It's been a while since I reached into the mailbag in Four Down Territory. The box was overflowing with inquiries about the offensive line and I'm going to tackle as many as I can. Here we go in an expanded Q&A:
Q: With all of the injuries the Bears have at linebacker, why not bring back Marcus Freeman, the fifth-round pick? He knows the system and probably has more upside than a veteran.
Marty F., Indiana
A: When the Bears cut ties with Freeman at the start of the month, and didn't pursue him for the practice squad that sent a clear message how they felt about him. I would be very surprised if Freeman resurfaces here. He joined the Buffalo Bills practice squad last week. The Bears didn't believe that Freeman played with much instinct and didn't see a lot of passion in his game. Plus, he did little on special teams and that is where they would want help from a reserve linebacker. Maybe the light turns on for him elsewhere. Sometimes a player needs a new environment.
Q: What do you think is going on with Nate Vasher? Is he hanging in there with an undisclosed (to everyone but him) physical injury? If not that, then what?
David H., Chicago
A: Vasher was on the field for a couple plays Sunday at Seattle. He spelled Zack Bowman when the right cornerback was knocked out of the game for one play, and Vasher came on when the Seahawks went to a five-wide package. I think what has happened is Vasher isn't the same player he once was. He hasn't shown the same confidence in his ability, and he looks tentative at times. The issue is he's not really a special teams contributor. But with the health issues that plagued Bowman and Charles Tillman during the offseason, the Bears can't afford to cut Vasher loose. He has experience, knows the scheme and is a better fill-in than they could find elsewhere right now. It certainly looks like his Bears' career is winding toward an end, however. He's still a stand-up guy, and remains a positive influence in the locker room, which is always a good sign.
Q: I know the running game has gotten a lot of grief for underproduction recently. Matt Forte, particularly, looks weak as a runner even though his receiving production has been up lately. It just looks to me like he has minimal explosiveness and that he falls down at the slightest contact. Are the effects of his off-season injury still bothering him? It seems like the closest thing we have to a power runner is A.P. Are the Bears looking to make any changes in the backfield? Are there any real options for them beyond the guys that they have?
Jay M., Salem, Mass.
A: I'd say your evaluation of the running game is pretty accurate, although I wouldn't say Forte goes down easily. That's not fair. He is a tough runner who has a knack for staying up. That being said, he has not looked particularly quick and there were a couple of runs at Seattle that looked like they should have gone for bigger gains. The Bears took it easy with Forte during the summer because of a hamstring injury he suffered in June. He dinged his knee against the Seahawks. He's probably not running at 100 percent right now, and the bye coming up in Week 5 will serve him well. Remember, the plan was for him to share the load with Kevin Jones, and that had to be scratched when Jones went down for the season. The Bears are sticking to their goal of limiting Forte's usage this season, and that is a smart thing. That is why Adrian Peterson and Garrett Wolfe have both been involved more. Teams can always find a running back on the street, but I don't see the Bears making a move. Not right now, at least.
Q: Did Lovie Smith explain why the penalties didn't offset on the 11-yard punt by Brad Maynard during the game at Seattle? I am very confused on that. He looked just as confused as me.
Martin M., Parts Unknown
A: I was just as confused as you were when that happened at the start of the second quarter on Sunday. Unfortunately, Maynard couldn't get a do-over with offsetting penalties. Here is why: the Bears drew a penalty because Nick Roach was ineligible downfield. The Seahawks drew a penalty on the play for holding by Lance Laury. The Seahawks were thrilled with the outcome of the short punt out of bounds by Maynard, so they declined the penalty on Roach for being downfield too early. The Bears, of course, accepted the holding penalty on Laury. The penalties were not offsetting because the Seahawks did not ask to have the Roach penalty enforced. The ball sailed out of bounds at the Bears' 37-yard line, and the 10-yard holding penalty backed Seattle up to the 47. I hope that make sense.
Q: Who should I be rooting for next Monday for the Vikings vs. the Packers?
Byron R., Parts Unknown
A: Are you talking about Brett Favre's first meeting with his former team, the game we'll hear about daily for a week now? If the Bears defeat the Lions on Sunday to go to 3-1, a Packers' victory over the Vikings would create a three-way tie for first atop the NFC North. The Packers would have a very early edge with a 2-0 record in the division, but the Bears are better off being tied than a game down after four weeks, right? I'll be rooting for a good game. The Monday night tilt in Jerryland didn't do a whole lot for me last night.
