Chicago Sun-Times

Four Down Territory, Sept. 29: Vasher, the run game & the O-line

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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.

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Taking a look around, Pro Football Weekly has their weekly "They Said it" section, and saw something that piqued my interest:

"Everyone was banging (Bears GM) Jerry (Angelo) two years ago when (Cedric) Benson did not pan out, but I would have done the same thing. The kid entered a bad situation. He got into camp late and got on the bad side of that team, and with his personality and the sense of entitlement that he had, he was never able to get back on the right side of management or the locker room. It's not easy to be productive in the NFL. Everyone wanted to anoint (Matt Forté) as a great running back and was glad they got rid of Benson, but Benson is the better back, in my opinion. Forté has no juice. He is an average back."

Now while I don't agree with this person's view of Forte, I do think he is on to something when it comes to Benson. he has looked explosive, powerful, and shifty in Cincinnati, three qualities we saw very little of during his time in Chicago. I will be interested in seeing who has the better career, Forte in Chicago, or Benson in Cincy.

Anyway, thought this was a good topic for discussion, considering Forte's slow start, and Benson's solid performance through 3 weeks.
Detroit should be another big test for us, as they are coming off a big boost after the win against Washington. I liked what Schwartz did after the game, having the players come back out and celebrate with the fans. He got rid of a lot of Millen-inspired bad juju on that move, so the team will be riding high coming to Soldier Field.

Ced really looks good, I said it when we let him go it was a mistake, as I saw that he was changing his attitude before the Boat incident.
People just love to knock someone else, that makes them feel so much better, I mean the Mans Mother was on that boat, and the Grand Jury did not indict him. (never mind the fact every man jack of us would have been on that Boat WITHOUT our MoM :).)
It is obvious he got roughed by the Police, for whatever reason. I am not knocking the Police but they do tend to stick together and if one of them does not like someone then guess what?
But now the problem becomes ours as we have to play a disgruntled RB that is looking good and surely Bears a grudge who we face in a meaningful game. We should not have drafted him and kept Jones but it is what it is, but I'll say this, boy I sure wish we had Forte/Benson like we had Jones/Benson cause that worked.
Now we are talking about Forte looking slow and Benson looking solid.
I said it during the game, he looked slow, and Peterson is outplaying Forte right now, with that same line that Forte looked slow on
Yes, the change did Benson good, but I don't care squat about the Bengals , I want to know the change did us good, and right now - I am not so sure. Forte is hurt?? Alright, sit em down as Peterson looked good.

Brad brings up a very good point as far as giving the line time to gel as a unit. But individually, if Josh Beekman is out playing Omiyale in practice, Chicago has got to make the switch after the bye. Omiyale isn't gonna have it easy this week either going against a monster like Grady Jackson, all 345lbs of him. He needs to step it up and quick. Josh Beekman didn't do that bad of a job last season as a starter, and I think he could be a lot better as a second year starter, its a move the Bears have got to at least consider. Especially if the running game continues to struggle.

Also, I agree with Brad, Maybe Nick Roach at middle linebacker wouldn't be a bad idea. He does pack a punch and has better range than Hillenmeyer. If Pisa Tinoisamoa can get back on the field, maybe him at strongside and Roach in the middle might be Chicago's best bet. Again, I realize Roach only came in as relief, but he was all over the field making plays, he deserves at the very least a look at the mike position, just a thought GO BEARS!!

What was up with that officiating on Sunday. I'm not normally one to complain about the referees, but in this case I will.

Why did the Seahawks get the opportunity to decline the foul but the Bears did not?

Secondly, Cutler got called for chop blocking on that reverse to Hester. Watching the play and then watching all the replays, it appeared to me that Cutler fell to his knees at some point during the play, the defender was running past him so Cutler launched his shoulders into the Seahawk's body. How does a block into the body become a cut block?

There was another play where 'Wale was being (obviously) held as Wallace scrambled to his left, but that was completely missed.

Add to that, the mumbley explanation of the punting penalty and I'd say the officials did a subpar job on Sunday.

