By Brad Biggs
1:11 PM EDT, October 31, 2013
You have written repeatedly that Shea McClellin is not a fit as a linebacker in a 4-3 scheme and what I don’t understand is why? His measurables compare similarly to those of Brian Urlacher when he came out of New Mexico and he proved to be a perfect fit at middle linebacker. McClellin ran the 40 in 4.62 seconds at the combine and his size and speed make him very much like Urlacher. -- Erik M., Topeka, Kan.
This question has popped up multiple times over the last couple weeks and I’ll try to explain this as best I can. Yes, McClellin’s 40 time at the Scouting Combine prior to the 2012 draft was very close to the 4.59 seconds Urlacher ran in 2000 after he had bulked up to make the move from safety to linebacker. Here is the first problem I have with your premise (which other readers share): Comparing McClellin to Urlacher simply isn’t realistic. Urlacher is one of the better defensive players the NFL has seen in the last 15 or 20 years. Comparing another player to him because they have a similar build and similar attributes doesn’t work. There are plenty of linebackers that were the same size as Ray Lewis and ran faster than him. But there was only one Lewis, right? The bigger issue here is McClellin isn’t the same kind of athlete Urlacher is. Just because they might be comparable (when Urlacher was in his prime) if you lined them up and asked them to have a foot race doesn’t mean they have the same athletic skills on the football field. We’re not talking about track and field. McClellin doesn’t have the lateral movement and ability to turn and run that Urlacher possessed. Urlacher was much better in open space than McClellin is. You’re projecting McClellin to be the second coming of Urlacher because they’re about the same size and they have a similar 40 time. If that was all it took, there would be more middle linebackers like Urlacher around the NFL.
OK, Shea McClellin isn't working out. And he's not going to be a linebacker in the 4-3, no matter how many times people keep asking. Does he have any trade value that a team better suited to his abilities might be willing to give up a draft pick for once the season is over? -- Kellen M., Columbus, Ohio
This is also a popular topic and unless we cover some new ground with McClellin in the coming weeks, I think we will give the topic a rest for a bit. That might be a fine idea for the Bears if general manager Phil Emery was ready to move on from McClellin but I doubt Emery wants to part ways with McClellin after this season. He’s not the only defensive lineman that isn’t playing as well as the team would like. When you talk about a trade, you’re talking about a two-sided equation. Why would another club place solid value on McClellin if the Bears are interested in giving up on him after two years? Your idea is to trade him and get some value for him but if he’s shown little value to the Bears, they’re not going to fetch a lot in return, are they?
What is the story with Cornelius Washington? I know he is just a rookie prospect but with so many injuries on the defensive line and Shea McClellin playing poorly, I don't understand why they don't at least activate him. -- David L., Carlsborg, Wa., from email
If you lined up the Bears defensive players against a wall, Washington would be one of the most physically imposing guys you would see. But production was lacking throughout his career at Georgia and right now the team is more confident going with McClellin and rookie David Bass, who was claimed off waivers from the Raiders. Washington was drafted as a project. He is raw and is going to need development. With defensive coordinator Mel Tucker trying most everything right now to jump-start the defense, I am quite confident you would see Washington in the mix if the team believed he could provide a spark at this point.
Is Julius Peppers just having his one off year in Chicago like he had his one off year in Carolina? If you recall, in 2007 Peppers only had 2 ½ sacks for the Panthers but the next year he set his career high with 14 ½ sacks. I don't know what the explanations are for these two subpar seasons -- perhaps he's hiding injuries. But I do know it would be extremely unwise for the Bears to consider releasing Peppers after this year. First of all, the dead money he would account for in our cap would be astronomical. Second, there's no guarantee that whoever the Bears get to replace him will be even half the player Peppers is when he's right. I believe this season so far is just a blip on Peppers' career. I don't think his aging is the problem -- he's always been an athletic freak and defensive ends age better than any other position group in football besides quarterback. I think whatever he gives the team the rest of this year should be looked at as a bonus with the expectation that he'll revert back to his normal self next season. -- Doug D., Phoenix, Ariz.
