Let's get right to the mail.
Q: My question concerns the Green Bay Packers' implementation of the 3-4 defense. Under Lovie Smith's tenure, the Chicago Bears' record vs. teams that run the 3-4 is 2-6. Here are the results:
2004: Houston Texans (coached by Dom Capers) 24 v. BEARS 5
2005: Cleveland Browns 20 v. BEARS 10; BEARS 17 v. San Francisco 49ers 9; Pittsburgh Steelers 21 v. BEARS 9
2006: BEARS 41 v. San Francisco 49ers 10; New England Patriots 17 v. BEARS 13
2007: San Diego Chargers 14 v. BEARS 3; Dallas Cowboys 34 v. BEARS 10
2008: no opponents
Dom Capers (an associate of 3-4 students Bill Cowher and Dick LeBeau) has taken three separate basement dwelling defensive units and flipped them into formidable forces in his first year on the job. The 3-4 defense can can prove to be exotic, dynamic and perplexing all within the same possession. What are your thoughts on Capers and his history? Any insights on how the Bears prepare themselves for the Packers new defense?
Jim A., Parts Unknown
A: To take your well made point a step further, the Bears are 0-6 vs. teams that implement the 3-4 defense that are not in San Francisco. I think the 49ers were running more of a hybrid 3-4 there at the time, however, because of some personnel shortages. At any rate, Capers' success has been well documented and Dan Pompei recently put together a nice story in the Tribune about it. There is a lot of work that goes into switching a defense and the key is acquiring the personnel. The Packers believe they are off to a good start after landing tackle B.J. Raji and linebacker Clay Matthews in the draft. I don't know what to say about that 2004 game with Houston, though. That meeting came at the end of a disastrous offensive season for the Bears. If you recall, Chad Hutchinson was the quarterback at the time. I think the one thing the Bears have going for themselves in this situation is new quarterback Jay Cutler. He comes from the AFC where the 3-4 has been more prevalent and he's played twice a season against one of the better 3-4 defenses in the league in San Diego.
He's got experience against the scheme and that's going to be useful because the Bears are destined to see the best the 3-4 has to offer this season. They will see it against Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Cleveland and Arizona. So that's at least six games vs. the defense by our count. Cutler may have a better feel against the defense than Kyle Orton. If the Bears don't feel they have a lot of experience vs. it, they'll be singing a different tune after opening against the Packers and Steelers in the first two weeks. A little tidbit: teams using the 3-4 have won six of the last nine Super Bowls.
Q: Dez Clark is 32 this year and that is ancient for a tight end given the punishment they take so he must be near the end of his career. When the Bears drafted Kellen Davis last year in the fifth round, it looked like Jerry Angelo had found a very promising developmental and large athletic blocking tight end who could catch a pass. But Davis seemed to disappear last year from the formations and now we are seeing the Bears bring in the seventh-round draft choice Louis Lance, who Angelo called an athletic 300-pound tight end and who Lovie Smith later called a guard. Now, the Bears are bringing in 29-year-old blocking tight end Michael Gaines, recently released from the Lions, about whom you wrote last week, ``Gaines, who is 6-4, 277 pounds, also has some receiving skills.'' Have the Bears given up on Davis? It seems pretty early to do that. Or are they just getting ready for Clark to retire and adding experience at that position as they continue to develop Davis and maybe Lance if he makes the team? Clearly, the Bears need better red zone blocking for their run game looking at their scoring problems last year. What do you think is happening?
David H., Chicago
A: We've got a lot at play here so let's see if we can get to it piece by piece.
1. This isn't the only e-mail I've gotten that seems to suggest the end is near for Clark. I'm not sure why. Sure, he's on the back side of his career but what the Bears have gotten from him has been nothing but consistent performance. Clark has been remarkably durable at one of the most-injury riddled positions in the league. He has not missed a game in four seasons and has sat out just two games in six years with the Bears. I'd call him, unquestionably, one of the best free-agent signings in the Angelo era. Clark turned 32 last month and he's signed through 2010. He's been a leader in the locker room and has certainly helped bring Greg Olsen a long to this point. Clark has had between 41 and 45 receptions each of the last three seasons even as Olsen has begun to take off. Clark is a far better blocker than Olsen. He's been a strong member of the offense for some time and I can't really say he slowed down last season even if his yards per catch dipped. Let's not be too quick to say his days of being a valuable contributor are over or just around the corner.
2. I don't think Davis really disappeared from the formations last season because I don't think he ever really appeared, even at the beginning. Most of his 40 snaps came in jumbo packages with three tight ends.
