We're going to reach into the mailbag for some Four Down Territory before camp gets going. There aren't any major issues hanging in the balance. A year ago, you had Brian Urlacher's contract getting done just before camp and Devin Hester seeking a new contract. In the past, there was a Thomas Jones stakeout to see if he was going to show up. First-round picks have been far from signed at this point in previous years. All is quiet now. The Bears are just getting ready for football. Here we go.
Q: I read your preview for the wide receivers and you don't seem to be giving them much of a chance. Why? I see a talented group of young wide receivers and there's no reason to believe they can't flourish. Eddie Royal was a second-round pick. Brandon Marshall was a fourth-round pick. Shouldn't these guys get a chance with Jay Cutler?
Michael, Parts Unknown
A: The Bears found a talented and productive wide receiver in the third round of the 2004 draft when they selected Bernard Berrian out of Fresno State. Otherwise, the club's track record at the position under general manager Jerry Angelo is a series of misses, some bigger than others. It happens to be one of the more difficult positions to evaluate for the draft, and as Angelo has pointed out previously, the majority of the true No. 1 wideouts in the league are, guess what, first-round picks. The Bears haven't tried a wide receiver in the first round since David Terrell in 2001, and that was two months before Angelo came aboard. We're not suggesting the Bears will be unable to find help from their rookies and unproven players at the position, we're simply pointing out that after Devin Hester and Rashied Davis, that is the only thing the Bears have to lean on. If they try enough players, one of them might work. Bringing in a veteran with marginal and eroding talent would prevent a possible talent from blossoming. All of these players have a different tool box and it will be interesting to see which one(s) step forward in the three weeks of camp.
Q: Is there a veteran on the roster that will be in jeopardy of being cut? Maybe a surprise cut that could be coming?
A: I don't know if there are any major surprises coming. Sure, there will be some healthy competition for spots at the back end of the roster, but this team is pretty well set. There is not going to be a lot of turnover in the starting lineups and that's usually where you get your surprise cuts. There aren't any players carrying bad contracts that the team will want to unload. Linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer will be in a tough spot, particularly if he's still hampered in his recovery from offseason surgery to repair a sports hernia. If healthy, he deserves an opportunity to be on the roster. Running back Adrian Peterson could be pushed for a spot as it's expected the Bears will at least consider going with three running backs. Even though Rashied Davis is the only wide receiver other than Devin Hester with real NFL experience, he'll probably need to perform well. Defensive tackle Dusty Dvoracek has become Mike Brown without the long history of production the former safety had. He'll be pushed and he has to stay healthy. No one is guaranteeing jobs for tight end Michael Gaines or safety Josh Bullocks. None of these strike as potential surprise cuts. All could have a role on the 2009 team.
Q: Do you think the Bears truly have confidence that Nathan Vasher will be the player he once was for them and earn a starting job in training camp?
A: They're not going to come out and tell you exactly how they feel about a player, but their actions may speak louder than their words. When Corey Graham, who replaced Vasher when he was injured during roughly half of 2008, was shifted to safety at the start of OTA's, that right there might have given an indication of how the club felt about Vasher. Does that mean you can do more than pencil Vasher in for this season? No. But from what we saw during the offseason program he was working exclusively with the first team. That ought to be a signal that it is his job to lose. Fact is, the Bears need Vasher to perform well with Charles Tillman mending from back surgery. The Tillman watch will be important, but you're right to point out that Vasher is someone to keep an eye on.
Q: What do you expect from Brian Urlacher this season?
Sam H., Springfield, Ill.
A: I think Urlacher will be his usual self, which means one of the better middle linebackers in the game. No one is going to benefit more from improved play by the defensive line than him. He'll also be helped out if the Bears get away from the mug look they used so much last season, especially through the first half of the schedule. Some have generated a buzz about the shape Urlacher is in and the time commitment he made at Halas Hall this offseason. That's all good and certainly helps when it comes to building chemistry with what is going to be a new team. But Urlacher has always been a workout warrior and has never been known to come into camp looking sloppy. It doesn't matter if he's in Lake Forest, Arizona or somewhere in between, come late July he's going to be ready to play. He's healed from a groin injury that sidelined him for two weeks at the end of the offseason program and should be good to go.
Q: Have the Bears had more turnover on Lovie Smith's coaching staff than most teams experience? What do you make of it?
