How concerned are you about Brian Urlacher? Do you think his knee is something that could really hinder his performance during the upcoming year? Can the Bears be an elite defense even if Urlacher is not playing at a Pro Bowl level? Daniel G., Lincolnwood
Urlacher missing a few practices, or even a couple preseason games in August is really not a big deal. It is not uncommon for big-dog veterans like Urlacher to be given extra leeway when dealing with injuries in camp. So I don't think what has happened so far is reason for panic -- yet. However, if Urlacher misses an extended period of time, it may be an indication his knee sprain has not healed, or that he needs more surgery. A 34-year old linebacker needing surgery isn't the same thing as a 24-year old linebacker needing surgery. It's going to take the 34-year-old longer to come back. And the Bears defense is not going to be the same without Urlacher. It's not going to be close. The defense will miss him from a physical standpoint, a mental standpoint and an emotional standpoint. If Urlacher is not on the field on opening day, it will be a huge blow to this team.
I was excited we got Michael Bush this year. He is a physical runner and has a burst outside too. Do you envision plays where both Matt Forte and Bush are in the backfield at same time? Justin C., Woodsboro, Md.
It may be something that Mike Tice tinkers with from time to time as a changeup, but I would not foresee a steady diet of it. If you are trying to run the ball with both Forte and Bush in the backfield, you can get a better blocker on the field than either Forte or Bush, whoever is not carrying the ball. If you are trying to throw the ball with Forte and Bush in the backfield, you can get a better route runner on the field than one of those players. Although it often seems like an enticing idea, there are reasons you don't see too many teams using two halfbacks together. It just doesn't work very well. The new trend is for teams to use multiple tight ends together. That does work very well, and I would expect for the Bears to go that route quite a bit.
What is your opinion on the quality of the backup quarterback position players of the Bears? Will they be able to fill most of the void if, for any reason, Cutler cannot play? Gerald, Rugby, N.D.
Jason Campbell is as quality a backup quarterback as you will find anywhere in the National Football League. If Cutler misses some snaps, or a few games, the Bears offense will be in good hands. That being said, Campbell is not Cutler. There is a reason he is a backup. And he has not been given the same amount of practice reps with the first team that Cutler has. So Campbell should not be expected to do all that Cutler could. But he should be expected to do a lot more than Caleb Hanie did. I would venture to guess that if Campbell were on the team last year, the Bears would have won three of the four games they lost in Cutler's absence. Josh McCown isn't as gifted as Campbell, but he has moxie and experience and should be able to get the Bears through a short stretch if called upon. The good thing about the Bears is their running game should be able to carry them if Cutler were to go down. They are not as quarterback dependent as, say the Packers are.
How is James Starks looking in Packers camp so far? @splurge76, from Twitter
He didn't do much when I saw him, but I know Packers coaches have not been doing handstands about his performance. I asked Green Bay offensive coordinator Tom Clements about Starks, and this is what he said. "Early on he was a little tentative. He's getting better. He is the kind of guy who needs reps. The more times he has to carry the ball the better he gets. He has a lot of ability. He runs hard." The running game is an issue in Green Bay.
How will Brandon Hardin be used this year? Any chance he cracks the starting lineup later in the season? @NathanKMullins, from Twitter
In a perfect world, Hardin will be mostly a special teams player this year who maybe gets in defensively in some packages. But the Bears safety situation rarely is a perfect world. Given the history of injuries and inconsistencies from safeties not only on the Bears but in the National Football League as a whole, my bet is Hardin ends up starting at some point this year.
James Brown appears to have a ton of upside. Do you see him sticking on the 53 man? I see him being snatched up if they don't. @CoreyBohler, from Twitter
Brown's future depends entirely on how he performs in preseason games. If he excels, he has an excellent chance of making the 53-man roster. If he is average, he will be a strong candidate for the practice squad.
Given the inconsistency on the offensive line in terms of their play and position changes as well as the health of Gabe Carimi, is there a chance the Bears keep nine offensive lineman rather than the typical eight this year? Joe B., Oxford, Conn.
I would say possible but not likely. Part of it depends on if Chris Williams is on the team. The good thing about keeping Williams is he can play four positions. No other potential backup is that versatile. And that versatility might encourage general manager Phil Emery to keep only eight offensive linemen If Williams is one of the eight. Part of it also depends on where the Bears stand on James Brown after the preseason games.
I like Tyler Clutts, but I fear the Bears will not carry a fullback on the roster this year. It seems like tight ends may be doing a lot of the same things as a fullback, even lining up in the backfield. What are Clutts' (or any fullback's) chances of making the team? Could Clutts be converted to tight end? He blocks and catches passes; what else does he need to be a TE? David J., Chicago
Clutts is a pretty good fullback. That is not the issue. The issue is how Mike Tice plans on deploying his personnel and what kinds of packages he intends on using most. If he decides he can get away with a lot of one-back formations, which I suspect he will, the Bears might not keep a fullback. They can have Evan Rodriguez line up in the backfield when they need one, or Kellen Davis or Matt Spaeth. I think a lot of teams will go this way this year. Fullbacks are dinosaurs in the modern NFL. Clutts is not a candidate to play tight end. He does not have the length, speed or receiving skills for the position.
Was the offense that featured Curtis Conway and Jeff Graham at WR the most recent dominant passing team from the Bears? How does it compare to current team? @Ru13aux, from Twitter
The 1999 Bears hold the team record for passing yards and were the most dominant passing team in Bears history. Second are the 1995 Bears. Of the skill position players, the 2012 Bears are better at every position than either team. Quarterback, you would take Jay Cutler over the three-headed monster in 1999 of Shane Matthews, Cade McNown and Jim Miller in 1999, or Erik Kramer in 1995. The current receiver group of Brandon Marshall, Devin Hester, Earl Bennett and Alshon Jeffery is superior to the 1999 receiver group of Curtis Conway, Bobby Engram, Marcus Robinson and Marty Booker, as well as the 1995 receiver group of Conway, Jeff Graham and Michael Timpson. The current tight ends are about a wash with the 1999 (Ryan Wetnight, John Allred) and 1995 (Wetnight, Keith Jennings, Chris Gedney) groups. And the running backs on the current team easily are better than Curtis Enis and James Allen (1999), and Rashaan Salaam, Robert Green (1995). However, both the 1999 and 1995 Bears had solid pass protection. That could be the difference. The 1999 line featured, from left to right, Blake Brockermeyer, Todd Perry, Olin Kreutz, Chris Villarial and James "Big Cat" Williams. The 1995 line was comprised of Andy Heck, Perry, Jerry Fontenot, Jay Leeuwenburg and Big Cat Williams.
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