This year Gabe Carimi obviously looked nothing like the guy the Bears drafted out of Wisconsin in the 2011 draft. I have recently heard a lot of criticism aimed at Carimi. However, I think what some people don't realize is that Carimi has basically only played one year in the NFL because of the knee injury he suffered in week 2 of his rookie season. Is it possible that during this season Carimi was still recovering from the knee injury? If not, do you think he will ever develop into the tackle the Bears thought they were getting when they drafted him in the first round? -- Peter, Chicago
I think Carimi could be the Tim Jennings of 2013 in terms of being a greatly improved player. He is talented enough to make major improvements in his game. In the early part of the 2012 season, Carimi was not healthy. He was favoring his right knee, which had been partially dislocated and surgically repaired. In the latter part of the 2012 season, Carimi had issues with a lack of lower body strength, and a lack of confidence. All of it, I believe, was related to the knee. He needs a full offseason of strength training to build power and bulk, and he needs to remember how good he can be. If Carimi does not come back strong next season, he probably never will.
Johnson will not be the first NFL offensive lineman who has converted from tight end. There have been a number of them, including Wade Smith, Joe Staley, Adrian Jones and Will Yeatman. When you think about it, it makes perfect sense. Offensive tackles need more athleticism than ever. A tight end who outgrows his position makes a natural offensive tackle. As of now, I think Johnson will be on the board at 20. That could change with a phenomenal combine. Some front office men are concerned about Johnson's ability to anchor and move defenders in the run game. They would like to see him put on more weight. But generally speaking, tackles are drafted because of their ability to pass protect. Johnson looks like he can do that pretty well.
Other than possibly replacing Brian Urlacher, the Bears' defense doesn't really need to be injected with youth in the first rounds. Why can't the Bears just trade away more picks for that one difference maker on the offensive line. The Falcons gave up a fortune for Julio Jones because they believed he was what would put them over the top and that move has had positive results thus far. So why not go all in for a player that can surely help you win now? -- Arnold Amador, Edinburg, Texas
I disagree with your premise that the Bears defense does not need a youth injection. I think they need multiple young players on defense. They may or may not need multiple young players to make big contributions in 2013, but they definitely need to get them in the pipeline so they start to develop and are ready when the team does need them. You can't look at a draft as a way to solve all of your immediate problems. You have to look at a draft as a long-term method of replenishing resources. The thing about older players is you never know when they will fall off. They are more susceptible to injury than younger players. And their skills can diminish at different, sometimes unpredictable rates. I don't believe the Bears are in any position to make a big move up in the first round.
Doesn't it make sense to focus hard on drafting young offensive players this year? -- @FacingRyan, from Twitter
Not from where I'm sitting. I think it always makes sense to do two things in the draft. No. 1, don't pass up players who stand out on your board. No. 2, try to spray to all fields in terms of positions. If you concentrate too much in one area, eventually you will pay the price.
Will the Bears get any extra draft picks this year for losing players or for a new coach? -- @cutler53235, from Twitter
I would not count on it. Compensatory picks are rewarded based on a complicated formula based on free agents lost and free agents signed the previous year. In 2012, the Bears really didn't have any significant free agent losses. The biggest losses were Brandon Meriweather and Corey Graham. None of the players who left the Bears signed for big money. Given the free agents the Bears signed, I would not expect for them to be in line for any compensatory picks. Teams that sign new coaches are not given extra draft picks.
It may be way down the Bears' priority list in the off-season and draft, but do you feel they will make a move to embellish their current running back corps? Frankly, Michael Bush and Matt Forte both underperformed and Forte has to be one of the slowest and most chronically injured backs in the NFL. The NFL game emphasizes speed and hitting holes quickly. Bears fall short in that area. -- Richard Currier, Des Plaines
The Bears have a lot of money tied up in Forte and Bush. And the running game is not a problem. It wasn't as strong as it should have been in 2012, but I think it should improve with better blocking. I would not anticipate the Bears making a big move for a running back, though a late round pickup might be possible.
