The Bears have been on a serious pace signing players since the very end of last season. Then, Cutler, cornerback Tim Jennings and left guard Matt Slauson received new paper just after the end of the season. It’s been a busy pace for general manager Phil Emery and contract negotiator Cliff Stein. I’d imagine the checkbook remains in the drawer for a while now as there isn’t a candidate for a new contract that really jumps out at you. Now that Marshall is locked into place through 2017, there are only three players who were starters last season that have contracts expiring at the conclusion of the 2014 season, most notably weak-side linebacker Lance Briggs. He turns 34 in November and his future will be an interesting topic as the season unfolds. If he plays at a high level, he could potentially return in 2015. Safety Chris Conte and defensive tackle Stephen Paea are also coming to the end of their rookie contracts. Center Roberto Garza, cornerback Charles Tillman and linebacker D.J. Williams all returned for this season on one-year deals but I didn’t include them because they just completed contracts. It will be interesting to see what happens with wide receiver Alshon Jeffery. He is signed through 2015 but could potentially get an extension after the 2014 season is complete. With another big season, he could command a blockbuster deal.
What is the best positional fit for Brock Vereen in his rookie season? Slot cornerback, free safety, strong safety and/or special teams? -- @dkirk_mms from Twitter
My guess is they consider him at free safety first and the Bears might be best served by picking one position and letting him get settled. Certainly a role on special teams will be expected. I see Vereen, Chris Conte and potentially M.D. Jennings in competition for the free safety job. Ryan Mundy will have to nail down the strong safety job. That is not a given at this point.
Have you heard if the Bears were strongly considering someone at No. 14 other than Kyle Fuller? -- @thetimmalone from Twitter
General manager Phil Emery isn’t going to come out and say exactly how his board was stacked and if he was considering another player with that pick. I think it’s fair to wonder what the club would have done had Aaron Donald made it through to them. Emery did say Fuller was the No. 1 cornerback on the team’s board and he entered the draft with a short list of six players.
Where do you think Stephen Paea stands in this year's defensive tackle rotation? -- @FAbbriJohn from Twitter
Good question. Paea battled some injuries last year, including a turf toe issue. That impacted his performance he was replaced in the starting lineup at the very end of the season by Jeremiah Ratliff. I think Paea will definitely be in the mix for a starting job but the good thing is the Bears have significantly added to their depth on the interior of the line and have multiple options, including Ratliff, Nate Collins, Israel Idonije and draft picks Ego Ferguson and Will Sutton. Competition for the two starting tackle spots will be interesting to track through training camp and preseason. In a contract year, you’d expect Paea to be poised for a big season.
How much of a fake punt threat will Pat O'Donnell be? Seems like he could get the corner with his speed. -- @hohoholnagel from Twitter
O’Donnell certainly is an athletic guy for a punter but let’s remember the guy he is replacing, Adam Podlesh, was considerably faster when he entered the league. Podlesh ran the 40 in 4.43 seconds at his pro day and O’Donnell was clocked at 4.64 seconds in the Scouting Combine. Special teams coordinators prefer a punter that can throw the ball to a fast punter when it comes to fakes because the punter is lined up 15 yards behind the line of scrimmage and he’s got to run that far just to have no gain on the play. If a punter pulls the ball down to run, before he gets to the line of scrimmage the defense (with faster players) is going to be reacting. Podlesh didn’t throw the ball well. Before him, Brad Maynard (a former high school quarterback) had a good arm. Maynard completed 5 of 7 passes for 94 yards and two touchdowns with the Bears. It is more possible a punter could be used to run on a fake field goal or extra point because of the closer proximity to the line of scrimmage. Having a good athlete as a punter always helps when you consider the coverage plan doesn’t always go as designed.
