Plenty of football lies ahead. The team's fan expo is scheduled for Sunday at Soldier Field and the first OTA will be held on Wednesday at Halas Hall. Let's get right to the mailbag. We've received several questions recently about defensive lineman Israel Idonije and we'll address two.
Q: My question is about Israel Idonije. It seems like every year he gets moved from tackle to end and then back again the next year. I understand a key to the 3-4 defense is finding the rare player with the attributes to play defensive end. Typically they are players that are too small to be a nose tackle but are bigger than a typical rush end in a 4-3. Doesn't that describe Idonije? Apparently players like Idonije are so rare that Kansas City used the third pick in the draft to grab Tyson Jackson even though some would call it a reach. Jackson is listed at 6-4, 294 pounds and Idonije is nearly identical at 6-6, 297. Wouldn't Idonije be better served by playing in a 3-4 defense? Doesn't he have some trade value? I know he's a big contributor on special teams but isn't the defensive line crowded with the addition of the new draft picks? If idonije was a good fit for the Bears wouldn't he have settled into a position by now?
Chris F., Homer Glen, IL
A: You make some interesting points but we would suggest that a quality nose tackle in the 3-4 is probably the most rare thing. The whole concept of the 3-4 is to tie up the blockers with three down linemen so the four linebackers can make plays. That starts with a tackle who can command double teams and create pileups in the middle of the field on every snap. I am not going to dispute that Idonije has value. There were a couple of games where he really stood out last season. He had a sack, QB hit and four tackles against Philadelphia. He had 1 1/2 sacks, a QB hit and a pass deflection against Jacksonville. There were other moments too. But there were times last season when Idonije wasn't as noticeable, and his playing time dipped over the final third of the year. Idonije has been a career role player for the Bears and for him to have real trade value, some team would have to view him as a starter and a top starter for them. I am sure the Bears would listen to offers but I also know that they believe strongly that you can never have too many defensive linemen, particularly versatile ones like Idonije. He can play all four spots on the line, even the nose in a pinch, and guys like that are hard to find and make life easier on coaches come Sunday.
You'd have to get something to fill a real need to justify trading him. There are linemen, Idonije included, coming out of contract after this season. There will be room and time for draft picks Jarron Gilbert and Henry Melton to grow into their roles. If Idonije had the trade value you perceive he does, he probably would have settled into a starting role for the Bears by now. That's not to knock him. He's been very valuable, he's been durable and he'll probably play an even bigger role on special teams this season when I expect him to play at closer to 275 or 280 than the 297 he was listed at last season.
Q: Israel Idonije is in a contract year and will be pushed to make the roster if there are no injuries and both draft picks pan out. So, have the Bears ever considered switching Idonije to offensive line? A decade ago, the Bears were able to successfully do this with Big Cat Williams and he manned right tackle very well for years. It seems to me that Idonije, who has great athleticism for his size, could make a superior tackle as well. And with Orlando Pace being a stopgap measure, you'd have the time you need to have Idonije make the transition. Just curious if this has ever been discussed, to your knowledge.
Marc B., Parts Unknown
A: First off, I don't see any way Idonije is pushed for a roster spot. Certainly the Bears don't have any financial obligations that would make releasing Idonije prohibitive, but he's in no danger of being on the fringe of the 53-man roster come September. None at all. It's some solid outside-the-box thinking but Idonije will be 29 in November and you're talking about a drastic position switch. That's something you try with a player when he's 23. Williams was switched in 1993, his third year in the league. There's a nice little read about that transition here. To my knowledge this is not something that has come up in conversation, not even when the team was shorthanded at offensive tackle during the mid-March minicamp. They certainly would be less likely to try something like that in the final year of a player's contract also.
Q: The Bears experimented a little bit with the wildcat formation last season. With the Arrival of Jay Cutler do you think that it will be put on the shelf never to be seen again, so that he is not open target on the field, or do you think they will mix it in a little? Thanks for all the great posts.
David S., Coral Springs, Fla.
A: That's a good question. What's most interesting about the wildcat is when it took off early last season in Miami, Bears offensive coordinator Ron Turner revealed it was something he had been working on for some time. He had been planning to unveil it and then was beaten to the punch by the Dolphins and a handful of other teams. The Bears dabbled with it using Devin Hester and Matt Forte. I'd be surprised if it disappeared from their playbook completely. Cutler is an athletic guy and I don't think the Bears are going to operate thinking it's something that could get him injured. It might not be a good idea to send Cutler deep on a pass route, but why not take advantage of some of your most athletic players?
Q: Great stuff with the numbers on playing time for the fullbacks and tight ends over the past two seasons. I was hoping you could expand on that to see how, if at all, it has affected the Bears ability to convert in short-yardage situations in 2007 versus 2008 as well as negative rushing plays. I could be wrong but it seemed like in 2007 the Bears were much better in short-yardage and goalline situations with Jason McKie and John Gilmore as part of that package. Last season I noticed the Bears using Greg Olsen a lot as a lead blocker on running plays and as your research showed, that's why McKie played less snaps. It boggles my mind why the Bears use Olsen so much as a lead blocker and as a blocker in general when he just isn't good at it.
Jim S., Parts Unknown
A: There is no question the Bears were better in short-yardage situations in 2007 but we're talking about a pretty small sample size here. They had 25 third-and-one snaps in both seasons. They happened to convert four more in 2007. I don't think they used Olsen as a lead blocker very often. When he lined up in the backfield, typically he motioned out. McKie's playing time was diminished by the abundance of double tight end formations but he also missed five games with a quad muscle injury. I expect the offensive line to be better this season and the mere presence of Jay Cutler should also make the running game more effective. Here is a look at the numbers.
2008 17-for-25, 68.0 percent
2007 21-for-25, 84.0 percent
2008 6-for-10, 60.0 percent (all 10 attempts were rushing)
2007 5-for-9, 55.6 percent (4-for-7, 57.1 percent on rushing attempts)
As far as negative rushing plays, the Bears got better with Matt Forte in the backfield as you would probably expect. Here are the statistics for non-kneel down losses on rushing plays:
2008 36, tied for 12th 2007 47, tied for 23rd
Q: Thanks for making the "off"season much more bearable. I've read that Jarron Gilbert will initially be placed behind Tommie Harris on the depth chart. What does that do to Marcus Harrison? Will we be watching a training camp battle for the starting position beside Harris?
Brian M., Fort Wayne, Ind.
A: I think Harrison will actually be next in line behind Harris at the under tackle with Gilbert starting third on the depth chart. Certainly Harrison is a guy who will have to be able to play both positions. My initial expectation this offseason was Harrison would be moving more to nose. Now, I'm not so certain that will be the case. He was originally projected as an under tackle and in his second season he'll most likely be worked at both positions. There has been some speculation that Gilbert could eventually wind up as a left end. It seems like a reasonable idea to us. The Bears need to get the players on the field and as coaches say, they will sort things out. But Harrison should expect to see time at both tackle positions this season.
Thanks for all of the participation and thanks as always for reading. We'll return with a Q&A at the end of next week.