You and former coach Lovie Smith must purchase your glassware from the same store because your cup is certainly half-full, Doug. Peppers, indeed, had a poor season in 2007 for the Panthers before rebounding to play at a high level the next two years in Carolina before departing via free agency. Peppers was highly criticized at the time and that is why he’s tuning out the media at this point in the middle of a season where his production has fallen off the table. I don’t know of any lingering injuries Peppers has that he is fighting through. If it was something significant, the Bears would reduce his practice reps to keep him fresh for Sundays but we haven’t seen much of that going on. I think you are discounting the possibility that at 33 he might not be the same player anymore. There is a big difference between an unproductive season at 27, like he had in 2007, and one at 33. That being said, I completely agree with you that finding a replacement for Peppers is going to be a tall challenge. The problem is his salary cap number is $18.183 million next season and if he doesn’t finish 2013 strong, I don’t know how the Bears can consider that kind of space for Peppers next season even though cutting him would create a big chunk of dead money against the cap depending on how the club opted to spread it out.
Considering the abysmal run defense this season do you envision Phil Emery further distancing himself from the Lovie Smith era by acquiring a couple of massive, gap-plugging defensive tackles next year either through the draft or free agency rather than sticking with the more versatile, athletic types we've had for the past 10 years? It seemed to me it worked out pretty well in 2001 when Ted Washington and Keith Traylor were the starting tackles. -- Archie L., Byron, Ill.
Emery isn’t going to make personnel decisions for the future of the club based on what Smith preferred or didn’t want. Emery’s job is to supply the coaching staff with players that will best fit the schemes. Unless the Bears switch their defensive scheme to one that would rely on run-stuffing defensive tackles, there would be no purpose in finding the next Washington. Emery isn’t forcing schemes on his coaches.
Should the Bears sign Vince Young? If Marc Trestman could improve him the way he has Jay Cutler, that would give the Bears a better backup option and possibly trade bait down the road. -- Brandon
The Packers took a look at Young in preseason but he’s on the street right now and he’s probably there for a reason. He hasn’t played in a regular-season game since 2011 when he was awful for the Eagles. Young never had a particularly good showing when he was with the Titans either, in my opinion. He was overdrafted and has always been prone to turnovers. Young got an extended look in Green Bay’s preseason finale at Kansas City and completed 14 of 30 passes for 144 yards. It wasn’t real good.
How is James Brown doing? Really odd seeing him inactive every week. -- @nwfisch from Twitter
The coaching staff was pleased by the progress Brown made during the offseason, training camp and in preseason. But the club has to choose seven inactives each week and after injured players are added to the list, you start looking for guys that will not be needed. The Bears are carrying Eben Britton, who can play tackle and guard, and Taylor Boggs, who is the backup center. NFL clubs rarely dress more than seven offensive linemen for a game. So, it’s not odd that Brown is down on Sundays.
With Jay Ratliff cleared medically is there any chance the Bears pick him up? -- @JACOBPaulus from Twitter
Ratliff is visiting the Bears Thursday and it would be my bet that most of the trip is for the team to get a handle on where he is medically. Ratliff visited the Chiefs earlier this week and the expectation is he will be making more stops as he tries to create a market for his services. Ratliff’s career in Dallas ended in ugly fashion. I’m not sure Ratliff is physically ready to play for any team right now and it is important to realize he wasn’t playing at a high level last season. The Bears would not be getting the Ratliff that was a cog in the middle of the Cowboys defense as a Pro Bowl performer. Right now, I suspect his agent Mark Slough is attempting to get multiple clubs involved. But I doubt any team is going to pay a lot of money for his services. We’ll see if the Bears want Ratliff and he wants to join them in the next week or so.
Do you see the Bears being able to win a Super Bowl with Jay Cutler at the helm or do you think they are best to grab someone in draft? -- @gainsey008 from Twitter
That is the ultimate question, in my mind, when it comes to the evaluation of Cutler. That is one reason I wrote in a mailbag earlier this season that I was curious if general manager Phil Emery would use similar guidelines to evaluate Cutler as he did former coach Lovie Smith. He fired Smith and explained it was the coach’s inability to reach the postseason that doomed him. Cutler has won one playoff game in four years and in the big picture, quarterbacks are evaluated by their work in the postseason. Will that factor into the equation for Cutler? I don’t know the answer but it is worth wondering. At the end of the day, I think this is the final question that needs to be answered with Cutler and I am not sure Emery and Marc Trestman have an answer yet but Emery has been public in saying he is pleased with improvements Cutler has made, particularly in terms of leadership.
Do you anticipate Larry Grant playing Monday night? I could see the Packers taking advantage of two rookie linebackers. -- @Brennan_Lippman from Twitter
I think there is a good chance Grant will be active for special teams in the game but he’s been with the team just a week and I don’t believe that is enough time for the Bears to feel comfortable with him knowing the defense. The Packers could take advantage of a linebacker that was out of position too.
