Just about three weeks in advance of free agency the Bears have made their first move of the offseason by adding quarterback Brett Basanez, who was available because he was a practice-squad player for the Carolina Panthers last season. He didn't have to wait until free agency to sign. There will be plenty of news and speculation to work through as we move closer to the opening of the NFL shopping season on Feb. 27.
Obviously, the moves by the club at the start of free agency will help shape decisions that will be made come the draft. Here's the latest mock draft by Todd McShay and Scouts Inc. at ESPN.com. He's got the Bears drafting Percy Harvin in the first round with the 18th pick. We don't see any way the Bears consider Harvin. He'd give them a second Devin Hester. He's a little like Hester in that he's not a proven commodity at wide receiver. He spent time as a running back last season at Florida. He's got an injury history. After drafting Chris Williams in the first round last season, general manager Jerry Angelo is not likely to roll the dice on a player with medical issues. They don't need a Hester clone as much as they need a gamebreaking receiver with size. I'm not sure that player will exist where they're drafting, but that's an issue for another day.
The mock goes through the second round and there they have the Bears grabbing Oregon center/guard Max Unger. It's a good bet the Bears go for an interior lineman in the first four rounds of the draft but it's a better bet they go for a tackle first. The draft will give us plenty to discuss moving forward. For right now, let's jump into the mailbag and resume Four Down Territory.
Q: While I agree that the Bears need help in a lot of areas, especially wide receiver, I'm a little surprised more hasn't been said about strong-side linebacker. I assumed going into the offseason that the Bears might be looking for a starter in that spot. Are they that happy with the players they already have there or do you think they'll be looking to draft one?
Tom S., Chicago
A: If the right player was there and the Bears deemed him to be a difference maker, I wouldn't say no to it. But like you said, the Bears need help in a lot of areas. They need more help in a lot of areas than they do at linebacker. Nick Roach made some strides in his first year starting. He got nine starts after taking over for Hunter Hillenmeyer and showed promise. Can you do better? Sure, but at what expense? The Bears must get at least one safety on board and they also need to bolster the pass rush. Yes, that can be done with a strong-side linebacker but I think they're more likely to look to develop Roach. Hillenmeyer appeared to be a scapegoat for a defense gone wrong at the time of the move. He had some high-profile situations in coverage but if you look at those more closely some of those perceived errors could have been as much a product of the scheme as anything else. Hillenmeyer is still a functional two-down starter. With Bob Babich being moved back to linebackers coach, the Bears could expect him to improve the group as is, too. This doesn't look to rate as a priority.
Q: Jerry Angelo's comments notwithstanding, do you think the Bears would consider moving Mike Brown to nickel back? The coaches have repeatedly stressed that nickel requires better command of the defense and more physical, almost linebacker-like, play than the other DB positions. Those characteristics would seem to fit Brown's remaining strengths. Playing nickel would also address injury concerns by reducing his reps, and Danieal Manning could move back to safety, where he seems most comfortable. It'd be a shame to lose a player like Brown when he clearly wants to continue playing in Chicago.
Dan T., Ingleside
A: We'll get a better idea about Brown's future in the coming weeks, but at this point it would have to be a mild surprise if he returns. Brown's skills best suit him to be an in-the-box safety at this point. Asking him to play nickel would expose him in coverage more than you would like. Brown got better when he was moved from free to strong safety during the middle of the season. That's not a role that would fit him or the team well. Last season, it looked like Manning was most comfortable in the nickel. The Bears need to pick a spot and leave him there. If they move him back to safety, fine, they have to leave him there. Part of the problem, a big part of it, is they have not been able to decide what they want to do with him. He was playing with confidence in the nickel role until he was moved to safety for the final game at Houston. What happened? He blew coverage on a long play to Andre Johnson. We saw that play happen in Super Bowl XLI. Let him find a spot and grow some roots.
Q: Last season I heard Josh Beekman was being groomed as Olin Kruetz's replacement at center before being thrown into the starting lineup at guard. Will he stay at guard where he did just OK or are they planning on moving him back to being the backup center and moving someone else to left guard?
Rick W., California
A: I don't know if Beekman was being groomed as Kreutz's replacement or if he was being groomed as the backup center. If the Bears and Kreutz have any luck, he'll be in place for several more seasons. Beekman's status at left guard is dependent on what the club does in free agency and the draft. John St. Clair would have been in the mix there if he was moved off of left tackle. That didn't happen. He's an unrestricted free agent and has expressed a desire to return, but first and foremost he wants the opportunity to be a starter and get the starter money that comes along with that. If St. Clair doesn't get a good opportunity elsewhere, that would certainly increase the possibility of him returning. Beekman wasn't spectacular in his first season starting but held up. At some point, the Bears need to draft another young guard. We'll see where this one heads.
Q: Will Brandon Lloyd return to the Bears?
Raymond P., Parts Unknown
A: I don't think so. Lloyd, the college standout for offensive coordinator Ron Turner at Illinois, saw his season fall apart after a mild knee sprain knocked him out in late September. He made 15 of his 26 receptions in the first four weeks and when he took five weeks off to heal when the injury was expected to sideline him two to four weeks, Lloyd got an extra week he wasn't expecting Nov. 9 against Tennessee as Lovie Smith sent him a message. Lloyd has shown acrobatic ability throughout his career but more striking has been the wild inconsistency he's also shown at every stop he's made. Even if Turner is still in his corner, it would be a surprise for him to return. At some point, chances run out for guys like this.
Thanks for all the questions. Fire some in and we'll visit the mailbag again Wednesday. As always, thanks for reading.