Q: Considering the use of the shotgun formation in this offense, is not being able to practice and work out going to set (Olin) Kreutz back too far? He has never been very good at the shotgun snap, and we have a much greater risk of turnover in the Martz offense as it is. If we can't manage the snap, we are in for a long season. Martz uses more under-center passing, but our offensive line is going to struggle in pass protection again, so there will end up being a lot more shotgun formations in my opinion to preserve Cutler's life.
A: The scheme may be new, but the center to quarterback exchange is not. Kreutz and Cutler had plenty of chances to work on that snap last year; Cutler had 256 pass attempts out of the shotgun, which was tied for 17th. Granted, the Bears didn't exactly thrive out of that formation, as Cutler's passer rating was just 67.5, with a league-high 16 interceptions and just nine touchdowns.
I agree, that Kreutz hasn't excelled with the shotgun snap. But, I don't think the time he's missed so far this off-season is going to hurt him, in that regard. Frankly, I think it's more important that Kreutz is as close to 100 percent as possible, given his advanced age (33).
Q: I noticed in the posting regarding the training camp schedule, there are no two-a-days. With the Bears implementing a whole new offensive scheme (and having young receivers to boot), don't you think that they may need all the practice they can get? I can understand altering the schedule due to extreme heat, but do you think they will be ready?
A: I think the days of traditional two-a-days has gone the way of the dodo bird.
Overall, contemporary players do a better job of staying in shape during the off-season, so coaches don't have to "whip them into shape." In addition, with trainers and doctors more mindful of heat exhaustion and overexertion, players aren't subjected to old-school tactics like coaches denying water breaks or making them sprint until they drop.
In Minnesota, Vikings coach Brad Childress put his players through a rough training camp in his first season. But, he eased back in each of the seasons since. Last year, for instance, the Vikings had two practices most days. But, having attended almost all of them, I can assure you that the morning sessions were glorified walk-throughs. I don't know how many fans I met who were disappointed to even attend them since the players basically stretched, warmed up then literally walked through plays, mostly on special teams.
Technically, the Bears - on occasion - will have two practices. But I expect those sessions won't be all that interesting to the untrained - or even trained - eye.
Q: Who are looking like the second-team cornerbacks this year and how do they look? Peanut (Charles Tillman) most likely will get dinged up again and we need some depth behind (Zackary) Bowman and him.
A: In all honesty, Pete, I think it's way too early to tell. I know that's not the answer you were looking for, but I think the Bears intentionally want to head to training camp to see who emerges at the position. Right now, eight cornerbacks are on the roster. In the regular-season finale last year, the Bears had five cornerbacks on the roster.
Frankly, after Bowman and Tillman, the remaining players aren't handcuffing the team. What I mean is, all of them are expendable. After dumping Nathan Vasher, the Bears have a bunch of young players who have flashed potential. The most experienced of the bunch is Tim Jennings, who is 26 years old and has 21 starts under his belt.
If he doesn't pan out, the Bears are out $250,000 (his initial roster bonus). And if Josh Moore (their fifth-round pick) doesn't show he can contribute right away, then the Bears would be out $198,000.
Q: My question is in regards to Albert Haynesworth. He is refusing to show up for the Redskins (except when his contract mandates it) due to their new 3-4 scheme. He wants to play in a 4-3 penetrating scheme. Looking at his contract, the Redskins have paid out the majority of the front loaded money. Would it (behoove) the Bears to give them a second-round pick and let the teams we face decide who they are going to double team: Haynesworth, (Julius) Peppers or (Tommie) Harris? I think we could all but remove the blitz packages from our defense. Is this feasible?
Jim from Milwaukee
A: With no salary cap in place, anything is possible. But, the Bears have already maxed out their credit, so to speak, with the McCaskeys. And while they're always looking for talented players, I certainly don't think Jerry Angelo, Lovie Smith and company can justify asking for a player like Haynesworth. While his impact is obvious, Haynesworth is doing nothing to debunk his reputation for having a questionable work ethic.
Q: What will it take for Robbie Gould our kicker to make the Pro Bowl?
A: The obvious answer is to be among the best kickers in the league. Since Gould went after the 2006 season, when the Bears played in the Super Bowl, three other kickers have taken their turns: Nick Folk (Dallas), John Carney (New York Giants) and David Akers (Philadelphia).
Obviously, there's not a lot of favoritism, with one guy earning a spot several years running. Last year, Akers and Nate Kaeding of the San Diego Chargers were the two leading scorers, among kickers.
