Chicago Sun-Times

21 days to camp: Four Down Territory and then some

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It's been a while since we went through the mailbag so we'll knock out more than four questions this morning in Four Down Territory as we take a little break from the position-by-position previews that have been running in our 30-day countdown to Bourbonnais. Here we go.

Q: What about a contract extension for Danieal Manning? He's slated to have an uncanny season at kick returner which means, of course, that the Bears will need the extra money to give him an extension and convert him to wide receiver.

Mike, Parts Unknown

A: Looks like we have a jokester here. Is that Manning switch right after Brian Urlacher is moved to free safety and Chris Zorich is re-signed to play middle linebacker? It's a good question when it comes to Manning. Not sure what he is going to have to do to have an "uncanny" season. Manning would have made the Pro Bowl last season if he had replaced Devin Hester as the kickoff returner about a month prior to the move that was made in Week 11. He averaged 29.7 yards per return, the club's highest total in nearly 35 years, and became only the fifth player in franchise history to top 1,000 yards for a season. Now, consider first that Manning didn't see all of the gimmicks (bloops, squibs, sky kicks, you name it) that Hester did when he was the primary kickoff returner. Opponents will likely pay more attention to Manning this coming season but special teams coordinator Dave Toub is quick to adjust and his schemes have proven the test of time. Defensively, Manning was on the field one-third of the time in 2008, getting 370 snaps out of the 1,111 total. He seemed to make progress as a nickel back, particularly in the second half of the season. Manning was in that role during the spring until a hamstring injury, one of many suffered on the roster, sidelined him and Corey Graham took his place for the last two weeks of OTA's. It looks like Manning will remain in that role entering training camp but if Nathan Vasher nails down the right cornerback job and Craig Steltz winds up being the free safety, the coaching staff might give Graham more of a look at nickel, where he played one game last season. Is there a possibility the club re-signs Manning, who is entering the final year of his contract? Sure. He probably should have been on the list of players we made. But a kickoff returner who does or does not double as a nickel corner isn't going to get a huge contract.

Q: You didn't mention Lance Louis in your preview of the fullbacks. Is there a reason why? Didn't the Bears say he could play tight end as well as fullback when they selected him?

Oscar T., Chicago

A: There is a somewhat popular notion that Lance Louis will reprise the role of William Perry and do some heavy duty work in the backfield. We don't see it happening. We don't see Louis playing any tight end, either. The Bears don't have a spot at tight end for him with Desmond Clark, Greg Olsen, Kellen Davis and Michael Gaines. They don't need a project at the position because they already have one in Davis. Louis, who was issued No. 60, which is an ineligible number, is going to have a hard time making the roster as a seventh-round pick. He'd have an even more difficult time making the 45-man gameday roster, and it's unlikely he'd be active for a possible gimmick play involving him lining up at an eligible position.

Q: What kind of role do you see Jamar Williams having this season? Most accounts had him being one of the best players on the field during OTA's. How can the Bears take advantage of his ability?

Scott C., Des Moines, Iowa

A: Williams did a fine job this spring creating some momentum for himself when it comes to making the 53-man roster this season, but we don't see a direct route for him to get on the field other than on special teams. The heir apparent to Lance Briggs has turned into the guy who can't get a chance and is entering the final year of his contract. Williams was supposed to be the player who would replace the Pro Bowler Briggs when he departed but the Bears surprised even themselves a little when they got Briggs back. It's turned out good for the team and bad for Williams, who has languished on special teams since and got just 12 snaps on defense last season. Where is he going to play? Briggs and Brian Urlacher have proven to be durable performers. Urlacher has not missed a game in the last four seasons and Briggs has missed just two games in six seasons. Pisa Tinoisamoa is the favorite to be the strong-side linebacker. He's got a history with Lovie Smith and Bob Babich and was working with the first team before the offseason program concluded at a time when Williams also got some first-team reps, spelling Urlacher in the middle. Could Williams enter the competition at strong side? Sure. Along with Nick Roach and Hunter Hillenmeyer. You can't rule Williams out there but it looks like Tinoisamoa is the leader. Let's look at play time by linebackers last season:

Brian Urlacher 1,110 of 1,1111 snaps, 99.9 percent
Lance Briggs 1,108 of 1,111, 99.7 percent
Nick Roach 431 of 1,111, 38.8 percent
Hunter Hillenmeyer 269 of 1,111, 24.2 percent
Jamar Williams 12 of 1,111, 1.1 percent
Darrell McClover 1 of 1,111, 0.1 percent
Gilbert Gardner 0
Joey LaRocque 0

Q: I am getting tired of watching time go by waiting for the Bears to add a wide receiver before training camp opens. When is it going to happen? It would give you some actual news to write about.

