Q: It seems like the Bears, fairly quietly, have made some extensive changes in the parts of the organization that finds and evaluates players. What (non-labor related) differences can we expect this year in how the team approaches the draft and free agency? --- MSBearsFan
A: Scouts are the foundation of every player-personnel department. With the exception of former college scouting director Greg Gabriel being replaced by director of player personnel Tim Ruskell, the scouting staff remains the same. I asked general manager this very question during the NFL Combine in Indianapolis last month. Here was his answer: "It's not nuclear Neil. It's the same. We'll do some things a little bit differently, we had a change, we looked at the bottom part of the draft and how we wanted to evaluate it differently this year so we made some changes that way. We'll do the business as usual [when] we come to the Combine in terms of our interviews. Most of it will be junior-oriented because we really have no exposure to them in the all-star games or during their collegiate careers. But nothing. What we try to do is just do what we do better. I feel very confident in the formula that we use. We're in the projection business. It's never easy but I feel good that we have a good base to operate and good continuity with our scouts, and the bulk of a lot of what we go on are based on what they do and say."
Q: Actually, Neil, I think it's time to talk baseball, but I have a question or two anyway. I keep hearing how the Bears may draft a defensive player or a safety rather than an offensive lineman in their first pick. What is the rationale on that when it is clear to anyone that the Bears will go nowhere unless Cutler gets some protection and the running game keeps the opposing defense honest? Also, clearly someone is not telling he truth in the owner/player discussions. What is your take on the honesty issue there? Are both distorting the issues or is one side basically to blame? --- Paul Manter
A: I'm not a believer in drafting for need at all costs. Let me give you an example. Let's say the Bears scouting staff believes there are only five offensive lineman worthy of being a first-round choice. If all those linemen are gone when the Bears pick at No. 29, and the third best defensive tackle is available, they should take the defensive tackle. There should be enough quality offensive linemen in this draft for one to fall to them near the end of the first round. It's also possible a receiver or cornerback who is more highly rated tumbles down the board, in which case they could have a difficult decision to make. Three years from now, which would you rather have, an average offensive lineman or a star wide receiver?
As for your second question, I say a pox on both houses. I don't trust anything either side says. That said, if you're crying poor while a partner in a recession proof industry, and all the economic indicators (revenues, ratings, etc.) are pointing straight up, shouldn't the onus be on you to prove any financial hardship?
Q: If the 2010 rules end up being in effect for 2011, the Bears will be one of eight teams significantly restricted in their ability to act in free agency. How much of an impact do you see that having on the team's plans? --- Capt Vic Fiebig
A: With all due respect, I'm not sure I understand the question. Since there was no salary cap in 2010, operating under the same rules next season means there would be no salary cap in 2011, in which case no team would face restrictions outside of their own budgetary constraints. That said, I don't expect the Bears to make the kind of splash in free agency that they made last year, but I do expect them to add free agents who can fill various needs.
Q: What's the latest with Jay Cutler and his injury? Can't seem to find anything out about him for a long time. --- Pam
A: I wish I could say I just sat down with him for a lengthy interview but the guy is off the grid and will likely remain that way as the labor stoppage continues. Don't worry about his injured knee, however. It should only be a matter of time before it's as good as new. It will be fascinating to watch how Cutler responds to the criticism stemming from his early exit in the NFC Championship Game. Next season will be critical for Cutler. His reputation will be on the line, his legacy at stake.
Q: How about a report card on the rookie class? We know how J'Marcus Webb did, and Dan Lefevour is non-issue at this point, but I am curious to see what the coaches thought of Major Wright, Corey Wootton, and Josh Moore.--- Joe Felicelli
A: Angelo should be pleased with his 2010 draft class, especially since he didn't have a first-or second-round pick. Coaches like everything about Wright. They are confident enough in the third-round pick stepping into a starting role next season to allow Danieal Manning to sign elsewhere if they can't strike a favorable deal. The biggest adjustment Wootton had to make was playing lower to the ground. He played too tall and was easily blocked early in the season. Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli worked with him and he improved enough to earn a spot in the rotation. If he improves as much next season he could develop into a solid player. Moore played sparingly in three games but Angelo remains high on him. The fifth-round pick needed to get stronger. A year in the weight room helped. He'll have a chance to earn playing time if and when training camp begins.
Q: I've never seen this addressed or a question asked on this subject. How much did three different systems in three years stunt Cutler's growth as a NFL quarterback? If you look around the league, the "elite" quarterbacks have all been in the same scheme for their entire careers. --- Beef Bus
A: Your point is valid. I do think having three straight offensive coordinators has retarded Cutler's development somewhat. Hopefully, being in Mike Martz's offense for a second straight year will result in him having his best season with the Bears in 2011. But his biggest weakness, at least in my opinion, has been fundamentals, which is something well within his control. He needs to make a commitment to improving that part of his game during the offseason and the organization needs to ensure he has better protection because his fundamentals get even worse when he's under pressure.