What positions do you feel Phil Emery is not done tinkering with? Tight end depth doesn't get a lot of consideration in my opinion. -- @hamrijp from Twitter
Don’t rule out a move at any position. The Bears, like the other 31 teams, are going to monitor what names come across the personnel notice on a daily basis. Key positions to watch for a veteran, in my opinion, are tight end, safety and potentially running back if the younger players don’t emerge. I’m not saying Ka’Deem Carey and Michael Ford are poor options behind Matt Forte, I’m saying it’s possible the Bears could seek a player with more experience at some point. Obviously, the best-case scenario is to have a backup on a rookie contract.
With all the changes on special teams this year, which one will make the biggest difference for the Bears? -- @steveoatms from Twitter
If the change at punter doesn’t make the biggest difference, the Bears will not have accomplished their No. 1 goal on special teams for this season. Despite what were perceived shortcomings on special teams last season, the Bears were actually pretty good in comprehensive rankings. They struggled punting and had too many penalties. Replacing Devin Hester will be a tall order for Chris Williams, who looks like the man to beat as the returner right now. The Bears routinely gained positive field position because of the threat Hester posed. Opposing kickers and punters would kick short or to the boundary to avoid Hester.
Does Khaseem Greene have any shot at starting? Why don't we hear about him in the D.J. Williams/Jon Bostic/Shea McClellin linebacker competition? -- @JBiuhoosiers from Twitter
Greene is in the mix. Like Bostic, he got some exposure as a rookie and at points late in the season I thought he was performing better than veteran James Anderson. The Bears have two open positions alongside Lance Briggs with four players competing for starting jobs and Greene is one of them. You named the others.
Love the Bears’ starting receivers but do they have much depth in case of injury? -- @bullscub from Twitter
The potential is there for improved depth this season. There really wasn’t any competition a year ago when Brandon Marshall was the clear No. 1 followed by Alshon Jeffery and then Earl Bennett. With Bennett, a durability concern, departed for the Browns, Marshall and Jeffery remain in their positions. After that, it is wide open. Marquess Wilson, a seventh-round pick in 2012, is going to have a legitimate shot to claim the No. 3 role. But a nice blend of veterans is also in the mix, including Josh Morgan and Domenik Hixon. I think the Bears can potentially be stronger as a group at this position.
Who stood out during the rookie minicamp? -- @HalasBearReport from Twitter
It’s dangerous to make sweeping judgments after a rookie minicamp or even a veteran camp. Often times the stars of the spring disappear before the end of summer. Defensive tackle Will Sutton showed the athleticism needed from the three technique position even though it looks like he’s got a ways to go to get into top shape. Running back Ka’Deem Carey looked like the real deal but how do you really rate a running back when there is no contact? Cornerback Kyle Fuller was fluid in his movements. We’ll see how these young players do moving forward.
Jonathan Scott was listed as the backup left tackle on the depth chart all of last season but he did not dress for a single game as Bushrod remained healthy. Had an in-game injury happened, I suspect Britton would have been plugged in there. He’s the kind of player that can get you through a game at a number of positions on the line. Scott was not re-signed and now the Bears have a couple of options, including Britton. Seventh-round pick Charles Leno Jr. was drafted with the idea being he could be a reserve left tackle but he’s got a ways to go to prove he can play in a regular-season game in a pinch. I doubt the Bears would move Long from right guard to left tackle although he’s very athletic. As a general rule, teams like to make one move to replace one guy on the offensive line when an injury strikes. When you start shuffling the deck, you end up changing multiple positions to replace one guy and that can disrupt things. The swing tackle position is one that is up for grabs in training camp.
Any chance you see Ka’Deem Carey having a big impact on the team? -- @CelestinoRoger from Twitter
A rookie running back has to prove a few things in order to earn playing time. He’s got to master the playbook, show he is adept in pass protection and be secure with the football. Provided Matt Forte remains healthy, you’d expect the No. 2 back to get roughly 100 carries (about six a game) and Carey will certainly get every opportunity to win that role. As far as a big impact, I don’t know how you want to define big. I’d be a little surprised if Forte yields “big” playing time to Carey or anyone else.