3. Let's get this straight--I don't see any way Louis plays tight end. The Bears might have announced he was a tight end on draft day in order to try to sign some linemen as undrafted free agents. It appeared at least that they went the entire draft without getting a lineman. But Louis wears No. 60 so I don't see him lining up in the backfield either. The last time this much was made of a seventh-round pick, I believe it was Kirk Barton. Louis' best shot to last longer than Barton might be sticking around on the practice squad as the numbers make it hard to find a spot on the 53-man roster for him as we sit here in mid-May, more than two months from the start of training camp.
4. Bringing in Gaines doesn't necessarily signal the end of the line for Davis. Remember, it's no guarantee Gaines makes the team. He can earn up to $1.25 million in his one-year deal, but he has to make the roster and then hit some incentives to get that pay day. But Gaines is certainly competition. Here's the deal with Davis--the quickest way for him to get on the field last season as a rookie was to excel as an in-line blocker. He didn't do that. He's a big guy with terrific athletic ability. Could he improve in his second season? Sure. He's got draft pick pedigree and as it's been proven around here, draft picks get extra time to develop. Davis was heavily involved on special teams and essentially took the role of Israel Idonije. While Davis was largely a nonfactor on the coverage units, one place Idonije stood out, he was better as a blocker on returns. If he can improve as a blocking tight end, that will help his future. Yes, the Bears have to begin considering a future without Clark and Davis could be part of that. They'd also be well served to look longer at Fontel Mines, a guy who has developed on the practice squad pretty well.
5. Ultimately, though, when the post-Clark era arrives, we'd suggest the Bears would be much better off working diligently to develop more wide receivers. Two pass-catching tight ends are nice, but they don't provide the big-play threat a wideout does. Olsen will do well for years to come. I'd be far less concerned with the tight end situation and much more concerned what happens at receiver.
6. As far as the red zone blocking, the Bears must get better in short yardage. It will be interesting to see if they consider Kevin Jones some in that area. Matt Forte is an upright runner and that makes it tougher to find the small holes in a tight space. That could be one way to reduce Forte's workload a little bit.
Q: What is there to say about Mark Bradley in hindsight? After the Bears released him, Kansas City acquired him and actually got some decent production and big plays out of him as their second starting wide receiver. Throughout the course of four years he failed to live up to the expectation of a second-round pick, but just in context of last season, did the Bears give up too early on him?
Arlen M., Madison, Wis.
A: I don't think so. Bradley was constantly dealing with knee issues and that's believed to be the case in Kansas City these days as well. He was an inconsistent route runner for the Bears and never really seemed to lock in to a role that you felt was going to last for more than a few weeks. The 2009 draft was a good thing for him, though. Needing help at the position but handcuffed after dealing a second-round pick to New England for quarterback Matt Cassel, the Chiefs didn't get to wide receivers until the end of the draft when they selected McNeese State's Quinten Lawrence in the sixth round and Miami of Ohio's Jake O'Connell in the seventh round. Right now, Bradley and Dwayne Bowe are penciled in as starters for the Chiefs with another ex-Bear in the mix, Bobby Engram. It's probably a safe bet that new Kansas City coach Todd Haley, the ex-Bears wide receivers coach, would like nothing better than to develop a star out of a former Bears player. But keep in mind that the Chiefs grabbed Bradley last season when Haley was still in Arizona, so he has nothing invested in the player. If Bradley can remain healthy, he could be productive for the Chiefs but the Bears reached the conclusion that he was always going to be a guy who has nagged by one injury or another. Looks like the Chiefs and Bears are trying the same thing. Both clubs are hoping the quarterback makes the wide receivers better.
Q: Why not try out Zack Bowman at free safety? With the cornerback depth the Bears have and his ability to ball hawk (remember the Minnesota game last year) and his coverage abilities, why not?
Jesse M., Parts Unknown
A: The Bears mentioned that Bowman could be in the mix at the position and he was moved there for the March minicamp because of the numbers at the position. Bowman is a rangy guy at 6-1, 193 pounds, and could certainly offer decent range. Whether or not he has the instincts to play the position, I cannot say. While I remember a couple nice plays in a wild and wide open game against the Vikings, I also recall that was his only game of the season. Bowman suffered a ruptured biceps that landed him on injured reserve. He came out as a fifth-round pick because he was a medical red flag for a lot of teams. What the Bears are trying to do is find some sturdy help at safety, someone who isn't going to be breaking down. I don't know if Bowman is that guy and I also don't know if he can handle the responsibilities that come with the position in the run game. It will be interesting to see if he's still in the mix at the position. I'm not ruling him out but I think if the Bears are going to convert a cornerback it's more likely that Corey Graham is the man.
Thanks for all of the participation and thanks as always for reading. We're going to give the fine people at our mail center a few days off. We'll return with a Q&A on Friday. Get your questions in and we'll come with Four Down Territory again on that day.