www.redeyechicago.com/sports/breaking/chi-dan-pompei-chicago-bears-mailbag-20130415,0,2062607.column

redeyechicago.com

Reader Q&A: Bears mailbag

The Tribune's Bears columnist fields questions on draft pass rushers, Brian Urlacher's future and retired numbers in this week's mailbag

Dan Pompei

On the NFL

4:58 PM CDT, April 15, 2013

Advertisement

Who's the best edge rusher in the draft? RaiderNation4Life, from Twitter

It’s Georgia’s Jarvis Jones. Forget about his slow 40 time. He has the burst to defeat a blocker, and he can close on the quarterback. He fits better in a 3-4 as an outside linebacker than in a 4-3 as a defensive end, however. The other pass rusher who is outstanding but hasn’t gotten the recognition is Cornellius Carradine of Florida State. He tore his ACL in November, so his draft stock will dip. He also isn’t as experienced as some of the other pass rushers, and he isn’t the same kind of speed rusher some of the others are. He’s more of a physical rusher. But if he gets healthy and he continues to improve, he can be something special. He had 52.5 snaps per sack last season according to STATS — that’s the best among all the top pass rushers in the draft. He also had 31 pressures, tied for the highest with Jones and his teammate Bjoern Werner. Carradine might end up being a steal in, say, the third round.

It seems to me that the Bears still need to upgrade the OL even with signing the new left tackle Jermon Bushrod. If both players were still on the board, whom do you think the Bears would prefer: G Jonathan Cooper or RT D.J. Fluker? Mike F., Montgomery, Ill.

It’s a good question. I think the Bears — and 31 other teams — would prefer Cooper. That isn’t to say Fluker isn’t a special talent who will start and excel in the National Football League for a long time. Because he appears to be all of that. But Cooper appears to be all of that and more. You can debate about the positional value of a right tackle versus a guard, but the fact is Cooper is an elite prospect, one of the highest-ranked guards to come down the pike in many years. You can’t pass up a special talent like that, especially at a position of need.  That being said, I don’t think Cooper has any chance of making it to 20. Fluker has a better chance, but that’s not a sure thing either.

Given the situation at DT (Henry Melton is on a one-year deal) and DE (Corey Wootton is in the last year of his deal, and Julius Peppers likely will be cut next year), when do you address the defensive line? @FleMarketBingo, from Twitter

The Bears have greater areas of concern than the defensive line. Just because Melton and Wootton are not signed past 2013 does not mean they won’t be Bears after this season.  And at this point I would not term Peppers “likely to be cut next year.” All that being said, I think it always is unwise to pass up a special pass rush force high in the draft, assuming he is the highest graded player on the board. So should Phil Emery give the defensive linemen a good look?  Absolutely. Especially the interior players. That’s where the Bears are thinner. But if you looked at defensive needs, you’d have to say middle linebacker, outside linebacker and cornerback are bigger needs than defensive tackle or defensive end. Drafting a defensive tackle between the fourth and seventh rounds would be a good move.

If Marcus Lattimore is available in the second round, do you see the Bears picking him up as a potential gamble since when healthy he is a huge talent?  He seems to have the drive and desire to get healthy and get back on the field. Plus, he may help keep Alshon Jeffery happy as well. Bill, Mount Pleasant, SC

I don’t think so, Bill.  With only five draft picks at this point, the Bears can’t afford to get cute.  Especially in the second round.  They need to draft someone they know can come in and contribute quickly. You can’t say that about Lattimore, and he doesn’t even play a position in which the Bears are in need.  Lattimore is too risky.  The best information I have gotten on him is he likely will be a third-round pick, but really he is a complete wild card in the draft. There is a chance he could emerge as the best running back from this class. He could have been the first running back selected if he were healthy. But the Bears are not in a position to be taking big gambles in this draft.

Don't you find it troubling that since Jim Covert retired, the only good left tackles we've had since -- Andy Heck, Blake Brockermeyer, John Tait and now hopefully Jermon Bushrod -- have all been free-agent acquisitions? Why can't this franchise draft and develop a solid blind side protector anymore? Marshall B., Morrow, Ohio

I don’t find it troubling that the Bears’ best left tackles have been acquired from other teams.  It doesn’t matter where you get good players from, as long as you get them.  Here’s the deal with left tackles: In order to get one like Covert, you have to be picking in the top 10 or so of the draft, and you have to need one that year. And even then a good one isn’t always available. But the Bears have miscalculated twice at the position when they have had those picks. Since Covert retired after the 1990 season, the Bears have had five picks in the top 10. In 1993, they chose Curtis Conway with the seventh pick. On the next selection, the Saints chose future Hall of Fame left tackle Willie Roaf. Ouch. The Bears thought tackle wasn’t a big need at the time because they had drafted Stan Thomas with their first-round pick in 1991. Ouch again. In 1998, Curtis Enis was their pick at No. 5. They would have been much better served by taking left tackle Tra Thomas, who went 11th to the Eagles and then played in three Pro Bowls. But Heck was left tackle at the time. In 2000, Brian Urlacher was the ninth overall pick. No quarrels with that one. The next year, with the eighth pick, the Bears chose David Terrell. The receiver was a bust, but it wasn’t a great year for tackles. Then in 2005, when the Bears had the fifth pick, the draft didn’t offer any premium left tackles.  The Bears chose Cedric Benson. Since Covert retired, the Bears have chosen four tackles in the first round: Thomas (22nd in 1991), Marc Columbo (29th in 2002), Chris Williams (14th in 2008) and Gabe Carimi (29th in 2001). Their best hope to get a premium left tackle was in 2008, but Ryan Clady went two picks ahead of them to the Broncos, and the Bears were left with Williams.  In hindsight, a trade up would have looked mighty good.

