Chicago Sun-Times

Four Down Territory, May 21: Ranking some of the Bears' concerns

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Lots of good information came out of the OTA on Wednesday at Halas Hall. The Bears wrapped up things with another practice this afternoon that was closed to the media. Let's get right into the mailbag.

Q: The Bears seem to have many question marks entering the season including: How will Jay Cutler adjust to the Bears and will he have enough to back him up should he get injured? Will the receivers step up? Will the offensive tackles stay healthy? Can Kevin Jones be a productive backup? Will the defensive line get pressure on the quarterback? Are the defensive backs talented and healthy enough to fill all four spots? I feel most of these things have a pretty good chance of happening. My question then is this: Could you rank these question marks from most to least likely to happen this year?

Nik B., Indianapolis

A: There may be some question marks but certainly this team looks much better than it did in January. It's interesting because there was no buzz or enthusiasm when the team gathered for minicamp in mid-March. When minicamp is within six weeks or so of the Super Bowl, that's understandable. There was real electricity to the OTA on Wednesday, the kind of vibe you're used to getting in training camp. Let's take a look at these issues.

1. Will the defensive line get pressure on the quarterback?

This is far and away the most legitimate and biggest concern on your list. The Bears struggled generating any pressure with the front four last season and that led them to blitz more than any team in the league. They're banking on defensive line coach Rod Marinelli providing a major upgrade. Without an improved pass rush, this defense will struggle to crack the top half of the league.

2. Will the receivers step up?

The team's optimism is based on the success Cutler had with young receivers Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal in Denver. Keep in mind the tight ends and running back Matt Forte will play a big role in the passing game as a whole. But, yes, they have to get greatly increased production from the wide receivers.

3. Will the offensive tackles stay healthy?

That's a fair question but a lot of teams are going to be in a bind if one of their tackles goes down, especially the left tackle. Orlando Pace has battled injuries the last three seasons but he played in 14 games last year. Chris Williams will have to play a full season to prove his back is not an issue. The good news for the Bears is they have a veteran backup in place in Kevin Shaffer and some view Frank Omiyale's best position as tackle. So there are alternatives on the roster.

4. Are the defensive backs talented and healthy enough to fill all four spots?

Charles Tillman remains sidelined as he recovers from shoulder surgery. He will be full go well before training camp. This unit should be OK. For the defense to improve, it has to generate a pass rush.

5. Can Kevin Jones be a productive backup?

We wrote on Wednesday that Jones looked fluid running around. Remember, he was still working his way back from ACL reconstruction at this time a year ago. He could be poised to carry the ball 100 times this season.

6. Will [Cutler] have enough to back him up should he get injured?

What team is in good position if it's starter goes down? It would have made sense to us if the team had pursued Byron Leftwich when he was available but we don't see any names out there right now that make us exclaim, `Yeah, if Cutler goes down the Bears are in good hands with fill-in-the-blank.'' At this point, we're convinced a developed Hanie could be as successful (or unsuccessful) as most of the available options and just might be better.

Q: I have what might be a stranger question but one that needs to be at least looked at. What about Michael Vick? Now, I realize the Bears like to stay away from people of questionable character, but looking at the list of possible options in free agency, he would have to be considered. Keep in mind now that Jay Cutler is the man, the backup will no longer be the most popular man in town. The fans hope they never have to see him except for mop-up roles. Also consider the options he would give them on select plays if they were to line up in a Wildcat formation. Of course the bottom line will be what kind of punishment the commissioner gives him, if it is excessive then it would not matter. Just a thought.

