What are your (early) projections for Alshon Jeffery? How will he fare in the new offense? -- @ken d mccarthy, from Twitter
I will be surprised if Jeffery does not take a significant step forward in his second season. He is a pretty special talent. I think we all saw that last year. But as a rookie player he was immature physically and mentally. He looks stronger and more confident in OTAs. He has developed more chemistry with Jay Cutler. And I think Marc Trestman will find ways to get the most out of him. One interesting thing to keep an eye on: I thought former Bears receivers coach Darryl Drake connected with Jeffery well. It will be interesting to see if new receivers coach Mike Groh can do the same.
Who will have the most targets after Brandon Marshall -- another WR or Martellus Bennett? -- @eddygchitown, from Twitter
I think opposing defenses may dictate that to a degree. If they try to take away Bennett, it will be Jeffery. If they try to take away Jeffery, it will be Bennett. But if defenses focus all of their attention on Marshall and the run game, which they may have to frequently do, both Bennett and Jeffery will get plenty of opportunities. In that case, I would suspect Jeffery would be the second leading receiver on the team. Bennett had a career year in 2012 and was the third leading receiver on the Giants behind Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks. I could see a similar scenario playing out with the Bears.
From observing practices, any noticeable differences on the defensive side of the ball from a scheme perspective? -- @Shomshon, from Twitter
No, the defense looks very similar. Of course, there isn’t a lot of scheming going on in May and June. Check back in August, but I really do not anticipate any drastic changes.
What is the difference between OTAs and mandatory minicamp with regards to the drills and activities that players are required to participate in? Is it just that one is mandatory and one isn't or is it more than that? -- Jeremy Smith, Washington
The big difference is the length of time teams are allowed. In OTA practices, players are allowed on the field for only 90 minutes; in minicamps they are allowed 3.5 hours. Two two-a-days also are permitted in minicamp. Teams can keep players at their facilities for 10 hours during minicamps versus four hours in OTAs. But in terms of contact and pads, the rules are the same for OTA practices and minicamp practices.
Why is practice with pads on so different from without in evaluating players. I suppose contact is allowed with pads on, but contact is that important in evaluating players? -- Itsuro Uchino, Myersville, Md.
The only things you can evaluate without contact is movement ability and ball skill. You need pads and contact to really understand how a player is translating his athleticism to the game. Practicing without pads and contact is like taking a golf swing without teeing up a ball. Your form might look good, but you have no idea of the results of your action.
I read your piece on the Bears new strength coach, and how the focus is now on explosiveness rather than sustainability and player protection. Are we in for another training camp like Lovie Smith's first, with hamstrings popping on every drill? The strongest players in the world won't help you if they're on the sideline nursing a pull. One of the Bears strengths in recent years was their relative lack of non-contact soft tissue injuries. Is Phil Emery just changing everything for the sake of change? Are the players really buying into something that will likely shorten careers? -- Mark Early, Arlington, Va.
If muscle pulls are the result of the new strength program, it will be a disaster. But I can assure you special attention is being paid to proper form and injury avoidance. And the team is using the same nutritional program that was used under previous strength coach Rusty Jones. It’s not like what Mike Clark is doing never has been done before. Many of his methods have been used in football programs for decades, going back to the 1970s when weight training became widely accepted. Clark wouldn’t have lasted 35 years as a strength coach and have been inducted into the USA Strength and Conditioning Coaches Hall of Fame if all he did was invite injury. Many teams have gotten outstanding results with similar philosophies. But it certainly is something worth monitoring.
Who do you see being the Bears toughest opponent in the NFC North next season and why? -- Fergus Matthewson, from Facebook
That’s an easy one. Nothing has changed to make me believe the Packers won’t be one of the best teams in the NFL again in 2013. They have averaged nearly 12 wins per season over the last four years and have the best quarterback on the planet. There is no reason to believe they will regress.
If you were coming to the U.S. for the first time this fall and had the chance to see a Bears away game, which one would you choose? -- @shaka272, from Twitter
Green Bay in a heartbeat. There is no place in the world like Lambeau Field, and the Green Bay experience -- history, culture, small town feel -- is special. Plus, the game should be a great matchup, and it’s early enough in the year (Nov. 4) that snow and cold shouldn’t be a factor.