What do you think about adding free agent Dwayne Bowe to fill out our receiving corps and then focusing on offensive linemen in the draft and /or free agency? -- Sam Partipilo, Chicago
Bowe is an interesting name because Bears general manager Phil Emery was with him in Kansas City and knows him well. But I don't believe the Bears will be looking to acquire a high priced wide receiver. They already have one in Brandon Marshall, and there probably are not enough Jay Cutler passes or McCaskey dollars to satisfy both Marshall and Bowe. If the Bears go after a higher priced free agent, it probably will be an offensive lineman, tight end or middle linebacker if Brian Urlacher leaves. They likely will pick up a wide receiver in the bargain basement area of free agency, or in the second half of the draft.
Since the Bears will be paying Lovie Smith $5 million for next year, and Lovie has not secured another head-coaching job, would it have made sense to keep his expertise by making him a special assistant to the GM? He could scout pro and college games, act as an ombudsman, and other roles which would not conflict with the new head coach. -- Carl Bogenholm, Santa Fe, N.M.
It's a great idea in theory. And it would have worked wonderfully if Smith were a robot. But he's a human being. And I don't think a human being you hired as a head coach would make a very good special assistant to the GM after he was fired as a head coach. It would kind of be like divorcing your spouse but then employing said spouse to cook your meals and clean your house. There might be a tad bit of resentment and prejudice there, don't you think?
I think the Bears should sign JaMarcus Russell to our practice squad. He would get to learn from Marc Trestman and would have no pressure to start or back anyone up. If he gets back in shape like before, the Bears defense would practice against a QB with an elite arm, which would be better for them, right? Worst-case scenario is he is cut; best-case scenario is he becomes a good backup, and even tradable. It's obvious he had all the physical talent, right? -- Bob, Bristol, Conn.
After having played 31 NFL games, Russell no longer is practice squad eligible. A team that signs him will have to keep him on the active roster. No one ever doubted Russell's physical talent. It was his desire, focus and commitment that prevented him from succeeding with the Raiders. It is possible, but not likely, that Russell has learned from his mistakes and changed his ways. Given the potential reward, it certainly could be worth investigating where he is physically and mentally at the age of 27 and after three years away from the game.
Do you feel with the hiring of Marc Trestman, the Bears will take a close look at CFL players who could help out as free agents to supplement their lack of draft picks for 2013? Shouldn't this be a huge advantage for the Bears? -- Kelly Bickler, Minot, N.D.
It is a potential advantage because Trestman might have some inside knowledge on some of these players. But it's not like the CFL is brimming with potential NFL starters. There often are one or two CFL players who make it in the NFL each year. The best CFL prospect, defensive end Armond Armstead, already signed with the Patriots. It's possible the Bears could sign a player or two, but don't expect Canadian players to make a big impact on the Bears next year.
I've been a Bears fan since I was a kid and I'm 45 and I've never had the chance to see the Bears with a great quarterback and after watching Cutler I know he's not the answer. He's definitely not a team player and they desperately need a leader like they had in Jim McMahon. Jim didn't have stats but he got them a Super Bowl with strong leadership. I was wondering what you think of Matt Flynn? I heard Seattle might cut him loose and after watching him throw six touchdowns for Green Bay in one game I thought he looked like a natural leader possibly another Brett Favre. Any chance the Bears could go after him and shake things up like San Francisco did at QB? -- Bill, Maquoketa, Iowa
It seems like a lot of people have very high opinions of Flynn. But it's all based on one regular season game and some preseason looks. We've never really had a chance to see what he can't do. It says something that he may be available for the second time in as many offseasons, and that he could not beat out a third round rookie in Seattle. Look, Flynn might become a fine NFL starter. But he is an unknown at this point. The Bears can't be messing with unknowns. They need to go all in with Marc Trestman coaching Cutler and see if they can make it work with him. And don't forget, Flynn still is under contract with the Seahawks. It might take a draft pick to get him. And if he is cut, Flynn will have his choice of teams. He likely will be offered a starting spot by one or more teams. Why would he want to come to Chicago where he would have Cutler in front of him?
Reader Q&A: Dan Pompei's Bears mailbag
The Tribune's Bears columnist tackles readers' questions about Gabe Carimi, the NFL draft, Lovie Smith, and the potential of drafting CFL players