Reader Q&A: Dan Pompei's Bears mailbag

The Tribune's Bears columnist fields questions on Lovie Smith's future, trading down in the draft and Jay Cutler's confidence in his line.

Has Phil Emery shown his hand at all regarding his feelings for Lovie Smith? @Joey FAV, from Twitter

Yes, he has shown his hand repeatedly. Emery has a lot of respect for Smith. And he wants Smith to remain as head coach of the Bears as long as Smith is getting the team to do what Emery believes it is capable of.  Emery did not come to Chicago with an agenda of firing the head coach. He came with the idea of making it work. He’s still trying to do that. 

Are you buying that Lovie's job depends on whether they make the playoffs? So if the Bears win and the Vikings don’t pull it out against Green Bay, Lovie sticks around? Seems a little silly to tie it to something they have no control over at this point. I'd like to think Emery has his mind made up based on his evaluation of the season already. And for the record, I'd like them to keep Lovie around. Marc K.

Making the playoffs would be the one way to guarantee Smith would be back. I think if the Bears win Sunday but miss the playoffs, we’d clearly be in a gray area as it pertains to Smith’s future. The area is grayer still because of the presence of George McCaskey as chairman of the board. Don’t forget he was running the ticket office, not the team, when Smith was hired. Now McCaskey is going to have a say in whether Smith should be retained as the head coach, just like he had a say in whether Jerry Angelo should have been retained as the general manager. I’m not sure the decision would be clear-cut given the scenario you describe. But my gut tells me Smith stays with 10 wins, even if the Bears miss the playoffs.

What do you think of Greg Roman, the 49ers' offensive coordinator, as the Bears' next head coach? He can develop young quarterbacks, runs a balanced and unpredictable attack and brings in a bright offensive mind into a defensive organization. Ryan P.

He is an interesting name, and I’m sure he would be a name that Emery will consider if Smith is let go.  Roman sure gave Smith and the Bears defensive coaches fits when the teams met in San Francisco in November. He has done nice work with Colin Kaepernick, and he also helped Alex Smith perform better than he ever did previously. Of course, much of the credit for the 49ers quarterbacks goes to Jim Harbaugh. That’s the problem with a guy like Roman. You don’t really know how much he is responsible for. But you have to like the fact that he worked on both sides of the football and has a background working with linemen.

Do you see the Bears keeping Mike Tice around as OC or do you think they will look for someone with a more modern system? @jboers, from Twitter

If the Bears don’t change their head coach, I don’t believe they will change their offensive coordinator, either. Their best chance of making this group of offensive players all they can be in 2013 is probably with Tice as the offensive coordinator. You can’t keep changing coordinators like you change furnace filters. More change is not likely to serve Jay Cutler well.

Would it be better to take o-line in the first round of the draft or trade down for more picks? Are we at that point where we need to stockpile draft picks? Dave M., Medicine Hat, Alberta

There is no question the Bears could benefit from a trade down. But the right set of circumstances would have to present themselves for a trade down to make sense. First, the board would have to be set up so that a player who could really help them does not stand out when they are due to pick. Then, they would have to find a partner willing to pay a fair price that is picking in the right range. And finally, the board would have to be set up so that the players available at the trade-down spot aren’t valued much less than the players available at their original spot. If the Bears could get back a third-round pick (to replace the one they traded to Miami for Brandon Marshall) for dropping down a bit and still get a player they value, that would be a best-case scenario.

How do you see Bears addressing o-line? Draft first two rounds, free agency or both? @jimsammons, from Twitter

It’s early to say, but my hunch is they will sign a mid-level free-agent offensive lineman, probably a guard, and then go for an offensive tackle in the first two rounds of the draft. At this point, I don’t think they could afford to use their first two picks on offensive linemen, given the needs they have on defense and at other positions. That would mean they would come out of the top three rounds with no defensive help.

Is there a big difference in what side a lineman plays besides stance? Obviously, left tackle is the all-important blind-side protector but what about left vs. right guard?  Chris Spencer seems to play better the last two years at right vs. left. Joe B., Oxford, Conn.