David S., Parts Unknown

A: Well, Vick's agent Joel Segal was at Halas Hall for the OTA on Thursday, but the visit likely had nothing to do with Vick. He represents cornerback Rod Hood, who was in for a free-agent visit, and happens to have a number of clients on the roster, including Alex Brown, Anthony Adams and Marcus Harrison. It's not about the backup quarterback now, but Vick is a story that transcends sports. There were news crews lined up outside the federal prison he was just released from. He's got to be cleared to return to football first and, like you said, there's no timetable for that. A backup quarterback is a guy who is supposed to be able to come in and execute the offense in an emergency. Seems to us it would be difficult for Vick to come in and execute an offense he doesn't know because he hasn't been here. Plus, we're guessing Jerry Angelo, Lovie Smith and the McCaskeys want nothing to do with the circus that would follow him. We've gotten numerous e-mails on the subject but we just don't see this becoming a real issue for the Bears.

Q: Has Mike Shanahan ever worked as a quarterbacks coach? I know he was an offensive coordinator with the 49ers and turned Steve Young into the prolific passer that we know him as today. He is also from Chicago. He is also unemployed. I realize that it is a very long shot that the Bears would replace their current quarterbacks coach at this point in the offseason, but if the move ever made more sense it would be to replace him with a potential Hall of Fame coach that molded the new Bears' quarterback into what he is today. What would you say the chances are that Shanahan pulls a Rod Marinelli and goes from head coach to position coach for the Bears? Wouldn't that move just go hand in hand with the other bold moves Jerry Angelo made this year?

Adam W., Oak Park

A: Yes, the addition of Shanahan to the coaching staff would go hand in hand with the bold moves Angelo has made in recent months. The only problem with that is Angelo doesn't control the coaching staff. That is Lovie Smith's domain. Angelo controls the 53-man roster and the salary cap. While Shanahan is unemployed, as you point out, he's also owed $20 million by the Denver Broncos. That's how much money he will pocket if he never coaches again, all courtesy of Pat Bowlen. Looking at Shanahan's resume, he was the quarterbacks coach in Denver in 1989 and 1990 after his stint as the head coach of the Los Angeles Raiders. While Shanahan is given a lot of credit for Cutler's success, much is due to not so public work done by Mike Heimerdinger and Jeremy Bates, assistant coaches in Denver. If Shanahan wants to coach again, we assume he does, he'll get a job as a head coach. He doesn't have an 0-16 season on his resume. What would be Shanahan's motivation to be a position coach The Bears are not going to entertain ideas of replacing Ron Turner or Pep Hamilton or anyone else on the coaching staff at this point.

Q: I like the idea of the Bears signing linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa and cornerback Rod Hood. Which move is more likely to happen?

Saif R., Parts Unknown

A: If there is a front runner right now, we cannot tell you who it is. Don't rule out the possibility the Bears could sign both players. The team has $20.8 million available in cap room so that's no issue at all. Both players were released at inopportune times so it almost creates a little bit of a buyers' market. Tinoisamoa could create instant competition and would probably be the leading candidate to win the job as the starting strong-side linebacker. He looked at ease visiting with coaches and players alike during practice Wednesday. Hood visited today and has experience and good size. The interest in him shows you the move of Corey Graham to free safety probably is not a temporary shift. Hood will probably have a deal in place in a week or so. We would imagine the timetable for Tinoisamoa is probably similar, although that is just a guess.

Thanks for all of the participation and thanks as always for reading. We're going to give the mail staff a vacation. The next Q&A will be in two weeks on June 4. That will be the day after the next media availability at an OTA.

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Hey Brad,

Do you know how Pisa Tinoisamoa's visit with the Bears went. What is the likelihood of him joining the Bears?

"They're banking on defensive line coach Rod Marinelli providing a major upgrade."

Brad, please tell me the Bears are joking. I'm sure you would be hard pressed to find a position coach anywhere around the league who has been appointed a savior by fans and franchises like they do here with Rod. The hoopla is unwarranted.

Has anyone, ever, seen a Vikes fan cheer the "fantastic work" of Eric
Bieniemy, their RB coach?

No? How about Mike Miller, former receivers coach for the Cardinals?