In terms of stats, wins, etc., what would you consider as a borderline scenario for Jay Cutler signing a multi-year contract after this year? Also, would more qualitative elements be factored in as well, such as leadership, etc.? Gordon, Bogota, Columbia

There are too many variables to sit here in April and give you numbers that would ensure Cutler getting a long-term contract. But I will say I think he needs to play better than he has played in any season since he’s been in Chicago in order to get the kind of deal from the Bears that he undoubtedly wants. And if he does that, the Bears will win and almost assuredly make the playoffs. And to answer your second question, this is a big-picture decision. Certainly all factors will be taken into account, including his leadership ability.

If Brian Urlacher doesn't find a deal out there, do you think the Bears would consider bringing him back as an assistant linebackers coach?  Would he be interested?  It might help the organization save face with the fans who feel like he was mistreated through this whole process. Vinod H., Chicago

If Urlacher were interested in returning to the team as a coach or front office man, I’m sure the Bears would try to be accommodating. That isn’t to say they would be able to create the exact kind of position he would be looking for. But I think they respect Urlacher enough and know what he could do that they would see a value in having him on staff. I’m not sure I can envision this happening, though. Not many players who have been as accomplished as Urlacher and have made as much money as Urlacher are interested in the sometimes mundane life of an assistant coach or low-level front office man.

I've been reading on various blogs since the Bears gave Mike Singletary's No. 50 to James Anderson that the NFL now has a policy that teams can no longer retire numbers. Is that true? If so, it is absurd for two reasons. First, the NFL should have no right to tell any team what to do in this matter. Secondly, each team should theoretically have 38 available numbers to retire if you count a 53-man roster and eight-man practice squad taking up 61 numbers. If the NFL's argument concerns the 80- or 90-man rosters during training camp and the preseason it has no validity because teams have routinely assigned the same number to players on offense and defense during this time period. I'm writing this because I don't think there's any question that the heart and soul of the greatest defense in NFL history should have his number retired by the Bears. I also think, however, that since no franchise in the NFL has had more great players than the Bears, they should institute a new policy that only players who played their entire pro careers for the Bears should be eligible to have their number retired. Under this policy, I would nominate four other Bears besides Singletary to receive the greatest honor any individual could have from a team. They would be George Trafton's No. 13 (the only original Decatur Staley besides Papa Bear in HOF), Dan Hampton's No. 99 (the engine of the greatest defense of all-time), George Musso's No. 16 (4-time world champ) and Dan Fortmann's No. 21 (second guard inducted in HOF). Can you make this happen, Dan? Peter G. Galveston, Texas

The NFL has does not have a policy that prohibits teams from retiring numbers. Your theory about having 38 available numbers to retire is a little off for this reason: players at specific positions are required to wear certain numbers. Quarterbacks, kickers and punters have to wear numbers between 1-9; receivers have to wear numbers between 10-19 or 80-89; tight ends have to wear numbers between 10-19 and 80-89, but can wear between 40-49 if the numbers in the first two categories are taken; centers have to wear numbers between 50-59, but can wear 60-79 in numbers in the first category are taken; other offensive linemen have to wear numbers between 60-79; defensive lineman have to wear numbers between 60 and 79 or 90-99; linebackers have to wear numbers between 50-59 or 90-99; and defensive backs have to wear numbers between 20-49. So retiring too many numbers in a certain range creates big problems.

The Bears have 13 retired numbers, more than any other team. The Bears have retired three numbers in the 1-9 category (Bronko Nagurski’s 3, George McAfee’s 5 and George Halas’ 7); they have retired five in the 20-49 category (Willie Gallimore’s 28, Walter Payton’s 34, Gale Sayers’ 40, Brian Piccolo’s 41 and Sid Luckman’s 42); they have retred two in the 50s (Dick Butkus’ 51 and Bill Hewitt’s 56); and they have retired three in the 60-79 category (Bill George’s 61, Bulldog Turner’s 66 and Red Grange’s 77). There are some other strong candidates to have their jerseys retired, like the four you mentioned. But the problem when you start retiring numbers is where do you draw the line?  There are 14 Bears in the Pro Football Hall of Fame who don’t have their jersey numbers retired. There is no way the Bears can retire all their numbers, and continue to retire numbers of players like Brian Urlacher. Also, the NFL does not like assigning multiple numbers to players before the start of the regular season. It makes for a confusing spectator experience in training camps and preseason games. So I don’t think I can make your dream come true, Peter.

I have a question but I live in Canada and therefore, since your writing and "Ask Dan" are considered Premium content, I have no access. So instead of my Bears question, my question is why single out non-U.S. citizens that are followers of Chicago teams. Seems a bit unfair. Thanks for allowing me to vent. Dave, Medicine Hat, Alberta

I apologize about the problem, Dave. We certainly do not intend to shut out loyal readers. I have received many similar inquiries, so I decided to get a formal response from Bill Adee, the Tribune’s vice president of digital operations.  This is what he told me: “Unfortunately, we can’t sell international subscriptions right this second. We hope to be able to soon. We needed to put our Premium content behind the paywall to keep within several contracts with some of the third-party publishers. So we had to block overseas users from viewing the content unless they had subscriptions via a U.S.-based credit card.”

dpompei@tribune.com

Twitter @danpompei