Have the Bears thought about playing Shea McClellin at linebacker? He played it in college and he isn't making an impact at end. Obviously, there is a need there and the Bears could plug someone else in who would be effective at end. Maybe he would make a good NFL linebacker. Your thoughts? – Bob G. from email
I continue to get a high volume of inquiries about McClellin playing linebacker and I don’t know how many different ways to say it: As a linebacker, McClellin projects on the outside in a 3-4 scheme. The Bears run a 4-3 defense and I personally don’t believe he’d be a good option as a linebacker in that scheme. I also don’t believe it’s a good idea to suggest a switch to a 3-4 in seasons to come just to accommodate McClellin. If he’s not playing well in a 4-3 scheme, I don’t think a new defense is going to make him a dramatically improved player. I am relatively confident he is not going to play linebacker in their 4-3 defense. Also, do you have a guy in mind on the roster that the Bears could “plug” in and be effective at end? I don’t see a lot of intriguing options right now. I’ve gotten a steady stream of questions about rookie Cornelius Washington. He got a shot early in the season and played some in preseason. There were not a lot of flashes from my vantage point.
With the injury to Lance Briggs, will Khaseem Greene be the “next man up” for a defense that has had to put that philosophy to the test far too much already this season? Or is he still a ways away from seeing the playing field? – Eddie Martens, Wood River, Ill., from email
While there were far more questions (nearly all unanswered) about a former Bears linebacker (Brian Urlacher) in the mailbag this week, the more realistic ones were about Greene. There is definitely a chance Greene will be in the mix when the Bears play next Nov. 4 at Green Bay. The decision will give us a good indication of where the coaching staff believes Greene, a fourth-round draft pick from Rutgers, is at during the midway point of his rookie season. First, it is important to note the coaches are going to base their decision on what they believe gives the team the best chance to beat the Packers -- not on what might be best for when they play Green Bay in 2014. Key injuries to quarterback Jay Cutler and Briggs, who was the only player consistently making plays on the defense, are not going to send Marc Trestman and his staff into a “let’s build for the future mode.” So, if they don’t make the determination that Greene is the best man for the job, he’s going to have to continue to make improvements on the practice field.
There are a few ways for the coaches to attack this situation with Briggs expected to miss six weeks:
a) During the game at Washington, veteran James Anderson moved from strong side to Briggs’ weak side position and Blake Costanzo was inserted on the strong side. This is one option.
b) Keep Anderson on the strong side and have Greene, who has been working primarily as an understudy to Briggs, play weak side. In this scenario, Greene would probably come off the field in the nickel package and the coaches would keep the veteran Anderson on the field with Jon Bostic. I don’t think the Bears want two rookie linebackers in their nickel package right now and Anderson has been one of the few bright spots other than Briggs on the defense.
c) Get Greene up to speed on the strong side on the practice field next week and play him there with Anderson at weak side and Bostic in the middle. Greene would be a two-down linebacker in this scenario.
d) The Bears have an open roster spot after placing cornerback C.J. Wilson on waivers and it would not be surprising if a veteran linebacker is signed. A new player could figure into the mix at some point but probably not right away. Don’t expect a splash addition, either.
As the roster currently stands, the decision is between Greene and Costanzo. If the Bears choose Costanzo, who was signed a year ago to anchor special teams, that won’t reflect well on Greene right now but keep in kind Rosevelt Colvin and Warrick Holdman used to be a couple of pretty good fourth-round picks for the Bears and neither of them took off as rookies.
“In terms of who will be out on the field against the Packers, it’ll be whoever practices the best and presents the best option for the Chicago Bears to win football games,” general manager Phil Emery said Monday. “But (Greene) is a guy with a good future. He’s worked extremely hard. If you remember when he came into camp, he was just a little bit heavy. And he’s taken all that off of him. He studies, he works hard at the game. There have been only positives with Khaseem and when he’s ready to play, he’ll be out on the field.”
I’ve lived in Chicago 55 of my 70 years. Just a crazy idea. Any chance for the Bears and Brian Urlacher to make love and finish the season on the field? --Ralph S., Fishers, Ind., from email
That is crazy, Ralph. In your 70 years, you’ve seen all the football Urlacher will play for the Bears.
