For the kickoff edition of Four Down Territory, we'll tackle more than four questions. (It does get to Five Down Territory when you're a freshman at the University of Missouri and the Big 8 officials give Colorado five cracks at the goalline). The response was great and we appreciate all of the e-mails and posts to the blog. The plan is to break out a four question Q&A daily from Monday through Friday. Let's get started.
Q: With the Bears in desperate need of offensive playmakers, why don't they try to use Garrett Wolfe like the Jets use Leon Washington? I think Wolfe has some of the same types of skills as Washington. Ron Turner's lack of creativity concerns me.
Steve G., Parts Unknown
A: How about using Wolfe like Darren Sproles? That's an even more popular comparison after the diminutive San Diego Chargers running back rolled for 328 combined yards in the wild-card victory over Indianapolis. Sproles has 467 yards in his last two playoff games, 33 yards shy of Anthony Carter's playoff record of 500 combined yards in consecutive postseason games. He can take over first with 173 yards Sunday at Pittsburgh.
It's a good question, and Wolfe has been drawing comparisons ever since general manager Jerry Angelo used a third-round pick on him in 2007. At the time, the name Warrick Dunn was thrown out there and that did two people a disservice--Dunn and Wolfe. It was unfair to Dunn to make that comparison and unfair to Wolfe as well.
I think the bigger issue in the Bears' backfield is why they didn't put together a plan to use two backs, period. Rookie Matt Forte had a solid season but a 1-2 punch might have been healthier for him in the end, and healthier for the offense in general. That's why the club signed Kevin Jones in July. It's easy to draw the Wolfe comparisons to Washington, Sproles, Dunn, or pick-your-short-back, but I don't think he necessarily has the same skills set as Washington. The Jets multi-dimensional back has some top end speed that I'm not sure you'll get out of Wolfe. Of course, we won't know unless we see more of him.
Q: Can you please answer why Earl Bennett was not used this year? With the poor receiving corps, why not?
Tony R., Parts Unknown
A: How much you want to bet the college scouting department is seeking an answer to that very question? Bennett dressed for 10 games but was rarely used on offense and didn't catch a pass. As the season progressed, it became apparent the coaching staff simply did not trust him on the field. How else can you explain his lack of use? It's not like he was fighting to get playing time in between Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin and Steve Breaston. Clearly, the coaching staff felt he was behind the curve and was not ready to take the field. If that doesn't change in 2009, he'll quickly be in Mark Bradleyland, which is where receivers who fall out of favor must bide their time. Typically, that time is spent waiting anxiously on the sideline.
Q: Why hasn't Bob Babich been fired after two seasons of the defense finishing in the bottom five after years of being in the top five with Ron Rivera? It makes no sense.
Brian W., Chicago
A: There's probably not a bigger hot-button topic for Bears fans right now than this one. To straighten it out, the Bears were 28th on defense last season and 21st this year, so they did not have consecutive bottom-five finishes. When you consider that Rivera was not offered a contract after the loss in Super Bowl XLI (effectively meaning he was fired), it raises more than a few questions. Lovie Smith has a longstanding relationship with Babich, and he was the first hire made when Smith assembled his staff in 2004 after coming up from St. Louis. Babich remains in place and three position coaches--Brick Haley, Lloyd Lee and Steve Wilks--have departed.
I thought former Sun-Timesman Dan Pompei did an excellent job of articulating why when he visited with Mully & Hanley on the the Score, AM-670, earlier this week. You can pick up the entire interview here, but the gist of what he said is that it happens in every NFL city--coaches want to go to battle with assistants that they are most comfortable with. Whether it's someone they met at Tulsa in the 1980's or a son-in-law, coaches need to feel comfortable about who they are going into a game with every Sunday.
There are accountability questions that need to be answered, and all season long Babich said the defense starts with him. It will be very interesting to get Smith's take on the situation and explanation for events when he speaks to media next. But I'm not going to pretend to have an answer for whys and hows of Smith's staff. In recent Bears' history, Babich is about as unpopular as former offensive coordinator John Shoop was in 2003. The difference is Shoop was never criticized for a pre-existing relationship with head coach Dick Jauron.
Q: What are the chances of the Bears trading for Anquan Boldin? Does he still want out of Arizona? I am hoping the Bears can pick him up, and if not him, T.J. Houshmandzadeh. Also, who is out there for free agent guards? I think the Bears need to upgrade from Josh Beekman, even John St. Clair would be an improvement. And I thought Roberto Garza had a pretty mediocre season as well.
Ray C., Parts Unknown
A: Whoa, that's a lot. First of all, Boldin wants to be paid. He's signed through 2010 as part of a $22.75 million, four-year extension he agreed to in July 2005. Boldin is on the books for $2.75 million next season and $3 million in 2010. Obviously, that's got more than his hamstring in a ball after the $40 million, four-year bonanza his teammate Larry Fitzgerald landed last summer.
The Cardinals have a wealth of needs on defense and could bolster their roster with picks, players or both by dealing Boldin, who is expendable following the development of Steve Breaston. But Boldin is going to have some say in where he goes, if the Cardinals in deed dangle him on the market. He's going to have some say because he is going to have to negotiate a contract with a new team and if he doesn't want to come to Chicago or pick-another-city, he doesn't have to talk contract.
You have to believe the asking price will be steep if the Roy Williams-to-Dallas deal has any bearing on it. Detroit grabbed first-, third- and sixth-round picks from the Cowboys in exchange for Williams and a seventh rounder in 2010. Who's more valuable? Boldin or Williams?
As far as Houshmandzadeh and the class of free agents, we worked on that earlier today. We'll get to guards later on, perhaps next week, but I thought Garza was steady last season.
Q: Can you explain what the Marcus Hamilton bonus or whatever is? I read the paper most every day, but I seem to have missed this one.
Adam, Parts Unknown
A: Thanks for reading. You need to do a better job of trolling through Inside the Bears. This came up in comments Tuesday when we reviewed the salary cap and where the Bears fit in.
From the Nov. 6 print edition:
Marcus Hamilton has more reason than any player to nag special-teams coordinator Dave Toub for playing time. The cornerback, whom the Bears claimed off waivers from Tampa Bay in September, topped the annual salary list produced by USA Today on Thursday, an unlikely name to see. Hamilton's salary-cap figure for 2008 is $10,242,941, the result of a $10 million incentive that he will not see.
Hamilton collects the bonus if he participates in 90 percent of the special-teams snaps for the season -- a figure he's not close to achieving because he's not on the field-goal team -- and blocks six punts. His next blocked punt will be his first.
The contract allows the Bears to eat up their leftover cap room for this season and earn a credit of $10 million for 2009, and it's a product of the contract Hamilton signed with the Buccaneers and the Bears inherited when they claimed him. More maneuverability under the cap the next two seasons will be necessary as the league moves to an uncapped year in 2011.
Still, it can't hurt for Hamilton to see himself picking the ball off a punter's foot in his dreams, over and over again.
''Nothing is impossible,'' he said. ''But I go in every day and just work.''
The player with the highest non-inflated cap figure this season is cornerback Charles Tillman, who checks in at $8,216,666.
Thanks for all the input. We'll revisit Four Down Territory again on Monday. Until then, I look forward to the questions.