Q: Do you think the offensive line is still trying to learn the offense? Are they playing tentatively because they don't know it yet and are not yet used to each other? Or do the Bears just need better linemen?
Wrigley Field Bear, Parts Unknown
A: The Bears have three new starters on the line this season but I think it's fair to say they all know the playbook. Right tackle Chris Williams was around last season, and Orlando Pace and Frank Omiyale are bright guys. I think it is a work in progress. They're getting used to one another and they're also getting accustomed to playing with Jay Cutler. Remember, the first team was on the field for less than 4 1/2 quarters combined in preseason. That's not a lot. There seems to be a great deal of angst about the line, but I think it is fair to say that line coach Harry Hiestand has done a good job developing blocking units since coming on board in 2005. That's been one of the strengths of the team, and certainly Hiestand has maximized the talent he has been given to work with. It's not like the Bears have used an abundance of high draft picks to stock this group. Hiestand has made do with veterans and castoffs and mid- to late-round picks. At the end of the season each year, I think the feeling has been he's succeeded with what he's had. Seattle is a difficult place to run the ball, and the Bears are keeping the ball in the hands of their best playmaker in Jay Cutler. The week before, they went against one of the best rushing defenses in the past decade. I think the line deserves some more time to work things out. Lovie Smith isn't afraid to make changes, but I don't think he makes too many knee-jerk reactions. I'd trust Hiestand to evaluate the situation properly. He came as an assistant who worked under Ron Turner at Illinois and has carved out a reputation for himself in the NFL on his own.
Q: How long until the Bears admit they have wide some receivers, but no offensive line? If Jay Cutler didn't have the pocket presence and mobility he does, he would be on his back half the game.
Karl M., Parts Unknown
A: The Seahawks registered six quarterback hits and two sacks and they blitzed an awful lot. Cutler was flushed out of the pocket on his interception but made a bad decision to throw that pass. I'll refer you to the above question on the line. Let's be careful anointing the great Bears wide receivers too. Seattle's best cornerback Marcus Trufant is on the physically unable to perform list. His fill-in Josh Morgan was out with an injury. Starter Ken Lucas was lost during the game to an injury too. That reduced the Seahawks to their fourth and fifth cornerbacks. Any starting wide receiver in the NFL should win matchups in these types of situations. Yes, Johnny Knox has looked good. Yes, Devin Hester has big play ability, but we knew that. Earl Bennett has been dependable. No one is going to mistake this for a top-flight group this season.
Q: How many snaps did Josh Beekman play so far? Did he perform any better than Frank Omiyale for same amount of snaps for both run and pass blocking? How are Garrett Wolfe's stats in special teams. I don't remember hearing his name called in special teams plays watching on TV. I think he is a dead weight on the team if he is not even contributing well enough on special teams or Ron Turner doesn't know how to use him. He certainly isn't a third down back. What do you think?
CaliBearFan78, Parts Unknown
A: If Beekman has played on offense so far, I've either forgotten or missed it, so I can't make an evaluation on Beekman vs. Omiyale for you. Two of the Bears' three games have been on the road in difficult venues and their home game was against one of the finest defensive models in the league. If the Bears were going to entertain a change on the offensive line, it might make sense to do that during the bye week. I think it's too early to rush to judgment on Omiyale. Many readers here were fed up with Roberto Garza last season, and he graded out very well when professional scouts evaluated him. The club certainly didn't have any issues with Garza's play. I think the line deserves some time to settle in. As far as Wolfe, he's tied for second on the team with three special teams tackles, all of them solos. He's a good player there for Dave Toub. I'd agree that Wolfe's role on offense has never really been created.
Q: With Pisa Tinoisamoa coming back at least by Week 6, who is better able to be the middle linebacker for the Bears? Nick Roach seems to pack more of a punch than Hunter Hillenmeyer but Hillenmeyer seems to be more adept mentally for the position?