Marshall F., Indiana

A: Hope you've got extra sand in that clock you're using. Otherwise, might be time to head to the beach and get some more. It looks like the Plaxico Burress issue is dead for the Bears. By pushing off his court case as much as his possible, Burress looks to have really made it more difficult for him to get on the field in 2009. Matt Jones completed a drug court program earlier this month in Arkansas that has reportedly wiped the felony charge off his record. While the Bears are known to have done extensive homework when it comes to Burress, they haven't shown any known interest in Jones. Lovie Smith has stated time and time again that the team is happy with the wide receivers it has. Could a move happen before camp? It's possible and we always appreciate "actual news" to blog and write about. Don't discount the very real possibility (dare we say likelihood) that the Bears go with what they have. General manager Jerry Angelo, no doubt, has an emergency list of receivers but it might take just that--an emergency--before you see a new wide receiver in uniform.

Q: I don't think Devin Hester will ever be a No. 1 wide receiver like the Bears have said. I mean, come on, he's the next Andre Johnson or Larry Fitzgerald? It doesn't take a Darryl Drake to figure out that is not going to happen. But can Hester get better? Are we going to see marked improvement from him in 2009?

Chris H., Schaumburg

A: No one is going to rush to put Hester in a category with those wide receivers that you just mentioned, not if they're smart any way, but we think he can improve in 2009. We're taking Cutler out of this equation for right now, too, and just talking about Hester getting better himself. He's got another full year under his belt as a receiver and then you need to consider what happened during the second half of last season. Hester made 25 of his 51 receptions in the final six games. He was playing better down the stretch at a time when quarterback Kyle Orton, playing on an injured ankle, was playing worse. The receiver was making strides and the passer was regressing. Had Orton not dropped off like he did in the second half of the season, Hester's numbers would have looked even better. He began running better routes and was playing more instinctively. Add Cutler into the equation now, yes, Hester should be better in 2009.

Q: What player could be the biggest surprise in training camp?

Vince D., Parts Unknown

A: Besides Cutler, who will be showing off an arm fans are not used to seeing in Kankakee County? That's a good question but keep in mind it's not always an indication of great things to come during the season. A lot of observers were impressed by rookie tight end Kellen Davis in camp last summer. His opportunity never materialized during the season. There have been other training camp wonders. Cornerback Travis Coleman comes to mind from 2002, although we're quite sure he's not on the minds of many others. What the Bears really need is for one of their unproven wide receivers to step forward and be a surprise in camp and then perform during the season. How about Johnny Knox? The fifth rounder made plays during the spring and the Bears sure could benefit from his electric athletic ability.

Q: Training camp can't arrive soon enough. Thanks for the daily fix. What time is the first practice? Am I going to have to take the day off from work?

Jennifer N., Orland Park

A: Although we don't know your work schedule, we'd recommend making a day of it. The Bears' first practice on Friday, July 31, will be at 3 p.m. It ought to be a great way to start the weekend. You can find the entire training camp schedule right here.

Thank you for all of the questions and participation, and thanks most of all for reading.

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Biggsy, you're the best!!! Keep up the good work! We can't wait for training camp! GO BEARS!!

Great stuff as usual Brad....

A few things that jumps out about the LB playing time is how Uralcher praticaly played every defensive snap and just how much we played in the nickle.

The Sam LB's (Roach, Hunter, Willams perhaps) combined to play roughly 63% of the 1,111 snaps. SO the Bears were in a pass prevent type defense nearly 40% of the time last season. That's higher then I expected.

Can't wait til training camp either, Go Bears !!

@BensonSucks: Your strongside linebacker is usually a liability in coverage, so for them to be off the field 40% of the time is not really that big of a deal, especially with how frequently Cover 2 defenses will play a 'Nickel' defender (your third cornerback) as one of their base packages. If you have a good group of safeties you can also pop your third safety in as your Nickel defender (instead of a CB) and allow them to play closer to the line 'in the box,' which can also act as a hedge against the draw, stretch, or some other similar running play when you're lined up in the Nickel.