There are some differences, depending on the system and the specific game plans. Some teams like to put their most physical guard on the right side, and their most athletic on the left. Some players are more comfortable in a particular stance. But generally speaking, if a guard’s play drops off considerably on one side, he’s probably not a very good guard.  There isn’t that much of a difference between left guard and right guard.

Do you feel the loss of Dane Sanzenbacher was significant or inconsequential? He looked good last year. @temp312, from Twitter

Given what Sanzenbacher could contribute to this team, losing him was inconsequential. He didn’t even play in 10 games this season, and when they he did play he didn’t do much. Sanzenbacher has limited potential, but I think he will have more potential in another scheme and with another quarterback. He will benefit from a short passing game and a quick decision-maker at QB.

There has been a lot of discussion about Cutler throwing to Brandon Marshall an excessive amount, unbalancing the passing game, and his bad mechanics. How much of this can be attributed to his lack of confidence in the offensive line?  He looks for Marshall immediately since he doesn't trust the line to allow him to go through his progressions and throws with a bad base since he feels a lack of time whether he has time or not? Vic F., Springfield, Va.

I know what you are saying, but I think it says a lot more about Cutler’s lack of confidence in his other receivers than it says about his lack of confidence in his offensive line. If he was so worried about pressure, he’d be more likely to make an easy throw and check the ball down quickly. Instead, he often opts to try to make a difficult throw to Marshall, even if it means waiting for him to try a second move.

I'm no expert, but even I wonder why Cutler telegraphs the hand-off so obviously during running plays. There's no misdirection at all, apparently. Aaron Rodgers does that also, but then proceeds to keep it and pass, or scramble. Is it just me, or might the running game be better with more guile? Gene R.
 
The play-action pass is a part of the Bears’ offense. But the Bears could do a better job of making passes look like runs and runs look like passes, no question. When Cutler does fake a handoff, he does not execute the fake very convincingly. You usually know he’s faking right away. When you watch quarterbacks like Peyton Manning or Colin Kaepernick, you aren’t sure if it’s a run or pass for an extra second or more. That can mean the difference between a successful play and an unsuccessful one.

Can you explain to me why in the Packers game Alshon Jeffrey was called three times for pass interference and in the Cardinals game Patrick Peterson was holding Marshall and nothing was called? Do certain referee crews have reputations for calling pass interference and others don't? Do the Bears know who the crew will be before the game and can they adjust their play accordingly? Jim, Elmhurst

I can’t recall ever seeing a wide receiver called three times for pass interference in one game. But I could understand why each call was made. There is no question pass interference is a subjective call. Some officials are more liberal with how they interpret it than others. Coaches on every team have files on each official, and they have a feel for how they think it will be called going into each game. What teams hope for is that a crew is consistent with its calls throughout the course of a game, so pass interference for one defense is the same for another defense. But it will vary from game to game and crew to crew.

When was the last time the Bears had a top-10 offense? @twnz6, from Twitter

The last time the Bears ranked in the top 10 in offensive yards was 1999, but that wasn’t very pretty. Gary Crowton led an offense run by Shane Matthews and Cade McNown to 5,523 yards, eight most in the league. The big producers on that team were wide receiver Marcus Robinson and running back Curtis Enis. It is worth noting that the Bears have finished in the top 10 in points scored more recently. In 2006, the NFC champion Bears scored more points than every team in football except one.

Everyone is tying Brian Urlacher's tenure with the Bears to Lovie's. What say you to the idea that, should Lovie go, almost any other defensive scheme that could be implemented would have Urlacher running less, and therefore extend his career? London Fletcher seems to be doing fine. Just can't see how 54 is over the hill. Scott, New York

Interesting theory, Scott. It seems the Bears don’t ask Urlacher to run as much as they once did. It’s possible he would be better in another system, but part of what makes him good is his knowledge of the system he’s in. Urlacher has some flexibility to play in different schemes. I’m not sure he would fit some 3-4 fronts well, but I think he can continue to play in almost any style of 4-3 defense.  But regardless of scheme, it’s rare for a linebacker to continue to excel in his late 30s, as the 37-year old Fletcher has done.

dpompei@tribune.com

Twitter @danpompei
CHICAGO

More