Rosario, Parts Unknown
A: The effective firing of Ron Rivera following Super Bowl XLI is the most high profile change made by Smith, who is entering his sixth season at the helm. I think you've got to consider one thing when you're looking at the overall situation. Smith was the last coach hired in the NFL in 2004. The Bears got into that boat with Dick Jauron and then did it again with Smith. That essentially left him with last pick when it came to lining up assistant coaches. He only brought one with him from St. Louis, Bob Babich, and that meant piecing together a staff from elsewhere. The plan at the time, of course, was to hire Rod Marinelli as the defensive coordinator. Smith did the right think in axing Terry Shea after one season. He showed he wasn't afraid to make a change when one was warranted. Marinelli will be the fourth defensive line coach in six seasons and Jon Hoke is new this season as the fourth secondary coach in six seasons. What needs to be recognized is that Smith previously went to the college ranks for many assistants. That was the route he took to the NFL and one of the things he said is that he wanted good teachers who were upbeat on the practice field. Those college coaches also came cheaper when it came time for contracts. Now, the Bears seem to focus on the pro ranks when seeking assistants, at least when they're looking for position coaches. We've yet to encounter someone who doesn't consider Marinelli one of the better line coaches in the league and Hoke comes highly regarded as well. Let's wait and evaluate their work, and remember Babich did well with the linebackers when he came on board.
Q: The Bears got a perfect fit for their defense in Marcus Freeman and I can't believe he lasted as long in the draft as he did. What kind of impact can he make as a rookie?
Scott, Upper Arlington, Ohio
A: Freeman looks like he fits the mold the Bears have for a weak-side linebacker, and barring an injury that job is going to be held this season and for seasons to come by Lance Briggs. It will put Freeman in a good position to learn on the job, and perhaps he will get in the mix as a backup at some of the other spots eventually. I'd suspect the first plan of action is to make sure he learns the weak side. The nice thing for Freeman is he got experience playing special teams at Ohio State, and that will certainly be an opportunity he has here. He worked as the personal protector on the punt team in school, and we'll see what special teams coordinator Dave Toub has in store for him. The feeling is Freeman would not have lasted anywhere near the fifth round in the draft had he come out in 2008 after his junior year but an ankle injury and a less productive senior season affected his stock.
Q: Why do the Bears not practice until 3 in the afternoon on Friday? I'm ready for practice at 7 a.m.
Gerry, Parts Unknown
A: Who isn't fired up and ready to go? We suspect things don't get started until 3 because the players have to have physicals first. They are not required to arrive on campus until midnight Thursday, and they will have meetings before they take the field. Smith likes to hold practices at the same time the games will be during the season, thus practices begin at noon, 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. For a complete practice schedule, check here.
Q: Training camp will be here soon and I'm looking ahead to the schedule and thinking 11-5. What is the toughest stretch you see for the Bears?
Bear Down, Parts Unknown
A: It's impossible to say who is going to do what this season. Who saw Arizona reaching the Super Bowl last season or the incredible turnaround by Miami? We picked this up in Peter King's column at SI.com on Monday morning. According to NFL PR man Michael Signora, at least five teams have made the playoffs after missing the previous year for 13 years running. That tells you a little something about what one season means to the next. Not a lot. The Bears open at Green Bay and Smith has done very well there in five years. The Packers are revamping their defense in a move to the 3-4 and the Bears won't know a lot of what Dom Capers plans to do. Now, the flip side of that is the Packers will not be real tested in their new defense. Follow that up with a home date against the defending Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers, and then a trip across the country to Seattle, and that could be a formidable three-week run. The Seahawks have a new coach in Jim Mora Jr. and some believe they will rebound to win the NFC West this season. Stay tuned.
Q: I saw in your blog that Chris McAlister from Baltimore is available should the Bears need someone due to the Charles Tillman injury. What would take to get him and how his play has been recently? In my opinion he has been a solid pro. Do you think he's got something left in the tank?
Rob R., Algonquin
A: McAlister is a free agent after being released by the Ravens in February. The 10th pick of the 1999 draft has been to three Pro Bowls but appeared in only six games last season before going on injured reserve with a knee injury that required surgery. He appeared in only eight games in 2007 and multiple knee injuries have taken a toll on his ability. It's hard to say what McAlister has remaining in the tank. With him remaining on the street as camps begin, it's fair to assume most believe there isn't a lot left.
We've updated the blog to include our Twitter feed (BradBiggs). It's in a column on the right side and that will be a place to get instant updates during training camp and practices. Thank you for all of the participation and thanks as always for reading.