Look, you have to have someone who knows what they're doing. And Marinelli's been around, I'll give him that. But to think he's going to make the Bears D dominant again and turn the line into a sack machine is just stupid.

I have repeatedly maintained that a good pass rush was a key need for the Bears and hope the steps they have taken positively impacts that facet of the game. Optimism seems to be the order of the day regarding Marinelli, and one hopes it proves to be merited. Certainly he has had success developing a number of D. players, and Harris could be his next big success. The Bears did make some good moves on defense, so I expect them to be a solid D. team this year.

We all seem to agree that Babich was a bad D Coach, so can it be assumed that the Dline Coach was worse? and in that case Rod would have a very positive impact on the line, 3 D Coaches were let go so we can only hope that Coaching was the main problem. Although I would think the players were not that great as well, Harris/Url are the core of our D and neither one played worth crap. Hopefully a combination of players getting their act together and Coaching changes work the magic. I feel Rod can only be an improvement, and Harrison has a year under his belt now, I am hoping Adams plays more too.
Alot of us wanted a D end in the draft and we got one.
Maybe just not as high as we thought.
Harris/Url? we'll see

Coaching, players and performance go hand in hand. Certainly better talent makes position coaches look good but you do need to have solid coaching to manetain a certain level of success.

The Bears D-line was solid in 2005/2006, so-so in 2007 and MIA in 2008 in regards to pass rush. It was succeful at generating a pass rush under Ron Rivera's tenure but dissapeared under Bob Babbich's stint as DC. I believe the Bears have enough talent to have a solid D-line with or without Harris returning to form. The DE's are still solid, Idonije moving back will create a solid (3) man rotation. Anderson like Harris at DT is either a wild card or a joker. That is where Merineli coms into play. DT after Harris has depth, Adams played well when given the chance, Harrison had a solid rookie season and should take the next step. Gilbert will see plenty of time as a sub.

The talent is their, the leadership and coaching intangibles is the fuel that will make the engine run.

Go Bears !!

Im going to make a prediction. Jonny Knox is going to have the least amount of drops, the most yards after catch avg. and will lead the rookies wide outs in catches over 40 yards. That is if he gets on the field and if he stays healthy.

Even though the Bears probably have youngest group of receivers they sure have alot of promise and SPEED.

Love to invision Knox, Hester, Olsen and Forte all on the field at the same time. Now that would be a burner formation that team would just have to go in prevent Defence and hope that Hester or Knox will not get past them. If they dont get past Cutler always has the underneath route to Forte and the middle of the field with Olsen.

Cutler just brings excitement and hope!

Brando, you're pretty high on Knox. I don't know that much about him, so enlighten me. How fast is he? I hope you are right on and that the scenario you visualize is prophetic. If so, the Bear offense should be awesome, not even counting their first draft pick.

Welcome back Brando good to see a real post from you, I agree with you that speed could be pretty impressive with that group, I hope that Knox turns out to be special although durability is a concern, he is a little light but you never know, speed, quickness and toughness can make up for a lot of deficiencies. Tom Waddle is an example of pedestrian skills but huge will and heart to get it done and he did.

Brad, I would reverse your order of what is the biggest question mark for the upcoming season would be.

Biggest Question marks for upcoming season are

1. Will [Cutler] have enough to back him up should he get injured?

This is absolutely the most important matter to the team and would have the biggest question mark if the Bears had to rely on unproven QB's that backup Cutler.

I am not trashing either Hanie or Basanez, both may be great but lets face it both would be faced with a huge pressure situation replacing the guy Cutler. Every defense would start out with 8 in the box and these teams would stunt, blitz from everywhere until they learned if the two backups could handle the heat? The other fact would be that the rest of the team also would be needing to get used to the new QB which includes the O line and the WR's, how do you say maybe the team may not be on the same page for a number of games and may lose games as a result. Games could be lost due to turnovers or just going back to Bear football, a more conservative approach similar to what they did with Orton his rookie season, which was run, right, run left and the 1 yard shi-- plunger that never works.

