It's been a week, and I was delayed tonight by a nice piece on a wide receiver fighting to get back in the league--David Terrell--that will run over at the National Football Post in the morning. Without any more delay, let's jump right into the action.
Q: I'm a longtime Bears fan, now transplanted in Los Angeles. I can tell you that Kahlil Bell really showed something when he played for UCLA. I feel like Lovie should give him a shot. Can you tell me that Kahlil's injury status is, is he game ready, and what the coaches think of him?
Robert S., Los Angeles
A: Bell is healthy after injuring his ankle during the summer with the Minnesota Vikings. He has been running with the scout team in practice. As far as being game ready, I couldn't tell you where he is at right now with the Bears' offense. Could he take a handoff and hit the right hole? Sure. Does he understand the blitz responsibilities for the position? That takes time. The Bears will have to make a decision on whether or not to sign a running back to the 53-man roster with Adrian Peterson expected to miss a least the Atlanta game on Oct. 18 with a sprained knee. They have only Matt Forte and Garrett Wolfe right now, although fullback Jason McKie could handle duties in a real pinch. My guess--and this is just a guess--is that if Peterson will miss only one or two games tops the Bears will role the dice with what they have. Why add someone like Bell or an outsider who doesn't know the playbook for one game when Forte rarely comes off the field? That doesn't seem like that big of a gamble to me. Bell would also have to prove to have real value on special teams to get a shot. We'll see what happens moving forward with A.P. This is a story to keep an eye on, no question.
Q: After a weekend of two NFC North matchups, I am curious how things will unfold down the stretch for the Bears. From what we've seen by now can you lay out some pros and cons for the Bears going forward in the division in terms of strength of schedule, facing Green Bay a second time, and facing Favre and the Vikings two times yet not until week 12 and 16? I am hoping Favre will be feeling the pain a bit more by then as he looked scary-good last night.
Geoff, Maui, Hawaii
A: The schedules are pretty much identical. The Vikings draw Carolina and the New York Giants. The Bears get Atlanta and Philadelphia. The Bears should have beat Green Bay in the first meeting because they got a top defensive effort. Jay Cutler was a disaster and you had what you had there. The Vikings looked pretty good on Monday night, no question, but that's a different game if the Packers' offensive line was even 50 percent better than it was. As dominant as the Vikings looked at times, they still won by only seven points. How Favre's arm holds up over the course of the season will be a key. Plus, it looks like there are starting to be some cracks in the Williams Wall. Teams are running the ball with a little bit of success on Minnesota. They're still impressive and they have the best player in the division in Adrian Peterson.
Q: Do you think we will sign a RB? Who? Will Jarron Gilbert ever get any playing time?
IMHOtep, Parts Unknown
A: See above on the running back question. Gilbert suited up for his second game on Sunday against Detroit, and he saw limited action at left end. It might have been just one snap, in fact, but he was on the field. Lovie Smith remains high on him and told me a little more than a week ago that he anticipates the rookie third-round pick contributing this season.
Q: Why does Lance Briggs keep lining up on the strong side? Did the Bears move him to the strong side? He has been lining up there a lot since Brian Urlacher went down. Is he trying to enforce the mike position?
Creighton, Parts Unknown
A: That is something that happens with regularity in the Bears' scheme, whether Urlacher is in the middle or anyone else. The weak-side linebacker, Briggs, lines up behind the three technique tackle, usually Tommie Harris. His responsibility is to check the A gap. In an over front, the weak side linebacker will be across from the tight end or the strong side of the offense. This is one of the reasons why the Bears like to say their positions are interchangeable in a lot of ways. So, no new calls or techniques.
Q: I would like to see an analysis of the defense as a whole. Here is a squad that blows a game in Green Bay, handles the Steelers, can barely handle Seneca Wallace, gets shredded by a rookie for the first half at home against Detroit and then completely shuts them down in the second half. This kind of maddening inconsistency smells like a coaching problem to me, but here is the team handing the game ball to their defensive line coach at the end of the game. Is it conditioning? Attitude? Talent? Coaching? Why do you think we can't rely on our defense any more?