I certainly got tired of a majority of self-proclaimed Bears fans piling on Brian Urlacher with “goodbye and good riddance” and “don't let the door hit you in the backside” attitudes. One has to wonder how different things would be if he were in the middle letting Lance Briggs be Briggs. The Bears defense was not stellar with Henry Melton or Nate Collins so that is certainly not an excuse. Too bad the Bears did not bring Urlacher back one last year. We are seeing the effects of his absence. – Chris, Oakland, Calif., from email
Would things have looked a little different with Urlacher in the mix? Maybe a little. But let’s not confuse the Urlacher that was on the field last season with the one that was a perennial Pro Bowl player. He was slow last year. D.J. Williams was playing decent football before he was injured and I have a feeling that Jon Bostic will get better as the season goes along. Briggs has been Briggs without Urlacher. His role wasn’t changed. So, he’s had to call the defense out in the huddle? Big deal. He’s proven capable of that and it hasn’t affected his performance. The Bears needed to start overhauling their defense. As we’ve seen, this is going to be a multi-year process.
I am not a rumor guy, but with Justin Tuck being in the last year of his deal with the Giants, only making $3 million this season, why wouldn’t the Bears dangle a fourth-round pick for him? I know the defense has holes but having another dominant defensive end opposite Julius Peppers could solve a lot of this mess. -- Justin G., from email
Actually, Tuck is earning $4.5 million this season and so roughly half of that would be against the Bears’ salary cap if they acquired him. That would take the Bears close to zero in terms of remaining cap space. Tuck is 30 and he has 1 1/2 sacks so far this season. His last double-digit sack season came in 2010 so I don’t think many scouts would share your evaluation that he is “dominant.” Flipping a fourth-round pick for a half-season rental of Tuck would make little sense. However, I do think you have touched on an important point here. The bulk of the criticism for the shortcomings of the Bears line has fallen on Peppers. Without credible threats on the other side, it is more difficult for him to excel. I’m not creating excuses for Peppers, who has not measured up to his past performance this season. But it’s all tied together and when the other side isn’t getting much done in the way of a rush, it can be even harder for Peppers to be productive. That being said, Tuck isn’t the answer here, not for a mid-round pick when general manager Phil Emery has clearly highlighted the team’s need to develop its own talent via the draft.
Why has Chris Conte been given a free pass this season? We have been hyper-critical of the defensive line play, but Conte has been routinely late on pass plays all season, and has thus far avoided any criticism. He had an OK season last year but he doesn't display any instinct at the position. I know secondary play is tied to line play, but there is clearly an issue with the individual manning that safety position. Same goes for Major Wright. -- Dan B. from email
Conte and Wright have been on the radar for their inconsistent play. They have not shown growth from last season and that is creating more issues for defensive coordinator Mel Tucker and general manager Phil Emery. It has to be a concern.
Do you think that Alshon Jeffery can become a true No.1 receiver in the next couple of years? The only question I had about that going into the season was his ability to stretch the field but he's done a spectacular job of that the past few weeks. He looks to me a lot like Demaryius Thomas, who's the No. 1 for the Broncos. It almost sounds like we're in the bizarro world talking about the Bears having a pair of elite receivers, doesn't it? – Ken H., Chicago Heights, from email
Jeffery has grown in leaps and bounds from his rookie season and continues to take advantage of his opportunities. I’m not certain he would be as productive without a marquee player like Brandon Marshall opposite him right now, but I do expect Jeffery to continue to flourish. As he improves, he could ascend into a No. 1 role. The Bears went so long without having a true No. 1 receiver that it is a stroke of fortune for them to have some more talented options at the position now.
Even with the lack of sacks, I don't think you can pin too much of the Redskins’ success on the defensive line. They gave up a lot of yards on the ground, but they we're getting off the ball quickly and there wasn't a comfortable pocket on most plays. Wasn't the poor coverage and gaping holes in the secondary of greater concern? Tell me how I'm wrong – you always do. -- Monte B., Columbia, Mo., from email
I think you are right in this case. There was some pressure on the elusive Robert Griffin III. Unfortunately, there just wasn’t enough. Tight end Jordan Reed was wide open for a 38-yard gain on the first possession and the play of the secondary was poor, particularly the safeties. There were breakdowns throughout the game in coverage. Some plays were made in the backfield by the defense but the Bears are really struggling on third down and that hurt again. They’re also giving up far too many big plays and that is a problem that falls on the unit as a whole. It would be less bothersome if the issue was just with one level of the defense. When teams give up as many points as the Bears have, it’s an across-the-board issue. The Bears have been hit for 206 points and only the Giants (216) and the hapless Jaguars (222) have surrendered more.
Are Mel Tucker’s adjustments contributing to the Bears’ defensive woes? Injuries and lack of production have put him in a tough spot, but I’m wondering if bringing pressure with the blitz (especially in 3rd-and-medium situations) is worth the easy catch-and-run completions the Bears seem to allow whenever Peanut Tillman and the safeties—zone players—are asked to single-cover big tight ends and fast receivers. Expecting a hobbled Tillman to track receivers on crossing routes is unrealistic. How about Conte on the end-zone fade? Would we be seeing this under Lovie Smith and Rod Marinelli? Mike S. Verona, Wis.