I guess it evens out, I recall the Bears getting the calls after the half, so maybe the officials decided to switch the teams they're enforcing against at halftime.

Still, can you explain the chop blocking?

Regarding the second to last question about substituting running backs. One thing the Bears seem to do, that other teams don't do, is play the substitute back for an entire series instead of just a play here and a play there throughout the game. I'm not sure why the Bears chose to do it differently, and I don't know if it really makes a difference, but it sure seems like they march to their own drummer in this regard. It seems like most other teams put their sub backs in for a play or two here and there and then rotate back to the primary back (or in some cases they have a dedicated 3rd down back, but I don't think thhat would work for the Bears with their personnel.)

Yeah, I was high on the guy. In '06 he averaged the same ypc as Thomas Jones so it's no surprise to me that he's a good back. In '07 the line was pure crap and he got all the blame but at the same time, his blocking was poor and his receiving skills were just as bad. He was definitely a changed man after the boating incident, and it would have been nice to have him with Forte, but it is what it is and Forte has turned out to be a multi-dimensional superstar.

Brad, been meaning to ask you. What happened with Benson and the police? I know he was acquitted but if the police abused him like he claimed they did, then why didn't he file a suit against them?

Benson is playing in a different system than he played here. It's actually a better system for him, a system built for Dillion another power back.

Benson was bad here, there is no other way to say it. His attitude was horrible, he came into camp out of shape and was lazy. His on field play was bad. If he is doing better in Cin then good for him. But again a different system and a different coach. Sometimes guys do bad in one place and better in another after they learn from there mistakes. Being cut by the Bears probably saved his career.

Benson is getting some big holes and is not being asked to block or recieve much. He never should have been in the Bears WCO.

Don't let a few games go to your head about him, he has yet to have a good year in the nfl. He is in his fifth year and is starting to get his act together, but I will wait to see how he plays when things get tough.

People are forgetting Benson used to come threw a hole and then fall down all on his own on a regular basis.

The bigger question for the Bears is:

why are Lovie Smith and Ron Turner still employed by the Bears?
Tuner wasn't even successful in College and many high school athletic directors would not have hired him to coach high school ball.

Can you imagine this team under the helm of Mike Singletary?

Of course, the Bears ownership has always believed they knew more about NFL football than their own Hall of Fame players.

I think the Bears need to get Forte out in space more unless or until the off tackle holes get more consistent and he can hit them fast. Right now, those runs are just not there. I am all in favor of having him on a "pitch count," so to speak. I'm comfortable with AP spelling him, but Garrett Wolfe is just a waste of space in the backfield. Surely we can do better with another third string RB who contributes to Special Teams. I hope he is not back next year. And let's stop comparing him to Darren Sproles.

Benson sucks and won't make it through the season. AP is the least appreciated player in the league. He's quick, powerful, and has a great attitude. It's a shame he doesn't get more playing time. I love Forte but is he that much better than AP? Keep Wolfe off the field and quit running him up the middle. Use him more in the passing game. Forte is playing like he is hurt. (Too many carries???)

As far as I'm concerned Benson's performance with the Bengals is irrelevant. At least when he's not playing Chicago. He wasn't getting it done with the Bears so they ditched him. It's likely the experience caused him to grow up, that's a good thing I guess.

To me Forte is a Marcus Allen style of runner. He runs to daylight. He times his cuts by reading the blocks of his linemen. Right now he is either not getting the blocks or not reacting to the line's play quick enough. He needs to be in sync.

This is why Peterson is having some success. He is a different kind of runner, a more north and south type runner.

I think the Bears are paying the bill for the preseason decisions they made. Last year Forte was a rookie and nobody worried about over working him in the preseason. As a result he developed some rhythum with his blockers before the season. This year they kept him under wraps and he didn't get the reps with the new line.

The good news is the Bears are 2-1, Forte is healthy, and the running game is still developing. They are doing it right now as a passing team. So what? As long as they figure it out before the snow flies it will be OK.

