Spent some time today profiling Arizona Cardinals offensive coordinator Todd Haley, one of the hot assistants in the league right now, so we're running late with the mailbag once again. What else is new? Haley was the Bears' wide receivers coach from 2001-03 and under his watch Marty Booker became the first (and only) Bears receiver to reach the Pro Bowl since 1972. That story will be in Thursday's edition of the Sun-Times, and includes an interesting John Shoop nugget that may not be well known.
Moving forward, let's jump into Four Down Territory.
Q: What kind of buzz is there about Larry English, the defensive end from Northern Illinois?
Scott T., Aurora
A: There's more and more buzz every day about English, who prepped at Marmion Academy in Aurora. He's turned heads all week at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., and right now he's in the top five of a lot of lists at defensive end. English was the MAC MVP and defensive player of the year and produced 31 1/2 sacks during his career in DeKalb. The thing scouts are going to have to do is project him at the NFL level, something the Bears didn't do a very good job of with another MAC pass rusher in Dan Bazuin. English has good size at 6-3, 255 pounds and in the most recent mock draft by ESPN guru Mel Kiper Jr., he had English going in the first round.
Here is what ESPN.com's Todd McShay had to say about English today:
"Northern Illinois OLB/DE Larry English continues to make a case for himself as one of the premier pass-rushers of the senior crop. English turned another strong performance during one-on-ones, showcasing a variety of pass-rush moves. He displays the ability to bend when coming off the edge, which makes it extremely hard for tackles to get their hands on and control him. He has also lined up at defensive tackle at times, using his explosive first step to disrupt a play in the backfield on one snap and surprisingly driving Oregon C Max Unger back into the pocket on the next play. That's not all either. Texas DE Brian Orakpo skipped Senior Bowl week and English has seized the opportunity to step into the spotlight and making a name for himself."
Sounds like he's turning in a terrific week in Mobile. Watch for him during the game Saturday.
Q: Does anybody currently on the team get a contract extension this offseason?
Adam, Evansville, Ind.
A: The Jerry Angelo Reward My Own Program has been discontinued this offseason. It's not because the Bears are changing their philosophy. They're simply out of players to go to about getting extensions done. Offensive tackle John St. Clair is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent and the door remains open for him to potentially return. Other than that, Angelo more or less wrote off Mike Brown already. He's said the club is going to wait to see more from quarterback Kyle Orton before making a move with him. Defensive tackle Israel Idonije is entering the final year of his contract and at this point I would expect him to likely enter the season without an extension. Strong-side linebacker Nick Roach is an exclusive rights free agent so he'll likely receive a tender. Doesn't look like there will be a lot of in-house movement.
Q: Jerry Angelo and Lovie Smith always play up the self-evaluation phase of the offseason. I guess that is pretty self explanatory as far as it goes. What I was wondering is how they do it? For example, do the offensive coaches evaluate the defense, and vice versa? Does the scouting department play a role? Do the Bears bring in any kind of outside perspective such as retired coaches? What is the end result, a relative number, or something like ``we need another cornerback?'' Any info you had would be more than I have.
A: The self-evaluation process has already begun and it will gain momentum next week after the staff returns from the Senior Bowl. It's a pretty exhaustive process. The position coaches do thorough reports on their players and the scouting department is heavily involved with critiquing the roster. When everyone has assembled their reports, they get together in a big room and have what Angelo describes as very candid and frank discussions about everything from top to bottom. They don't bring in outside eyes to work on this, but they're not making snap judgments here. These aren't rah-rah sessions that are held and they help shape the club's direction moving forward toward free agency and then the draft.
Q: Could the Bears have interest in Baltimore safety Jim Leonhard, who will be a free agent?
A: Leonard stood out at strong safety for the Ravens after taking over for Dawan Landry in Week 3. In the first two playoff games he recorded 12 tackles, a forced fumble, sack, interception and fumble recovery. That's getting the job done. He also was Baltimore's punt returner. He's a hard-nosed player who fit in perfectly to the Ravens' aggressive scheme. He had a career-high 85 tackles after three seasons in Buffalo and should get paid now after playing for $520,000.
"I had a great season," Leonhard told the Baltimore Sun earlier this week. "I was put in position to make plays, and fortunate enough to make a lot of them. I've spoken all season of how I love this system and this defense."
The Ravens have some serious free-agent issues starting with linebackers Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs and Bart Scott, who are all free to leave. The expectation is one gets tagged, one gets extended and Scott leaves. The Ravens spend big on defense and might not have room for Leonhard. If he departs, perhaps he heads to the New York Jets, where Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan just took over.
Thanks for all the questions. Fire some more in and we'll get back to Four Down Territory on Thursday. As always, thanks for reading.