What happened to David Fales’ draft stock? Was seen as possible first round quarterback in 2013. -- @whocowman from Twitter
I don’t believe any teams ever looked at Fales as a potential first-round draft pick. Quarterback is such a premium position that if any clubs ever considered Fales something close to a top-32 pick, he would have been drafted much, much sooner than Round 6. Fales has average arm strength or marginal depending on who you ask. He’s average athletically and he’s just not in the same realm as the passers that were drafted significantly higher than him in this draft. Plus, he played against a lower level of competition at San Jose State. Sure, plenty of quarterbacks have emerged from smaller schools in less competitive conferences, but it’s another thing to consider when assessing why he was drafted where he was. That being said, most viewed him as a good fit for a West Coast offense and his development will be something to watch.
What kind of defense is Mel Tucker going to run? Does he have the pieces? -- @bowlgolf2 from Twitter
The Bears are going to be a 4-3 based defense and they will be more versatile than they’ve been in the past. They’ve significantly upgraded the defensive end position so I would expect the pass rush to be much better. Are they going to be a top-10 defense? Time will tell.
Any chance Kyle Long moves to right tackle this year? -- @tnk1964 from Twitter
Unlikely. One of the first questions I asked coach Marc Trestman in March at the owners meetings was where Long would play. He said he is penciled in at right guard and nothing has been done since to change that. Jordan Mills is going to be the right tackle.
With all the versatile front seven players the Bears have could they be leaning toward a 3-4 going forward? -- @huskysize from Twitter
I thought we buried this question when the Bears publicly announced they were playing a 4-3 front. Jared Allen would not be at his best in a 3-4 scheme and he was the biggest defensive acquisition of the offseason. I don’t know that Jeremiah Ratliff is still cut out to be a 3-4 nose tackle. I don’t think Lance Briggs would be at his best in a 3-4 scheme and really Shea McClellin is the only linebacker ideally suited for that scheme with the exception of perhaps undrafted free agent Christian Jones. The 3-4 isn’t happening.
Which newcomer do you see making the biggest impact on defense? -- @CleinDJ from Twitter
The Bears sure hope it is Jared Allen or Lamarr Houston because those are the two players that were paid the most. I can’t think of another player that would make a bigger impact.
Can the Bears win the division? -- @gemini_2008 from Twitter
You’re starting with the right question. A lot of people are talking Super Bowl or bust and before the Bears begin thinking really big, they have to find a way to get beyond the Packers. Green Bay has dominated the NFC North lately and taking control of the division is the first step toward becoming a real threat in the conference. The Bears have been making moves to compete against their division foes and shored up the defense with an idea toward challenging Aaron Rodgers and Co.
How is the offensive line depth shaping up? Jay Cutler needs to play all 19 games this year. -- @jimjackcoke from Twitter
The Bears were one of only three teams to have all five starting linemen start all 16 games last season. Eben Britton, who can probably get you through a game at all five positions, was re-signed and Brian de la Puente was brought in as a reserve to Roberto Garza. I think the depth on the line might be a little better than it was last year.
With increasing cap in future, wide receiver pay will increase. Do you think Brandon Marshall gets all the way through his new contract without asking for a restructure? -- @Tommy_Dobbs from Twitter
Marshall, 30, signed an extension that carries through the 2017 season when he will be 33. I’d be surprised if the Bears wanted to pay Marshall more before his new deal is expired. That is one of the tradeoffs for a player getting money early as Marshall did, before his current contract expired. He got security without having to play out his deal. The Bears inherit some of the injury risk in doing so. The pay off for the club comes on the back end. If Marshall wanted to maximize his value, he would have played out the contract and gone to the open market. Maybe it is wise he made the choice he did because the 2015 free-agent class of wide receivers could be loaded. A lot of talented wide receivers are entering the final year of their contracts, including Dez Bryant, Michael Crabtree, Demaryius Thomas, Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson.
Odds Bears go 16-0? -- @BirchwoodJB from Twitter
Please consult with Steve Rosenbloom for the answer to that question.
Do you take time post-draft to just stop thinking about the Bears? -- @KevinMShannon from Twitter
Mailbag goes on vacation after mandatory veteran minicamp in the third week of June.