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.