It's wide receiver fever today. Catch it! Let's get right to the mailbag.
Q: Huge Bears fan from New Zealand. Probably the only one in New Zealand so your columns are much appreciated. My question is of course about the wide receiver position. I think the Bears will do fine with what they have but why not improve? What about Matt Jones? The Bears don't have great height at the position and it is known that the coaches love speed. Matt Jones is a monster and ran a 4.37 at his combine in 2005 (even though he might not play as quick in pads). Getting named the beast at the combine shows he has talent. No problem with his hands and he had 65 receptions last year while missing four games. He has experience and is a No. 1 receiver. He would give Devin Hester and the other young receivers time to develop. Also he is 26 and has to be the best option apart from Anquan Boldin. However, I know the Bears probably say they equally value a clean record which is maybe why they haven't touched him. But he has been cleared of any game suspensions and only a fine by the NFL. Will this lead to more interest? I think improving is more important than getting someone with some bad history. A 26-year-old, 6-6 receiver with experience. Why not?
Michael S., New Zealand
A: While Jones has recently been in Arkansas working through a court-mandated program, he's spent much of the offseason working out at the IMG facility in Florida. Jones is said to be in terrific shape and the hope is that he will have multiple offers to choose between. Obviously, the Bears would be a team he'd probably be interested in joining when you consider the depth chart, Jay Cutler and, well, the depth chart. But the later it gets, the less chance there is the Bears get involved with Jones, who learned recently that the NFL will not be imposing any more sanctions against him. You make a good point that he might not play as fast as he timed several years ago. While he was very productive last season in Jacksonville, which has a run-oriented attack, Jones was a possession receiver. We pointed out the work done recently by our friend Eric Edholm over at Pro Football Weekly. He noted that of Jones' 166 career receptions, three have gone for more than 39 yards. However, few consider Jones to be a true No. 1 receiver. While we think Jones would provide an upgrade instantly for the Bears, the Bears believe rookie Juaquin Iglesias can be a productive possession receiver. Perhaps that is a role they have in mind for Earl Bennett as well. If they go outside for a receiver at this point, chances are greater it will be Burress. Unlike Jones, Burress has a whole tangle of issues to sort through, including court issues and then a likely suspension imposed by the league. Stay tuned.
Q: You wrote on Friday that Rashied Davis was a "likely candidate'' to make the 53-man roster this season. Why? Didn't he prove he didn't belong last season?
A: Davis certainly didn't shine in his opportunity as a starter last season. He had far too many drops and Davis would be the first one to admit it. But he was not being used at his best position--the slot. That wasn't his fault. If he can regain his confidence, there's no reason to think he can't catch 45 balls or more with Jay Cutler in place now. Davis is a sound route runner who has the quickness and speed to be effective working underneath and in the middle of the field. Drops were not an issue for him in the past. He's a good presence in the locker room, he could have his role expanded on special teams too. Davis should have the opportunity to be more productive with less playing time. He led all wideouts in playing time last season and that is unlikely to happen again.
Q: What is the biggest remaining question mark for the Bears as they stand right now?
John I., Chicago
A: The defense, as a whole, is the biggest question mark for the franchise. Lovie Smith has built his considerable reputation on that side of the ball and will be taking over as the play caller. The Bears have to play much better defense in 2009 to succeed and make a legitimate playoff run. If you're asking about a single position, some people might present free safety as the No. 1 question for the club. It's certainly something that needs to be ironed out but we suggest that there is no bigger issue on the team right now than the unsettled and unproven situation at wide receiver. Football teams can manufacture a safety. The Bears have proven they cannot manufacture performance and production at wide receiver. General manager Jerry Angelo is confident Cutler will raise the bar for everyone. Hey, it can't go any lower at this point.
Q: Why are the Bears so down on Brandon Lloyd? I don't get it. At least until he got hurt last year, he was (I thought) clearly the Bears' best wideout. Admittedly, that doesn't say much, but considering the lack of upgrading, it does still say something. Why not another one-year deal?
Andrew H., Parts Unknown
A: You are referencing a pretty small sample set when you say Lloyd was the Bears' best receiver before he got hurt. Lloyd's knee injury happened in the Week 4 meeting with Philadelphia and when he took six weeks (five games plus the bye) to return, that pretty much sealed his fate. Ron Turner is or was one of Lloyd's biggest supporters in the league but he simply didn't produce enough to warrant bringing him back. The Bears believe veterans like Lloyd and Marty Booker stood in the way of progress for a player like Bennett. That probably means they feel like Lloyd would stand in the way of progress for Bennett, Iglesias, Johnny Knox and Derek Kinder this time around. The Bears don't need to look for complementary receivers. They need to look for a No. 1. We're officially declaring this the final Lloyd question in an offseason that has seen too many of them for this reader's eyes.
Thanks for all of the participation and thanks as always for reading. We will check in with Four Down Territory again next week.