Dahlillama, Parts Unknown
A: It will be interesting to see how that plays out. Don't discount the possibility that Roach takes over in the middle when the dust has settled. He got his first real work in the middle in practice with the second team after Week 1 when Brian Urlacher was lost for the season. I wouldn't say Roach packs more punch, but he does play with a little more range than Hillenmeyer. Roach is an astute guy, too, he comes from Northwestern and got top billing from Ron Rivera after the Bears signed Roach away from the San Diego Chargers practice squad. Roach made six tackles to go with two tackles for loss and two pass breakups against Seattle. The issue for Roach is going to be staying on the field. He's had durability concerns in the past, but then again Hillenmeyer has been dinged during the last year. I think it's fair to say the Bears will probably need both the rest of the way.
Q: In an earlier article someone pointed out that Charles Tillman is great at knocking the ball out of ballcarrier's hands or arms. I wonder about that approach. What do defensive back coaches think about it? I have seen a lot of attempts at that result in just missed tackles and big gains, such as the one by the Seahawks' Julius Jones against Peanut Sunday. Is the turnover possibility worth the risk?
Paul M., Parts Unknown
A: Tillman usually doesn't whiff on a tackle like he did with Julius Jones on the screen pass in the first quarter. Smith said he could have made a better call there on third-and-19 from the Bears' 39-yard line, and it probably was a mistake to blitz. That being said, Tillman had a clear shot at Jones at the 26, and could have shoved him out of bounds or made the tackle. Instead, he went for the strip and Jones motored in for a touchdown. He was able to strip T.J. Houshmandzadeh later in the game after free safety Danieal Manning had wrapped him up. Tillman is very good going for the ball, and typically he wraps up. I haven't seen too much shoddy tackling to this point, but the Jones' touchdown certainly did stick out.
Q: Where has Juaquin Iglesias and Devin Aromashodu been? Are they injured? Johnny Knox is great, don't get me wrong, just wondering.
Mike, Fort Wayne, Ind.
A: Wow. Tough crowd. The Bears get pretty good play from the wideouts through three games and you're asking about the guys not on the field. Aromashodu probably would have been ahead of Knox to start the season but a slight quad pull kept him out. He's in a tough spot now because he simply didn't perform very well on special teams in preseason. The fourth receiver has to have value on special teams, and Knox does hit part as the kick returner. It looks like Aromashodu will have to bide his time until an opening is created. As far as Iglesias, he had a rough offseason and rougher training camp and preseason. He was no doubt protected by his status as a third-round draft pick. He'll either go the Earl Bennett redshirt way and blossom in a year or I suspect he will hit the road. Jerry Angelo had a tendency in the past to hold on to draft picks too long. I think he's changed his ways a little on that. Iglesias will have to perform next summer. If a need arises, the club will surely turn to Aromashodu first.
Q: Please answer why we take out our best back in Matt Forte to run Garrett Wolfe up the middle on third-and-1. Does Ron Turner get his plays from his brother because that play was the same one Darren Sproles ran up the middle where Ray Lewis lit him up last week. Wolfe is no good. Adrian Peterson runs harder and blocks better. I have no problem when he's in.
Tom K., Parts Unknown
A: I'd have to imagine Turner wishes he had that call back. Didn't make sense to me, either, after the Bears had run him the two previous plays. Looked like an ideal situation for play action or even a shot deep downfield. Peterson is a guy who picks up what is blocked for him. I can't condemn Wolfe on that play though. He wasn't used properly there. That's on Turner there. Remember, the Bears need to rest Forte some, even if it's third-and-1. He was on the field too much last season (84 percent of the offensive snaps). At some point, he's got to come off, and he dinged his knee earlier in the game. It's going to be hard to find "good times" for Forte to rest though. When do you do it?
Q: Haven't heard much about Danieal Manning lately. Is that good news because he hasn't been getting burned, or bad news because he isn't making plays? Any sense of whether he's viewed as the longterm answer at free safety (especially since his contract is up this year)?
Chris, Parts Unknown
A: I think Manning has played fine, and it's probably good news. He's been prone to some errors in coverage that have led to big plays in the past. We haven't seen one of those this season. Smith likes his athletic ability. Sure, he might be under consideration for a modest extension. The Bears could gamble on there not being a resolution to the CBA too. Without a CBA extension, the Bears will have the right to tender Manning as a restricted free agent.
Thanks for reading and as always thank you for participating.