Peebs, Parts Unknown
A: Don't have the time or space for a full blown analysis of the defense right here and right now. I think we all know the strengths and weaknesses with the current defense. We ought to as the scheme and the players haven't changed. I would disagree with you that the defense blew the game in Green Bay. Yeah, Nathan Vasher got caught with his drawers around his ankles on a game-winning play, but that was one bad play in a game full of good ones. The defense turned in a solid effort there. Let's face it, this isn't the 2005 and 2006 Bears defense and it's not going to be. But with 14 sacks through four games, I think it's showing an improvement over the last two seasons but it's just a start. They can't afford more injuries at linebacker, and the secondary remains iffy to me. If the pass rush isn't there, the secondary is going to get beaten up. This isn't anything new though, is it?
Q: What would you attribute Greg Olsen's slow start this year to? Is he being doubled or bracketed? Has Nick Roach played well enough to supplant Hunter Hillenmeyer again, this time at middle linebacker? Will Jamar Williams ever get a chance to start on a regular basis? I thought he did really well this week on the strong side, and Pisa Tinoisamoa is a little too small for my liking on the strong side.
Joe F., Parts Unknown
A: Olsen's slow start (10 catches, 94 yards, 2 TD) is probably due to a combination of things. He's dropped at least two passes. He's gotten extra attention from some defenses, particularly Green Bay. The Bears have not run him vertical as much as maybe some people expected. He's probably not going to the Pro Bowl this season, but Olsen should still have a fine year and he's proving to be a great force in the red zone, especially at the goalline.
Roach did well filling in at middle linebacker for the second straight week, and I would say there is a chance he remains there, yes. We'll get a better indication at Atlanta. I don't think Williams will get a shot to start on a regular basis unless an injury happens, but the Bears can't seem to stay healthy at linebacker so you never no. Tinoisamoa will have his turn again when he is healthy, and Williams is in a contract season. He had not played well until the Detroit game.
Q: Could you tell us a little more about how the practice squad works and how the players fit into the team? For example, do they all get paid the same rate? When? Do they get any help with subsistence or travel expenses? What does a player like DeAngelo Smith do to support themselves when they are released for a week and then are re-signed? Do they have side jobs? You get the idea, how does the practice squad work for the team and the players?
A: The practice squad works very similar to the way the 53-man roster works except these players are not eligible for play on Sundays, and the minimum salary for practice squad players is $5,200 per week, or $88,000 over the course of the season. The minimum for rookies this season is $310,000, so it's a considerable difference. I can't tell you what Smith is making after signing with the Bears' practice squad today, but I can tell you the seven other players on the practice squad are all earning the minimum. Most teams keep nearly every player on their practice squad at the minimum, although there are exceptions. For example, a couple years ago the Bears really wanted to keep defensive tackle Antonio Garay around. They signed him to the practice squad for the rookie minimum, and then eventually promoted him to the 53-man roster. When the Bears bring players in, of course they cover their travel expenses. Once they're here to stick around, they've got to pay for their own place. Football is a year-round job for them just like players on the roster, and these guys are working at it all they can to get promoted and earn the big bucks, so I don't think many are holding down part-time work elsewhere.
Q: We know that Nate Vasher is in the doghouse, and Zack Bowman has at times struggled this year. Given this, why haven't the Bears used Corey Graham more, given his greater experience and relative success at cornerback in the past?
IDC, Parts Unknown
A: Obviously, Graham wasn't as successful last season as we thought he was, right? That's about the best explanation I can give you. He hasn't been given the same opportunities with new secondary coach Jon Hoke. In some of the statistical work done by Football Outsiders, Graham did not grade out well last season. He had a healthy tackle total, but often times that can be the sign of a cornerback who had a lot of passes completed against him. I know the Bears' corners are very involved in run support, but for whatever reason Graham hasn't found a niche on defense. He remains an integral part of special teams. I wouldn't write him off yet though.
That's all I've got for now. We'll get back to the mailbag again soon. Thanks for reading, and as always thank you for participating.