I'm not surprised by Benson's success.

Keep in mind that the player he replaced was a major bust in Arizona.

Jones, like Benson, was moody, couldn't stay healthy and had a me first attitude during his first four years.

But he came to the Bears with a different attitude and commitment to the game.

And yes, as a pure running back, he has more ability than Forte.

But Forte is a complete back. He can line up anywhere as a receiver and holds his own in pass protection.

Unlike some Bear fans and idiot sports writers, I'm not ready to write someone off after three games into the second season.

And that's the irony -- the writer is attempting to knock Forte struggles, but willing to overlook the fact that Benson had three mediocre years -- not games -- years.

Actually Ced fell down like that cause he was so surprised there was a hole at all, he couldn't do anything except fall down and thank the line right then and there. :)

I am not writing off Forte, but when Peterson is outplaying him , then something is wrong. Same line same everything, I believe the media said something about Inj. well, they should have kept Peterson in the game if Forte was injured to the extent it was effecting his running.

And yes Jon I saw the holding as well, it was blatant.

Benson really looked good in the Packer game, not so good against the Steelers. He never came close to looking even respectable as a Bear.Even when Forte does not have a good game, he does not disappear and still contributes with good blocks and fakes.I'll take Forte any time over Benson, and the "Pro football Weekly" writer needs to reassess his/her values.I actually like all three of the Bears' backs and think they can all contribyte solidly to wins if used correctly in the right situations. Whether or not Turner is able to determine those situations is another question and certainly is suspect when one considers that Wolfe call. Clearly A.P. or a sneak would have been far more likely to be successful.

On that 3rd and 1 I was screaming at the tv, "Don't run Wolfe!" They ran Wolfe and... Oh well, Bears still won the game. What I don't understand is how the Bears are so attached to him. He was drafted to be a complement for Cedric Benson. As many have pointed out, Benson and Forte are completely different backs. Therefore, Wolfe would not be a complement for Forte - a big, powerful back who could fall down and automatically gain 3 yards would. Maybe he is earning his keep on special teams. Go Bears!

Good observation, T dawg, but wWlfe really is a tricky speedster once he gets past the line. Unfortunately he has not had many opportunities in that regard because too many times the O line has let tacklers through before he even gets the hand-off.

Hey Brad, had been wondering if 4DT was coming back -- glad to see it return. Also congrats on your new NFP gig...

So here's a question I have that maybe you can dig up an answer for, one that I'm surprised no one has really talked about at all in the wake of Urlacher's injury. Reportedly the typical recovery time is 16 weeks -- 12 weeks healing, 4 weeks rehab. So it would seem (nominally at least) that the Bears could have opted for a wait-and-see approach, monitoring the recovery with the hope of getting him back in time for the post-season.

Is this something they considered, and did they decide against it? Neither Lovie or JA have talked about that option or their thought process, nor has anyone asked them about it as far as I know. I do realize of course that with all the injuries from Week 1 it may well not have been practical to hold a roster spot for a what might be at best a speculative recovery timetable.

However, I would have liked to hear in their words why they didn't wait longer to see if they could possibly get Brian back in presumably the most important time they could have him... in the playoffs. If he's that valuable of a player to the team and was primed for a good season as everyone was saying, there should be a reason why they shut the door so early -- whether it be because the injury is believed to be on the more serious side, or they needed the roster spot that badly to ensure they avoid disaster while contending to reach the postseason, or perhaps they believed there wouldn't be a significant dropoff with the backups? Any of these would be newsworthy I'd have to think.

After all, Carl Banks (as you reported) came back to play in the Super Bowl after suffering the same injury in Week 4 in 1990 -- i.e. the Giants did not put him on IR. I might add that (with no disrespect) Carl Banks was no Brian Urlacher. So what gives?

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This page contains a single entry by Brad Biggs published on September 29, 2009 1:07 PM.

Four Down Territory coming Tuesday was the previous entry in this blog.

Bears bring back Commando for special teams help is the next entry in this blog.

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