Readers' Q&A: Dan Pompei's Bears mailbag
What's your take on the Bears pass rush going into this year? Are the Bears capable of shutting down opponents without consistent pressure from their front four? Daniel Gutstein, Lincolnwood
It's a good question and I am not sure I am yet convinced the front four can apply the type of pressure it needs to. But there are some things that should encourage you Daniel. Last year the pass rush was good at times but spotty—ultimately not good enough I thought. Three things have changed that could make the pass rush better. One is the addition of Shea McClellin. He definitely has flashed some abilities and I do not doubt he is going to help the Bears. I wonder if he will help them consistently, especially early on because he still is learning and growing. But McClellin gives the Bears defensive line a dimension they didn't have last year in that he is going to be able to run down quarterbacks and ball carriers when Julius Peppers or others chase them. Last year there was no one to do that too frequently. The second way the pass rush could be improved is by having Israel Idonije move inside on passing downs. It's been kind of an overlooked move, but Idonije can be a force as an interior pass rusher. The third way the pass rush could be improved is if Stephen Paea steps up in year two the way I think he can.
I saw Shea McClellin make one tackle in the pre-season and that was it. Have you seen anything to suggest that he is ready for the big time or does he need time to develop? We need another pass rusher to help, don't you think? Eric Johnson, Las Vegas
You could always use another pass rusher, but one is not going to fall from the heavens. It would really help if Corey Wootton or Cheta Ozougwu were to come on. As for McClellin, he made five tackles in the preseason, according to press box statistics. He was most productive in his first preseason game, against the Broncos, with three tackles, a sack, a tackle for a loss and two quarterback hits. But he also had the most opportunities against the Broncos. His snaps decreased as the preseason went on (41 against the Broncos, 31 against the Redskins, 16 against Giants and zero against the Browns), so if it seems like he was less visible as the preseason wore on, that's probably why. I think McClellin is going to be a productive rookie. He is taking well to the coaching of Rod Marinelli and making consistent progress.
Who will be the Bears biggest upside surprise this year? I am guessing TE Kellen Davis. @GrantWMatthews (from Twitter)
I'm not sure how you are defining "upside surprise," but with the way I define it, I'll pick Paea. He can have a real impact on the Bears' interior defensive line this year, both from the nose tackle and three technique positions.
If the Bears D is not going to be elite, gotta run the ball to keep them off the field. How's that going to fly w/ Jay & co.? @Bruk72 (from Twitter)
Jay Cutler is smart enough to know that a good running game is his best friend. I don't think that is going to be a problem with him. I'm not so sure how Brandon Marshall will react if he's not getting the ball a lot though. That will be interesting to watch.
Do you think anything short of a deep run in the playoffs will cost Lovie Smith his job? Brian Rhoades, Peoria
I don't think there is a particular number of wins, or stage of the playoffs that Smith has to reach to be given a contract extension. I would think the decision will be more about how he does his job overall. That encompasses leadership, game management, people management, strategy, player preparation and ability to work with others, as well as results.
Should the Bears go after Kellen Winslow? @rcjumpman (from Twitter)
I wouldn't. The Bears already have four tight ends, and I'd rather have Kyle Adams, who has some potential on offense and also is a special teams contributor. Winslow likely would not be of much use on special teams. Winslow has been given up on by two teams this year. At 29 he can't run like he used to and he has a knee issue that is worrisome. He is not a deep threat anymore. He also has a history of being somewhat of a non-conformist.
How many touches do you think Michael Bush will get this week? @catrader7 (from Twitter)
I suspect Bush will get a good workload this week. I think the Bears will try to establish the run against this defense, so he will spell Matt Forte some. And I also think it's possible the Bears could be trying to protect a lead and close out the game in the fourth quarter. Bush should be the finisher in that case. I'll guess he has 12-to-14 touches.
Since leaving the Bears a cone of silence has descended around former GM Jerry Angelo. As far as I know Angelo hasn't uttered a word about his dismissal and he's given no interviews. Have I missed anything? Does anyone know what Angelo's thoughts were? Or has he totally fallen off the radar? Bob Jacob, Camarillo, Calif.
I think it would be safe to assume Angelo has chosen to take the high road. What was it your mother told you to say if you had nothing good to say? You haven't missed anything, Bob. By the way, with all due respect to Phil Emery who I think has done an outstanding job, I think it's interesting that either 21 or 20 of the 22 Bears starters on opening day will be Angelo acquisitions. That is a credit both to Angelo and Emery, who has been wise enough and secure enough to acknowledge the existing talent on the team. Not all new GMs are so open-minded. The only certain Emery acquisition to start will be Brandon Marshall. Evan Rodriguez also is a possibility.
I have followed your columns for many years and enjoying reading your comments and analysis. I have gained lots of insight into the game thru your writing. Is there any pattern or formula for the NFL schedule? We do play the Vikes, Lions, and Pack the last part of this season which should bring lots of excitement to the league. Is the schedule designed by a computer? Bruce Leonard, Hudson, Wis.
The NFL schedule, which encompasses 256 games over 17 weeks, is put together both by people and machines. A computer generates more than one million potential schedules, and then it is up to NFL schedule czar Howard Katz and his staff to find the ones that make the most sense and tweak them accordingly until they find a winner. It is a process that takes pretty much the entire time from the end of the season to the point when the schedule is announced in April. There are many complicating factors in NFL schedule making, including the interests of networks, trying to avoid three consecutive road games, trying to avoid road games after Monday night games, bye weeks and days when stadiums are not available due to conflicts with other events (usually baseball games). The schedule makers also try to pit division rivals against one another late in the season in the hope that those games will be meaningful.
I remember back in the mid-2000s that the NFL had a huge crisis on their hands soon after the death of Korey Stringer during a practice. For the next few years, hydration was a huge focus point during practices, and teams took extra precaution to ensure that their players were not succumbing to the elements. I bring this up because I feel like the NFL is now in a similar situation with concussions. Today, you don't hear as much about heat-related issues, largely because concussions have taken over the media spotlight. Do you think that, ultimately, this concussion issue could slowly go the way of heat-related issues, or will this be a problem that always persists? Dave Melton, Griffith, Ind.
The big difference between heat-related issues and head injuries is there is an easy fix for heat-related issues. Monitor players, don't let them practice if they don't meet minimum conditioning requirements and make sure they are hydrated pre and post-practice. We know how to reduce the risk of head injuries, but we don't know how to avoid them entirely. Nor are we entirely sure about how to treat them. I think the concussion thing can and should have a much bigger impact on the sport.