The other factor are the expectations and I know that Cutler is living a very charmed life right now. The expectations for Cutler are bordering on the ridiculous and may I remind some people, it is not an automatic berth in the SuperBowl because Cutler is behind center.

The only thing I worry about with Bears fans since I have been one for
a heck of a long time, some 47 years, is that Bears fans seem to always like the #2 QB
better than the #1 and that is why they always seem to boo the
#1. The #2 has always been the most popular guy in town except for McMahon and maybe what's his name in 1995 (no time to look up and name escapes me)?

My big concern is:

If Cutler does not come in and play lights out right out of the box, I
truly hope that the Bears fans will give him some time to show what he
can do and not start booing him by mid season if he is not playing at
peak performance.

Let us remember that the WR's are young, Cutler may throw some
interceptions due to a WR cutting out instead of cutting in or due to
the intended receiver not being in the location they are supposed to be
when the ball is thrown. Timing and creating routine where the WR's and
the QB are completely on the same page does make a huge difference and
the offense passing efficiency may not start to really come on until
midseason when Cutler and the receivers become familiar with each

As far as signing a veteran QB, my feeling is that we dance with the
one that brung us and that would be Caleb Hannie and Besanez. I am sure
a retread QB or two would be available as backup emergency should the
starter go down and either Caleb or Basanez become the new starter.

Now that Favre is looking to go to the Queens this could be a very
interesting year in the Norris division. And even though I watch every
game with the Bears I will make sure that I Tivo the Green Bay vs
Queens game when they play at Rush Limbaugh field.

I hope Favre kicks their ars and that Thompson the GM is changing his
diapers by halftime. And when Favre plays Chicago I hope that he throws
at least a couple of pick six in the games both in Chicago and Sota.

I want the season to start today.

Marinelli may be a good line coach, but come on. I think it is ridiculus to think a position coach is going to make that much of a difference, unless the previous line coach told the d-line that the easiest way to get swine flu is to sack the quarterback. I do think that one of the new guys can make a difference this year because the line is desperate for fresh legs. That is far more important than the hiring of Marinelli.

""Brando, you're pretty high on Knox. I don't know that much about him, so enlighten me. How fast is he?""

Johnny Knox posted a 4.34 forty at the combine. Good for 3'rd best at the event. Only Hey-ward Bey and Mike Wallce had better times with Bey postin a 4.30 and Wallace posting a 4.33.

The kid is FAST with speed still to burn !! He catches the ball very well as well. The only real knock on him is that he played at a small school and needs to refine his route running.

Knox will be a player to watch this season especially with Cutler under center.

Go Bears !!

ditto dahli,

Actually Knox getting on the field was a good one Brando, as I remember a player named Bennet who was drafted high and it took a year for him to get mentioned. In my opinion speed goes a long way to actual route running, I don't remember Gault being a great route runner but he got the job done with pure speed. So hopefully they will get him in and just say RUN! :) at first anyway as the D won't be used to seeing his speed and it will catch them off guard the first few times, he has a year to learn routes and longer than that to learn the little things like the TO shove that never gets called but gives TO a nice cusion. (good move actually - strength)
btw I m watching Denver/Atlanta right now and all I can say is, the WR better bring thier hands as Cutler throws a sizzling rocket! and its on the money.

I’m overly concerned with the health of Tommie Harris. Short of Dusty D and Mike Brown I cant remember anyone that has had as big a question mark about health as Tommie. He misses practices on a regular basis and having now not played since January you would think that he would be available to practice. Does he need surgery, better treatment or conditioning or is this just something that he will have throughout his career. Its hard to believe that its an injury that hasn’t had time to fully heal.

Joe Quintana
Salt Lake City, UT

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This page contains a single entry by Brad Biggs published on May 21, 2009 3:56 PM.

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