PITTSBURGH--There is a pretty cool display of the Immaculate Reception here in the terminal at the airport.
A pretty realistic looking Franco Harris mannequin (are there such things as football mannequins?) is outstretched to snare the ball before it hits the turf at Three Rivers Stadium. He's decked out in some old-school cleats and the uniform is vintage 1972. The throngs of Steeler fans heading out of town after Sunday's divisional round victory over San Diego are stopping to take their picture with Franco. His incredible catch (or non-catch?) came in the divisional playoffs against Oakland.
The Bears are just interested onlookers in these playoffs but that doesn't mean there are not plenty of issues to tackle. With that, we jump into Four Down Territory from the 'Burgh.
Q: Caleb Hanie looked great in the preseason I know that it was against third-string defenses but he was using third-string wide receivers. Why is he not getting any respect? He was hitting guys in stride. I think he deserves a chance. What are your thoughts?
Stephen B., Parts Unknown
A: I don't think anyone is writing off Hanie, the undrafted free agent from Colorado State. I think he's in position to go into 2009 as the No. 3 quarterback after the plan was to keep him on the practice squad this past season. Hanie did enough in preseason to convince the Bears they didn't have 53 players that were better than him. What was most impressive was his ability to keep plays alive in the pocket and move around a little. He also made pretty good decisions with the ball and that was a significant question after a poor senior season at Colorado State. Hanie completed 29-of-49 passes for 321 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions in preseason. His passer rating was 82.1.
I'm not sure what role you believe he should be considered for going into next season? Certainly if he's lights out, he'll get a chance to climb the ladder but the Tony Romos of the NFL world don't come around all that often. You don't find undrafted gems very often. There are reasons 32 teams pass on players in the draft and it's not often all 32 teams miss on a guy. Romo took years to develop in Dallas and more time is what Hanie needs before he's going to be ready to make a serious bid for game action.
No one is saying that won't happen but it looks like general manager Jerry Angelo is going to pursue a veteran with more experience to push incumbent Kyle Orton. Orton is who Angelo and coach Lovie Smith believe will lead the team in 2009. I don't think that precludes Hanie from being in competition at all, and it looks to be a wise move to consider someone with experience. Plus, if the Bears haven't developed a quarterback in all this time, are chances really good they'll find magic with an undrafted free agent? Josh McDaniels worked wonders with Matt Cassel in New England, but he just signed on to coach the Denver Broncos. And even Cassel was drafted in the seventh round.
Q: Rod Marinelli is clearly viewed as the best in the business as a D-line coach who gets all that is possible from his charges. With word that Dallas will not re-sign Tank Johnson, would Jerry Angelo consider giving Marinelli the opportunity to work with Johnson and further solidify the interior?
Vic F., Parts Unknown
A: In a word, no. Marinelli is considered one of the finest in the league when it comes to shaping players. He doesn't turn con men into upstanding citizens. Johnson's time ran out with the Bears because he told them one too many times that he ``got it,'' and then turned around and proved he either didn't ``get it'' or didn't care. Johnson is a talented player who never made an impact with the Cowboys because he wasn't a good fit for their 3-4 scheme.
His skill set suited him ideally for the Bears' line and that's why the organization bent over backward time and time again for him. Heck, they didn't just bend over backward for Johnson, they played Twister for him. How else do you explain the countless trips to the Cook County Jail by everyone in the organization from Michael McCaskey on down. There is no way the Bears will bring back Johnson. I'm not saying he wasn't a risk worth taking when he was chosen in the second round with known character concerns. I'm saying the Bears rolled the dice and lost on this one and Johnson has already fooled them once.
Q: I think the Bears have an assistant defensive line coach and an assistant secondary coach. Have you heard if they'll get fired too? Also, what are the chances Richard Dent coaches the defensive line or at least becomes an assistant defensive line coach like he was under Dick Jauron?
Dan G., Allentown, Pa.
A: Eric Washington remains under contract as the assistant defensive line coach and is in fact at the East-West Shrine Game this week along with general manager Jerry Angelo and the Bears' scouting staff. Gill Byrd remains under contract as the assistant secondary coach. There are no plans, at least that Inside the Bears has heard of, for either of these coaches to be removed. As far as Dent, who made a one-year appearance under Jauron in 2003, it's unlikely he will return in that capacity. We're not going to speak for the Hall of Fame finalist, but coaching is a profession that demands an incredible amount of time and work and that's not a choice many ex-players want to make.
Q: I believe a lot of the Bears' defensive problems stemmed from the defense being on the field too long. It seemed like whenever the defense did come up with a big stop they were put right back on the field after an interception or three-and-out. Do you have any stats on time of possession to support this, like where the Bears ranked compared to the rest of the league? Is there a correlation to wins and losses and yards or points allowed?
Trent, Des Moines, Iowa
A: The Bears' average time of possession for the season was 28 minutes, seven seconds, which ranked 28th. Only Seattle (26:30), Detroit (26:59), Cleveland (27:33) and Kansas City (27:56) were worse. Obviously, with a 9-7 record the Bears were the only group in that bunch with a winning record. In fact, the Seahawks, Lions, Browns and Chiefs combined for eight victories. Looks like you're on to something.
As far as yards and points, any coach in the world will tell you the No. 1 statistic is points allowed. Of the top 12 teams in terms of points allowed (in order Pittsburgh, Tennessee, Baltimore, Philadelphia, N.Y. Giants, Washington, Indianapolis, New England, Miami, Tampa Bay, Atlanta, Carolina), nine reached the playoffs. The Bears were tied for 16th in points allowed.
When it comes to yardage allowed, there is also a correlation, although not quite as strong. The top 12, in order: Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Washington, N.Y. Giants, Minnesota, Tennessee, Dallas, Tampa Bay, New England, Indianapolis, Cincinnati. Seven of those clubs reached the postseason. The Bears were 21st.
Send in your questions and we'll break out another edition of Four Down Territory on Tuesday.