Why were the Bears not interested in resigning Matt Blanchard? They seemed to like him more as a developmental quarterback than Jordan Palmer. -- @ahskidmore from Twitter
Because the Bears reached an injury settlement with Blanchard in preseason after his injury, the team was prohibited from bringing him back (if it wanted to) until after Week 10. Palmer has more experience and is not viewed as a developmental quarterback. He’s a backup right now, a guy that will be ready in the event a need arises. The last time the Bears turned the keys over to an inexperienced quarterback in the regular season, it didn’t go so well for Caleb Hanie.
With Lance Briggs out, who is calling the defensive plays? -- @wesside702 from Twitter
I’ll be honest with you, I think the questions about who is calling the defensive plays have become overblown. My hunch is middle linebacker Jon Bostic continues making the calls as he did in the Redskins game after Briggs went out with his shoulder injury. Bostic has been doing it on the practice field since he arrived and also did it with the second team in preseason. The other alternative is strong-side linebacker James Anderson. We’re talking about the player getting the play radioed in to his helmet and repeating it. This isn’t too complex of a process and Bostic is a smart young player.
If the Bears safeties continue to struggle how long will they go before a change is made? What changes could you see them making? -- @steveoatms from Twitter
I asked Marc Trestman if he would consider shaking up the lineup at safety earlier this week and he said no. The options are pretty simple: Craig Steltz or Anthony Walters. Steltz has seven career starts and Walters has made one. I don’t believe the club sees much of a ceiling for either backup. This situation would look better if 2012 third-round pick Brandon Hardin had panned out but he’s out of the picture now and I doubt he resurfaces for the Bears.
I know position and players available will play a big role, but do you think Bears will trade down in the draft next May? -- @eriklambert1 from Twitter
General manager Phil Emery has made it clear he would like to acquire more draft picks and if you’re not going to flip players, the only way to do that is to flip draft picks because I highly doubt the Bears will be in line to receive any compensatory draft picks in 2014. Trading down could add some depth to a draft that right now holds seven picks for the Bears. But there are generally more teams interested in moving down than moving up and just because you put a pick up for sale doesn’t mean you’re going to get an offer you would consider to be even value in return.
Near the halfway point of the season, what Bears’ free agents will be the biggest priorities and most likely to return? -- @jtbbears from Twitter
The beauty of the situation is we’re near the halfway point in the season and no decisions need to be made right now. The players know that it is unlikely any extensions will be done in-season because of the team’s snug salary-cap position. The conversation must begin with quarterback Jay Cutler and then a plan has to be hatched from there. General manager Phil Emery has been public in saying something could materialize for left guard Matt Slauson. If center Roberto Garza continues to play well, I could see him returning on a one-year deal. Cornerback Tim Jennings would make a lot of sense, especially if the Bears are going to continue in the same defensive scheme. The Bears might be able to get defensive tackle Henry Melton at a cheaper price considering his injury situation. Defensive end Corey Wootton has been a good player. Long snapper Pat Mannelly seems ageless. But there are too many variables and too much football left to play to get specific here. You’re talking about a long list of players and a lot of decisions.
Has there been a better year for the Bears to switch to a 3-4? Phil Emery has to overhaul the defense anyway. Why not overhaul the defense on the cheap (i.e. using a 3-4)? -- Matt H., Vienna, Austria, from email
The onslaught of questions about a conversion to a 3-4 defense continues and frankly I am puzzled. The Bears simply don’t have personnel that would lend to an easy switch at this point and in no way would it be a cheap switch. Sure, Shea McClellin might fit as an outside linebacker in that defense. He also might struggle like he has in a 4-3. Linebackers Jon Bostic, Khaseem Greene and veteran Lance Briggs are not ideally suited for a 3-4 defense, in my opinion. So, you’re talking about searching for almost an entirely new front seven. That’s a lot to do with one draft and in free agency and would create potentially serious depth issues. A lot of people seem to think the 3-4 is a cure all for pass-rush issues and I disagree with that. Keep in mind the 3-4 was introduced in the 1970’s in order for defenses to better play the run. Sure, there have been some great pass rushers that have thrived in a 3-4 scheme and that list begins with Lawrence Taylor. Defenses can also get after the quarterback just as well in a 4-3 scheme. There are different versions of the 3-4 and a couple ways to go about it but right now the Bears simply don’t have the players in place to make that move, in my opinion. Maybe the organization makes a decision to change in the offseason, but it would not be the best fit for many players they have under contract right now and even a draft and multiple free-agent additions would make it tough to pull off.
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