Tucker is trying pretty much everything at his disposal. There was an abundance of stunts by the defensive line in the win over the Giants and those were largely unsuccessful, in my opinion. It looked like the Bears got away from them at Washington. He’s pushing different buttons hoping something will work with a unit that has been hit hard by injuries. Tillman is going to have to cover man-to-man at times and he’s struggling doing it with a bad right knee. Conte should be able to match up against tight end Jordan Reed man-to-man at the goalline and cover a fade route. That’s not asking too much. He simply got beat. I suspect the defense would have looked better if Smith was retained as the coach, no question. But the cracks in the foundation have been showing. We’ve been saying for some time that this aging defense was due for a letdown, that it was inching its way toward the edge of the cliff. Smith isn’t known to possess the power to restore youth. And I couldn’t even venture to guess what path Smith would have gone down for his offense.
In the 2014 draft, the Bears have to go either corner, safety, or defensive end in the first round, right? I know you don't draft for need but what do you think? -- @kodymcbanks from Twitter
I would not rule out quarterback or defensive tackle. A safety in the first round would have to be a very special player. Also, if the Bears remain with a Cover-2 based defense, often times those clubs don’t look to invest top picks in cornerbacks. My guess right now – and the draft is more than five months away – would be defensive line.
Assuming Phil Emery re-signs Jay Cutler, who should the Bears draft in the first round? I see a top-five or top-10 pick in the Bears’ future. -- @justinhooks from Twitter
Like I said above, the defensive line would be a great place to start. But don’t assume anything with Cutler just yet. I also have a very hard time figuring the Bears for a top-five pick. There aren’t many great teams in the NFL right now but there are a whole host of really bad teams. There are nine clubs with two wins or less right now. It would take a complete collapse for the Bears (4-3) to nab a top-10 pick.
Could Phil Emery do like Jerry Angelo and trade away high draft picks for more choices in the same draft? -- @Niko_Strepto from Twitter
That is possible but Emery has proven to be more aggressive than Angelo. He’s actually shown the willingness to trade up in the draft. Emery wants to collect more draft picks but I also think he realizes the lower you go in the draft the more difficult it is to find blues and scouts typically define blues as top-five players at their position around the league. I’m not so sure the Bears made out real good when Angelo traded his way down the board, either. In 2006, he dealt the No. 26 overall pick to the Bills for No. 42 and No. 73. That turned into Danieal Manning and Dusty Dvoracek. In 2009, Angelo traded the No. 49 pick to the Seahawks and received pick Nos. 68 and 105. That turned into Jarron Gilbert and Henry Melton. At least he got half of that equation right and sometimes that is what teams want – more chances to hit on a player.
I would love to see Gregg Williams as the defensive coordinator next year. The defense needs to be rebuilt and I think that process should start with a new philosophy. How realistic is it? – Vikas, from email
That would have to be classified as a long shot. Williams returned from suspension with a one-year contract for the Titans so he will be free to go elsewhere if he chooses after this season. He is not the coordinator there but clearly has played a hand in the improvement of the Tennessee defense. The Titans ranked 27th in the NFL in defense last season and are currently 10th. I like your outside-the-box thinking but I wouldn’t hold out too much hope here. With injuries and aging players on defense, is it going to be fair for Marc Trestman to hold Mel Tucker accountable for the inevitable crumbling of the defense? Certainly coaches hold themselves accountable for the performance of their players but I’ve been writing for a couple years about how the aging defense was going to come unglued. We’re seeing it happen.
What do you think or what have you heard the realistic chances are that Jay Cutler is back in four weeks? -- @pennington38 from Twitter
The Bears have said Cutler is going to be re-evaluated in four weeks and then he will be considered week-to-week from there. I would be a little surprised if he only missed three games (and the off week) and was back for the Nov. 24 game at St. Louis. But Cutler is a tough customer and we’ll see how the injury heals for him.
The Lions just cut Tony Scheffler. He and Jay Cutler are buddies so is there any chance the Bears bring him in? Or are they set with just two tight ends? -- @petemeyer5 from Twitter
Scheffler suffered a concussion in Week 5 and did not play again before the Lions cut him loose. His buddy status with Cutler is a nonfactor here. Scheffler is an aging player who is on the downside of his career and I don’t see a pressing need for another tight end here but perhaps a young player with blocking upside will be added to the practice squad.
Should the Bears throw in the towel and start a rebuilding process? Trade veterans for picks? -- @john_holland81 from Twitter
What veterans do you think would fetch some nice draft picks in return? I don’t think that would send a solid message to the locker room or the paying fan, either, with the club at 4-3 right now.