What's going on with Izzy Idonije? Is the Bears offer still on the table? I hope because Izzy has always been one of my favorite players. -- G. Connor, Chicago
These situations always are fluid, so what may have been true yesterday might not necessarily be true today. But from indications I’ve heard, there is very little chance Idonije will return to the Bears. It’s a shame because they could use him, and he could use a them.
I moved to Wisconsin many years ago but to the letter have retained my Bears loyalty that spans over 50 years. My problem is, we don't get a lot of Bear news up here for obvious reasons. I'm now glad I have you to change that. My question is, what do you feel is the bottom line for the Bears to have a successful season this year? -- Ron Biver, Viroqua, Wis.
I would say two things stand out Ron. They have to maintain their knack for getting takeaways. With an aging defense and a change in the coaching staff, that can’t be taken for granted. Even if the defense wasn’t getting old and the coaches weren’t new, that can’t be taken for granted. Takeaways come in bunches and can’t always be controlled. But clearly Lovie Smith’s emphasis on getting them paid off. The other thing is Cutler has to play well, which mostly means hitting some big plays and avoiding interceptions and unnecessary sacks. More and more, it’s a quarterback league. The teams that are succeeding are being lifted by their quarterbacks.
I have a bone to pick with you about your top 10 Bears. How can you put Jay Cutler on the list? He is, without question, a top 10 talent; maybe a top 2 or 3. But he NEVER rises to the occasion, and gives them a big game against a tough team in a must win situation. Against a team like Jacksonville in October in Soldier Field he'll go 24-33 for 362 yards and three TDs. Against a strong team in November or December you're getting 21-37 with three INTs.
This guy is the modern day Jeff George; great talent and no heart. The sooner the Bears move on from the Cutler era the better. Let him underachieve for someone else, preferably a division rival. So talent-wise: top shelf. Performance-wise I'd rate him no better than about 21, perhaps a shade better than Jamarcus Webb. -- Mike Walsh
Look, if Cutler is the 21st best Bear, the team should have moved on from him by now. I understand he is inconsistent and lacks some important intangibles. But he has the best career passer rating in Bears history (81.9). He has done some things right. He just needs to do those things right more frequently.
One preseason magazine wrote if the Bears fall back, Trestman could be quick to go since Lovie was fired at 10-6. Is that possible after only one season? -- Kenny and Emily Kendall, from Facebook
What that magazine probably didn’t point out is Lovie Smith lasted nine years in Chicago, not one. Bears ownership always has been pretty patient and loyal with head coaches. The organization always has valued having a somewhat stable environment. I suppose this is somewhat of a new era with George McCaskey in charge, but I would be shocked if the Bears took that kind of knee-jerk approach. You probably couldn’t even find out everything you need to know about Trestman in one season.
Have the Bears considered a halftime video (ala the Steelers) highlighting great Bears players to get the crowd amped for the second half? -- Frank7818@verizon.net
Just prior to the opening kickoff at Soldier Field, the Bears play a video that highlights great players in Bears history. The team also has several “pump up” videos it uses at key points of the game. At halftime, the team gives updates from around the league on the video boards. Greg Miller, who is in charge of the scoreboard, tells me that’s what fans want based on feedback and research.
Bill Belichick was a defensive coach who watched and learned offense and now he is one of the greats. Is this the key for being great? -- @jermaine611, from Twitter
They key for being great is drafting Tom Brady. Of course, Belichick is great for much more than that. I don’t think you can simplify it quite like you are trying to, but there is something to the fact that he has more vision than most coaches. He’s not in one little corner of the game. He understands defense, offense and even special teams, which he also coached. Plus, Belichick is an outstanding administrator and evaluator. As a strategist, he is as good as it gets. He marries players to schemes as well as anyone. He prepares a team so soundly. He develops players better than most. Belichick is good to great at everything. That’s why he’s the best coach I’ve ever been around.