A locked-out version of the offseason Bears Q&A produced a wide array of questions on topics including Olin Kreutz's future, where the defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers may be vulnerable and which second-year players have the best chance of having breakout seasons when the labor impasse is finally resolved.
Q: My chief concern is that the Bears are not as good as last year suggested. They had a cohesive team with no starters injured reserve. To me, was an anomaly. When injuries occur, roster weaknesses are evidenced. I believe it could be argued that an 8-8 team can win 11 games with no season-ending injuries to starters. I think depth is the real Achilles heel to this team. Thoughts? --- Tom
A: That the Bears were injury free late in the season, which is virtually unheard of, was one example of how much good fortune fell their way last season. While I also questioned the Bears depth heading into the season, I was encouraged by how Henry Melton, D.J. Moore, Kellen Davis, Tim Jennings, Matt Toeaina, J'Marcus Webb, Corey Wootton, Major Wright and others performed, which bodes well moving forward. That said, the Bears depth wasn't tested like the Packers was last season and remains somewhat of a question.
Q: For us out-of-state Bears fans, the only way to see the games is through NFL Sunday Ticket on DirecTV. DirecTV is good - but not great - and very expensive. What are the chances of the NFL allowing other television providers to sell the program? --- Chris
A: DirecTV's exclusive rights to NFL Sunday Ticket runs through the 2014 season. Fans who don't have DirecTV can watch the NFL RedZone channel, which is offered by many television providers, including Comcast, the largest provider in Chicagoland.
Q: What do you think is the "point of no return" on the 2011 NFL season? Aug. 1st? If the lockout does drag into late July will they cancel the Hall of Fame Game? --- Andy H.
A: As of right now, there is no "drop-dead" deadline for the 2011 season but NFL commissioner Roger Goodell recently said "that time is coming." The league is planning various scenarios, including an eight-game regular season, which would require a deal be struck by October. The Hall of Fame Game between the Bears and Rams in Canton, Ohio, on Aug. 7 would be the first game cancelled because of the labor dispute. If teams aren't back to work by July 26 expect the game to be cancelled. Other enshrinement weekend events will take place as scheduled regardless of the labor stoppage.
Q: I think every Bears fan is left with a very bitter taste in their mouths after Green Bay went through us twice, if you will, to win the Super Bowl. I know the Bears need to shore up key areas like the offensive line, but is there any specific points of weakness in the Packers that the Bears could attack with specific personnel changes? --- BearsGeoff
A: If the Bears want to start beating the Packers they need to get more physical up front on both sides of the ball. The Packers always seem able to cover the Bears wideouts with ease. With Cullen Jenkins unlikely to be re-signed, however, the Packers interior defensive line becomes more vulnerable. That's where the Bears need to attack with a physical running game that sets up play-action passes and keep the potent Green Bay offense off the field. The Packers offensive line could continue to be a somewhat of a patchwork unit this again season. The Packers are so solid and deep at the skill positions that attacking them at the line of scrimmage is the best bet.
Q: With Richard Dent getting his enshrinement into the Hall of Fame, that means four members of the famed 1985 squad are now in Canton: Walter Payton, Dan Hampton, Mike Singletary, and Dent. My question is, what are the chances of center Jay Hilgenberg getting into the Hall? He is very deserving. Hilgenberg made seven straight Pro-Bowls and was a seven-time All-Pro selection. For almost a decade Hilgenberg was one of the best centers in football, but you never hear anyone mention his name when it comes to getting his own Hall of Fame nod. --- Kevin Armstead
A: I agree that Hilgenberg is worthy of serious consideration, although he may not be the Bears offensive lineman from that era most deserving. There is a lot of sentiment for tackle Jimbo Covert to make the Hall. Although he only went to two Pro Bowls to Hilgenberg's seven (they were both named All-Pro twice), Covert was named to the All-Decade Team for the 1990s. Dent recently called Covert the best offensive tackle he ever faced. "Jimbo made my games easy," Dent said. "I knew I wasn't going to face a better guy."
Q: In your opinion, if the Bears were only to get one big-name free agent, what position would you like to see the Bears put their money? --- Brando
A: That's easy. Offensive line. Even after selecting Gabe Carimi with their first-round draft pick, the Bears need to be looking for ways to upgrade a unit that was among the league's worst last season. A defensive tackle is also a need. The Bears could chose to bring back Anthony Adams or make a run at Cullen Jenkins. Linebacker is also a dire need, as the Bears don't have a veteran on the roster behind Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs. Don't be surprised if the Bears also look to add a free-agent wide receiver, as well, but the offensive line should remain the top priority.
Q: As much as we fans would like to see our team's draft picks really make an impact for the coming year, it is probably unrealistic to expect that. Especially after the first round. In my opinion, it still takes from 2-4 years for players to learn their craft and become solid, every-down contributors in the NFL. Assuming you agree, Bears fans should expect some second or third year player(s)to come from the back end of the roster and compete for a bigger role this year. Who do you think might surprise us? -- MSBearsfan
A: Major Wright and Corey Wootton should both get the opportunity to make major contributions next season. Wright battled injuries last season but could step into a starting roles if Danieal Manning isn't re-signed, which appears likely. Wootton came on late in the year after learning to drop his center of gravity. Don't overlook J'Marcus Webb, either. There's not a true left tackle on the roster. Expect Carimi and Webb to compete for that spot with the loser moving to the right side. Webb has the edge because he is more athletic and has a season of experience.
Q: Olin Kreutz is an all-time great Chicago Bears, but the organization's loyalty to him is holding the team offense back. His deteriorating play, since 2007, is dictating the potential of the line, as a whole. I do not believe he has the ability to match up against [the NFC North's best interior defensive linemen]. Is Kreutz "untouchable" from a roster perspective? What would happen if Kreutz retired and Garza became the center/veteran leader of the line? (if only we could get some push in the middle!) --- Mark
A: While Kreutz would be the first to admit that he's not the player he was five years ago, he has remained the Bears best option, which could be the case again this season. With the untested Edwin Williams being groomed as his replacement, bringing Kreutz back for a transition year makes since. It could come down to length of contract and money. General manager Jerry Angelo has said that he's prepared to move forward with our without the veteran. If he doesn't re-sign, Angelo may try to find a solution in free agency or move Garza to center.
Q: I can't really differentiate between the interior [defensive] players. During stretches, one of the players would stand out, but then they seemed to disappear. Was Tommie Harris worse than our other options at 3-technique? Did Matt Toeina or Anthony Adams play better at NT? I'd also like to know how Israel Idonije compared to the DE opposite Julius Peppers when he was in Carolina. --- Beer
A: Harris showed flashes of his old self but disappeared for long stretches. Toeina was the biggest surprise. He really excelled against the run and at the point of attack. He'll never have a lot of sacks but plugs gaps and has a great motor, which is why they signed him to an extension. Anthony Adams is a similar player. He's not flashy but effective. Tyler Brayton played opposite Julius Peppers in Carolina in '09 and had five sacks 36 solo tackles compared to Idonije's eight sacks and 34 tackles last year. If given a choice between the two, most scouts would take Idonije.