I heard Washington tight end Fred Davis is on the trading block. Any chance Phil Emery trades for him to pair with Martellus Bennett? -- @james23white from Twitter
Davis was inactive in this past Sunday’s game at Washington. If he’s of no value to a Redskins offense that has had all sorts of issues, I don’t know why Emery would consider giving up a bag of used footballs for him. If the Bears want to pair a tight end with Bennett, I think it would be a great idea to find a player like Washington’s Jordan Reed, who was a third-round draft pick in April. Get an up-and-comer in the draft. Not a retread.
If Josh McCown performs well is there any chance of keeping him and using the $10 million the Bears would save letting Jay Cutler go to rebuild the defense more quickly? -- @PhilBongiorno from Twitter
I personally don’t believe McCown’s performance – good or bad – should weigh in the decision to bring Cutler back or not. McCown projects as a backup next season if he is back. My colleague David Haugh wrote in a column that if McCown succeeds it could be evidence for some that Marc Trestman’s system is quarterback friendly and a young passer could be plugged in with a new future cast for the franchise. Perhaps. But my belief is a decision on Cutler is made based on Phil Emery and Trestman’s evaluation of him – not anything else.
What do you anticipate the Bears record will be when Jay Cutler returns? -- @GreekGizmo from Twitter
That’s impossible to say because we just don’t know when Cutler will be back on the field. With any luck, the club is within striking distance of a playoff spot.
Even if the Bears decide to keep Jay Cutler for the foreseeable future, how likely is it that Phil Emery picks up a young quarterback in the next draft? -- @ThatWillCoker from Twitter
Emery has stated that in an ideal world he would like to draft a young quarterback most years. The Bears have had a shortage of draft picks and – as we’ve seen – a host of needs the last two years. The quarterback class this past spring was particularly poor. My hunch is a quarterback is on his list this time around. It should be.
Do you think what's happening to the Bears’ defense is karma for messing Lovie Smith over? -- @jermaine611 from Twitter
Messing Smith over? He failed to make the playoffs in five out of six years and his next move would have been to hire his fifth offensive coordinator overall and his fourth in five years. Eventually, the blame goes all the way to the top for a failing offense. It’s worth wondering if the club regrets not giving general manager Phil Emery the opportunity to make a coaching change when he was hired in 2012.
Is it just me or does Josh McCown look like a different player from when he started games for the Bears in the past? Any reason? -- @RexyFan8 from Twitter
It’s just you. McCown looked very similar to the player the Bears saw at the end of the 2011 season when he started the final two games at Green Bay and Minnesota. The difference is the Bears have a better array of offensive players around him and he has been with the team the entire year and wasn’t an emergency in-season addition like he was in 2011. McCown is athletic, he moves well in the pocket and can pull the ball down, run and pick up a first down. He was 19 of 28 for 242 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions in his first start at Green Bay on Dec. 25, 2011. He ran for 38 yards on eight carries in that game. Take away the turnovers and that is a lot like his start against the Redskins this past Sunday.
What are the chances Jay Cutler is tagged? -- @TommyKolzow from Twitter
The chances for that are good but I also believe general manager Phil Emery is going to let this season unfold entirely before charting a course for 2014 and beyond. It’s expected to be a very rich quarterback draft. It could be the Bears intend to sign Cutler to a multi-year deal but realize it will take time and they place the tag on Cutler in order to prevent him from entering the free market. We’re looking at a ton of variables here and Cutler’s groin injury has only added more questions to the mix. His durability has to be a concern for the club. I’m not talking about toughness. I’m talking about availability for a guy who also has a documented history of concussions. Let’s watch this play out. Figure on coach Marc Trestman having a big say in this matter too.
With the injuries and the team’s stability at the WR spot with Marquess Wilson and Eric Weems adding depth, do you think Phil Emery will try to trade Earl Bennett for help on defense? -- Kash K., Frisco, Texas, from email
Bennett has 11 catches for 104 yards and two touchdowns. I don’t think that is going to attract a lot of interest from around the league. Other clubs would probably be more likely to try to develop their own version of Wilson than fork over a draft pick for a player like Bennett.
In light of porous safety play this year, can you tell me exactly what the status is for Brandon Hardin with the team? Has he been officially cut or did they place him on injured reserve with the intention of him coming back next year? If healthy, I think he should be given the opportunity to unseat Chris Conte next season. – Murray K., New York, N.Y., from email
Hardin was waived/injured and when he cleared waivers he reverted back to the Bears’ injured reserve. My hunch here is Hardin’s days with the Bears are finished. The last time he played in a regular-season game was 2011 at Oregon State. It might be time for the Bears to get back on track drafting safeties. They selected one each year from 2005 to 2012 and judging by the mailbag, most readers are underwhelmed by the position so far this season.