You're welcome, and likewise for writing thought provoking pieces.

I'm fine with the receivers (including TE's and RB's) that the Beloved have. Let's get to training camp!

That the team has purchased a high-performance sports car (Cutler) and will now fit it out with the cheapest off-brand tires -in fact, just the old tires lying around the garage from when the team drove its procession of junkers- is so very, very Chicago Bears. That JA could not acquire a proven veteran of some stature was evident in March. Lance Moore, RFA, could have been had with the '09 second-round pick (and perhaps would not have hurt himself while working out during the spring, so don't harp on his weightlifting injury). Moore would have been a 5/50 guy at the very least in this offense, perhaps even 6/60. Those are Jeff Graham numbers. And though Jeff Graham was nowhere near a top-flight receiver, he would be the surest-handed threat on this team.

I would have liked the Bears to have signed a WR, but the best ones were already signed by the time the Bears acquired Cutler. The original plan (before the trade) was probably to draft a WR in the first round. I thought the Bears might have tried to sign Jones just for insurance - he had pretty much the same number of catches last year as all the receivers on the Bears roster combined. The Bears have spent high draft picks for several of the WR candidates (a second and two thirds) so hopefully someone develops. It does scare me to hear that the Bears are happy about what they see with the receivers from practice - against our defense, that was horrible against the pass last year. Either our WR's are much better or our pass defense still has problems.

To Plax -

I think its a little early to pass judgement on the Bears Offense in general and QB/WR in particular. Let's look at each position and see whats improved, declined

QB - Culter is an upgrade over Orton; and I'd argue 2nd yr Hanie over 5th yr grossman

RB - 2nd yr Forte & more fully recovered Jones = upgrade

TE - more blocking depth, another yr for Olsen = upgrade

OL - Pace > St. Clair, Olmiyale > Beekman, Kruetz and Garza (nuetral to negative, another yr older), Williams probably not as good as Tate just yet

WR -

1. Hester more experience = improvement

2. Bennett is a complete unknown and can be considered AT BEST a 2nd yr player w/ potentially first round talent. Recall, the bears said they had him tops in the receiver class of that year. But, the operative question is ... is he an upgrade when compared to B. Lloyd or an aging Marty Booker. I'd say when you factor in experience w/ Cutler, the answer is yes.

3. Rashied Davis - Iglesias or Knox as his back up. Is this an upgrade? I'd say no. Nuetral

4. Misc guys who just might have impact this yr - Iglesias, Knox, or Rideau vs last years Bradley - I'd say either would be an upgrade yes.

I think JA is running the option play here when we consider Davis, Rideau, Knox, Iglesias, and that kid from Pitt. I think there's enough here, enough when you consider Culters ability to spread the ball around.

The CBS camera crew is going to have to be sharp, because we won't be forced into have to watch our QB telegragh his passes the way we have my entire adult life.

A don't under estimate team chemistry either - I'd be pissed if we had a T.Owens or a J.Walker or a P.Burris - they're all a bunch of wienning pre-ma-donnas

I think the Bears have played the wr situation as best they could. They made an offer for Boldin but refused to mortage their future for him. They drafted a few guys who seem to have talent. They looked into Burris but he shot himself in the foot (couldn't resist) for this season by refusing a plea deal. So, they have to go with what they have, which is a bunch of nobodies, but at some point you have to play the guys you've been drafting to see what they've got. No one thought Tom Brady was all that impressive (even in college) until they let him play and realized he was awesome. Let the kids play. We might have a Tom Brady on our hands or a bunch of Ryan Leafs, but we won't know until they get in a game. I'm sick of spending draft picks on players only for them to sit on the bench for a few years while the team looks for the answer somewhere else.

Practices mean little, and without pads they mean virtually nothing. Receivers might look great in a practice, but how good are they when they have to deal with safeties trying to decapitate them? How good are they at getting off the line with DBs in their faces making contact? How good are they at reading defenses and changing their assignments if appropriate? How well do they run their routes in game situations with full contact? How good will their chemistry be with a QB? How well do they block, which is very underrated and unappreciated by fans?

The Bears are foolish if they expect a bunch of unknowns to produce. I expect Hester to be at least a decent receiver over all this season, maybe he'll be very good and a real downfield threat. But I don't see any downside to the Bears getting Matt Jones. He would at least provide a proven, experienced receiver who's better than anyone the Bears currently have based on past performances.