Akers didn't have as high a conversion percentage (86.5 percent) as Minnesota's Ryan Longwell (92.9), but Akers did score seven more points. Gould was 14th in the NFL, with 106 points (33 fewer than Akers), and his conversion percentage was a solid 85.7. In 2006, Gould scored 143 points, converting 32 of 36 field goals (88.9 percent) and all 47 of his extra points.
Q: The Bears have four tight ends and despite the high injury rate to tight ends keeping all four would be a luxury. Brandon Manumaleuna was just signed specifically to fit into Mike Martz's system so he's safe. Greg Olsen is a high draft pick and the best pass catching threat but an unproven blocker. Desmond Clark blocks and catches well but he's the oldest and was hurt last year. Kellen Davis is big, young, and plays special teams. So who is likely to go?
A: Well, I think you've provided a fairly solid analysis of the situation. The Bears did pay Clark a roster bonus (I believe close to $500,000) due in March, so they are going to give him a fair shot to make the team.
In addition to the players you mentioned, the Bears also have Richard Angulo, a tall, athletic player who Mike Tice coached in Jacksonville and Minnesota.
It's entirely possible that the Bears may try to trade one of the players. But I have a hard time believing they would part with the most tradeable one, Kellen Davis. He'll turn 25 in October, and he's flashed enough potential that they may not get the value they're looking for.
It's also conceivable that they do keep five tight ends, if they somehow - in their minds - consider Brandon Manumaleuna a hybrid position, perhaps taking a roster spot for a fullback. Eddie Williams and Will Ta'ufo'ou are competing at that position, but perhaps they opt not to keep a traditional fullback.
Q: Who would be your personal choice to replace Adewale Ogunleye as a team captain? Logic says Charles Tillman will take his place.
A: Let's first take a look at last year's captains. They were Olin Kreutz and Jay Cutler on offense. Long-snapper Patrick Mannelly on special teams. And, originally, Brian Urlacher and Ogunleye on defense.
When Urlacher was hurt, he was replaced by Lance Briggs. And when Ogunleye went down, he was replaced by Alex Brown.
I would figure, then, that Urlacher and Briggs might be the defensive captains. But, I do think Julius Peppers has made quite an impression (and a positive one) so far this off-season. I would think Charles Tillman and Chris Harris would also be in the mix.
Q: Who is the key to the defense this year? I think its Tommie Harris because Peppers will be double teamed every down. How will we fill the void left by Brown and Ogunleye?
A: I also think the key is Harris. As they often say, the defense starts up front and, more specifically, in the middle. And in a Cover Two based scheme, the front four has to generate the pressure on the quarterback, so at least one of your interior linemen has to be a stud.
Peppers/ Harris has the potential to be as much a force as Jared Allen/ Kevin Williams in Minnesota. If they play up to their potential, opposing offenses will be forced to double them, which opens things up for the other two d-linemen on the field. That's why Ray Edwards had such a big season for the Vikings in 2009, and that's why the Vikings are so reluctant to pay him like an elite player. His production was a product of facing a single blocker, and the guys who cash in produce despite double teams.
Harris has been slowed by injuries the couple of seasons, and he has insisted several times this off-season that he's got a clean bill of health for the first time in several years.
Now, let's see if he can return to his Pro Bowl form.
Q: Peppers is going to be a force this year which we all know. Is there enough on the other side of the line to make the D-line what they used to be? I don't think Mark Anderson will ever be the same type of player he was his rookie season. He seems to get man-handled by lineman. Do you think the opposite side of Peppers will be effective?
A: Say what you want about Anderson, but he had 12 sacks in one season. And while he hasn't come close to that number since, Anderson is still a very credible player. I believe Anderson might thrive when he's not counted on to play every single snap. I'm not saying he's a third-down pass rusher, just that he's not someone you're going to leave in there the entire game, the entire season. Maybe limit him to half the snaps, rotating him with Israel Idonije.
Worst case scenario, Idonije plays a lot, and he has the mentality you're looking for from a player at that spot. He's relentless, and he'll never quit on a play.
There are plenty of athletes competing for time at defensive end. I think the Bears are in fine shape at the position.
Q: What are your thoughts on Rashied Davis? Do you think the Bears will keep him this year or go with a younger player?
A: Devin Hester, Devin Aromashodu are Johnny Knox locks, and I think Earl Bennett has a pretty good grip on a roster spot, as well. That means one spot may only remain at the position. Juaquin Iglesias was a third-round pick, so I think the Bears would hate to waste such a high pick in only the second year. That means Davis could be fighting an uphill battle to make the team. But, Davis is a solid veteran, who can help in a lot of ways, including on special teams.
Iglesias will have to earn the spot.