-Red Grange.
It’s not like they would run out of eligible receiver numbers by retiring the number for Ditka.
Q: Are the recent injuries a result from too much defensive time on the field? Is that opinion shared by others? Is it legitimate? Is it adding to any incipient offense vs. defense issue within the team?
Jeff B., Port Angeles, Wash.
Jeff: First off, if you were going to see some internal war between offense and defense, that would have started well before now. The defense has gone from good to excellent while the offense has run the course from bad to passable and back to bad. There was some sniping of former offensive coordinator John Shoop in the past, and there would have been some for Terry Shea had he not been mercifully fired at the end of 2004, but the players are not going at one another.
Addressing the injuries, certainly any time any player spends on the field there is a possibility for injury. While the time of possession has been awful—the Bears are ranked 30th holding the ball for an average of only 26 minutes, 16 seconds—the extra few minutes the defense has spent on the field is not a cause for injuries like Nathan Vasher’s groin pull and Lance Briggs’ hamstring pull. The 3 minutes, 44 seconds it would take to get even amounts to a handful of snaps and we’re talking about professional athletes.
The Bears were one of the healthiest teams in the league last season with only 26 man starts lost to injury. Injuries can be cyclical, and rest assured we’re not seeing a relapse of the Great Hamstring Epidemic of 2004. Not yet, any way.
Q: Was Grossman allowed to audible? I’m not asking for him to be as annoying as Peyton Manning is, but it seems to me the only motions Rex does at the line are to point out blitzers.
Tom, Parts Unknown
Tom: Grossman and Griese have the ability to change the play at the line, but for the Bears that mostly involves check with mes, where one of two plays will be chosen at the line depending on the defensive alignment. There are also sight adjustments that the quarterback has with receivers. With Grossman struggling as he did with the basics, did you really want him freelancing out there?
Q: Rex’s approval rating looks like George Bush’s. Thank god the Chicago Bears aren't a Democracy. Could the next Sun-Times’ poll be: Should Rex EVER start another game in the NFL?
Tom S., Des Moines, Iowa
Tom: I would have to possess some actual pull around here to get decisions like that pushed through. It’s funny you mention that, though. Quarterbacks coach Pep Hamilton was walking through the hallway at Halas Hall on Wednesday. Before opening a door, he turned in the direction of two reporters and said, ``Rex Grossman is more criticized than George Bush in Chicago.’’ Did you e-mail Pep as well?
I think Grossman will get another chance some day. Look at how quarterbacks circulate through the league. Goodness, Vinny Testaverde was brought in last month by the New England Patriots.
Q: Have you noticed how both Kyle Orton and Rex Grossman started strong under Ron Turner, only to regress the more games they played? Is there something to this?
Nelson M., San Jose, Calif.
Nelson: Let’s not make the beginning of Kyle Orton’s 2005 season into something it wasn’t. He had five touchdown passes through the first six games. Orton was applauded for essentially not screwing up, a job he succeeded at for the most part. Grossman got into trouble when he could not stop screwing up. Orton more or less hit a rookie wall, and eventually they scaled back the offense after trying to add maybe a little too much. They didn't make things too complicated for Grossman. He got in trouble trying not to screw up, and then doing just that.
Orton struggled against the Super Bowl bound Steelers and then had a bad first half in frigid conditions against Atlanta when he got pulled. I think Turner must take culpability in not being able to turn Grossman around. Wade Wilson, the quarterbacks coach from the previous three years, was fired. Make no mistake about it, it hasn’t been Wilson or Pep Hamilton tutoring Grossman. It’s been Turner. Brian Griese has more experience and you would think that would make him less susceptible to slumps after he has been starting for some time.
As a wise co-worker Ralph often says, more fun next time.