When will people stop dogging the Bears receivers? Who were Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal before they hooked up with Jay Cutler? Most people couldn't tell you the college Marshall came from. (The Univ. of Central Florida) 4th round. Name me one so called football guru who said Eddie Royal would have a breakout year. After all he came from that passing factory called Virginia Tech. Jay Cutler was the key for both of these players. By the way Marshall caught 15 passes as a rookie. I submit the bears receivers will do just fine this year and surprise a lot of people with Cutler throwing to them. And then on Friday this Hasselback guy on ESPN NFL Live is cautioning Bear fans that Jay Cutler will not throw for the 4500 yards he threw in Denver last year. Who cares. He dos not need to for the Bears to win. Just plain garbage.

Always enjoy your great insight, Brad, thank you.

I think the majority of Bears fans are not convinced with the "We're happy with what we have" rhetoric at WR.

Exactly 4 WRs caught any passes in 08 and the Bears released 50% of those in Brandon Lloyd and Marty Booker. They also happened to be the longest tenured WRs the Bears had, if I remember correctly.

What the Bears have now at WR are 2 converted defensive backs and a whole bunch of young guys who may have lots of potential but who have not shown anything because 1)they're rookies or 2)they've been unable to break into the lineup even with a team with a weak WR corps such as the Bears.

The fact that the Bears were entertaining thoughts of acquiring Boldin and Burress while most other teams stayed away seems like a sure indication, whatever the rhetoric, that, no, they are not happy with what they have.

I am excited with the potential and improvement of Devin Hester. But I have to second the opinion that Hester may not be the No.1 WR the Bears' top brass think he is. He is or will be a more than capable No.2, but I just can't imagine Hester being the go-to-guy.

I truly hope that one of these WRs (other than Hester) really surprises and blows us nay-sayers away this season!

Q1. Daniel Manning would be good to get resigned for the Bears. With his nickel ability and as a top #5 kick returner, the Bears need him for the long haul and worth the money.

Q2. Lance Louis is a long shot to make the team but who knows stranger things have happened. Most likely will be a developmental player on the practice squad. Too many tight ends and other possibilities at H Back/Fullback for him to be the guy?

Q3. It may be time to trade Jamar Williams along with Hillenmeyer and McKie for a decent proven NFL wide receiver?

Q4. The Bears are going to obtain a proven wide receiver to complement Hester after cuts or through a trade. The Bears need a NFL veteran at this position, particularly if they expect to compete well into the playoffs.

Q5. Hester will become a true #1 receiver with Cutler winging the ball to him. With Hester on the field the other skill players will benefit and be open for making plays. Remember, it is not only about catching TD's it is about what the opposing defense does to defend a player like Hester, double teams etc that will make him so valuable to the Bears. Prediction, Hester gets 1,200 yards and 8 TD's this year and the whole offense will be more explosive because of Hester being on the field. Remember you can't teach speed or being elusive, he could be a Steve Smith type of player.

Q6. The biggest surprise in training camp will be Jarron Gilbert with speed, strength and quickness could be a good one.

Hey Brad, I've read the comments by Joyner a few times now and I've read the comments by the readers. I think we need some numbers in order to confirm Joyner's opinion. What are Grossman's numbers when the defense gave up less than 30 points and what are Cutler's? Heck throw Kyle in there as well. My biggest concern with Grossman was always his performance in the 4th quarter. What are the numbers of Grossman, Cutler, and Orton in the fourth quarter of games?

Great Article one again, i always see at my store on westmore across from 7-11, im the stock guy, never really say nothing dont want to bother you, but awesome article, go BEARS!!!

Well the time is almost here. I for one will be waiting for all you kids to make excuses for Cutler when he screws the Bears season up. Yeah you'll be doing what you did for Rex.Cutler will not be judged by what he does but what you percieve him to be. He is a loser and has been all his adult life. He never won a thing and never had a winning season as a Pro.Why?I can say this! Ask a Bear fan!They know how to make up good excuses.All you have to ask is Rex Grossman.

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This page contains a single entry by Brad Biggs published on July 10, 2009 5:44 AM.

22 days to Camp: Bears could look to keep only one fullback was the previous entry in this blog.

20 days to Camp: Cutler's risk taking dominates online chat is the next entry in this blog.

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