With the Bears having a clear need for a veteran quarterback to back up Jay Cutler, do you think Rex Grossman would be an option? -- @RexyFan8 from Twitter
Grossman, 33, is a free agent. I think he is an ideal backup because he’s smart and will know the playbook and will not be afraid to cut it loose when he’s called upon. But if general manager Phil Emery was going to make a run at Grossman, he would have done it by now. Emery was scouting the Southeast for the Bears when they selected Grossman in the first round from Florida in 2003. At this point, I’d be surprised if the Bears added another quarterback to the mix before training camp. They’ve made it very clear that Emery and coach Marc Trestman are comfortable giving Jordan Palmer a chance to nail down the No. 2 job in preseason. If they were not comfortable doing that, they would have signed a more experienced option by this point.
Who do you think will be the starting safeties in Week 1? -- @alexscholten42 from Twitter
They’re going to spend a lot of time on the practice field between now and then but if I had to venture a guess, I’d go with Ryan Mundy and Brock Vereen. Mundy has been working with the starters as the strong safety since OTAs opened and M.D. Jennings has been running primarily with the ones at free safety. Chris Conte remains sidelined as he rehabs his way back from shoulder surgery. But Vereen will have to show well in camp and preseason to have a shot at the starting job. Conte certainly is in the mix as well.
Can you explain the reason for the bloated, 90-man rosters during the offseason? It just seems to me like a waste of money for all teams in the league. Do they really believe they’re going to find guys who can make their team, never mind be a real difference-maker with these “walk-on” players at the end of their rosters? I believe a team should be able to have no more than 75 players on the roster in the offseason. It’s more realistic and economical. – Harold L., Niles, from email
It’s a numbers game and teams need bodies to practice with, especially when the pads go on in training camp. Now, it was more of an issue when clubs would go through two-a-day practices that no longer exist. But clubs still need bodies to practice, especially on both sides of the line of scrimmage. The Bears have 15 offensive linemen and 15 defensive linemen on the roster. So linemen account for one-third of the entire roster. It’s not a waste of money. Players receive $175 per day for attending offseason workouts or classroom instruction. Those “extra” 15 players (from 75 to 90) you are talking about run the Bears $2,625 per day. Pay is greater during training camp but keep in mind we’re talking about a billion dollar industry. Every once in a while, an undrafted player at the bottom of the roster will catch someone’s eye. But the reality is the depth of the 90-man rosters allows teams to practice at full strength. Money is not an issue for larger rosters.
There has been a lot of talk about the devaluation of the running back position with regard to the NFL draft and free-agent contracts. Is there a similar position on the defensive side of the ball that has been systematically devalued? With regard to the Bears, one could argue middle linebacker or safety. – John M., from email
There is no question the middle linebacker position is viewed a little differently, at least in terms of significance, than it was 20 years ago and probably even 10 years ago. The passing game has de-emphasized the running back position and the middle linebacker traditionally has been the guy at the heart of the defense to stop the run. The Bears had a player that was much more than the typical middle linebacker in Brian Urlacher. You’ve seen this trend in the draft in recent years when inside linebackers haven’t been highly selected with a few exceptions, including Carolina’s Luke Kuechly. This year, Alabama’s C.J. Mosley was the only interior linebacker selected in the first round. He went 17th to the Ravens, after four outside linebackers had come off the board. In 2013, Alec Ogletree was the first linebacker not considered a pass rusher to be selected, 30th overall to St. Louis. Pay for middle linebackers probably also would reflect the trend. Teams are paying defenders that can rush the quarterback and cover in the passing game. I don’t think safeties are being devalued. In fact, I think there is a bigger demand for them than there was 20 years ago. We’re seeing more safeties drafted in the first round than we used to and the pay for the position certainly has been on the rise.
A lot of people are down on Chris Conte and rightfully so as he had a terrible season last year. However, I believe some players respond to having a bad season and can turn everything around. Charles Tillman was notorious for pass interference early in his career. Brian Urlacher had some pretty bad years. Now they’re both likely to have their jersey retired. – Elijah, Chicago, from email
Conte didn’t have a good season but I don’t believe it was quite the train wreck some make it out to be. He blew coverage at the end of the final game of the season and that was the wrong ending to the wrong year. He was put in a bad spot a lot being asked to tackle running backs 10 yards downfield. The front seven was atrocious and the defense’s statistics against the run show that. It’s not easy for Conte or an All-Pro safety to bring down Brandon Jacobs in the open field when he’s got a full head of steam. Same goes for the list of other running backs that gashed the Bears. We’ll see how Conte bounces back from a little adversity and the shoulder surgery he had. I’ve always thought he didn’t get his hands on enough passes on the back end. He will be interesting to watch in training camp. I don’t know that Tillman was ever viewed as a bust. In fact, I would dispute that. He wasn’t a Pro Bowl-caliber player early in his career but he was a solid starting cornerback. Urlacher wasn’t an All-Pro annually but he didn’t have “bad” years other than the ones shortened by injuries. Neither should expect to have their jersey retired. Chairman George McCaskey was very direct last year when he said Mike Ditka’s No. 89 would be the final number retired by the organization.
It's no secret that Bears fans are down on safety Chris Conte after his season-ending mistake against the Packers. Conte has shown flashes of solid play in the past, and at 26, probably has his best days ahead of him. Just ask Tim Jennings, who elevated his play to a Pro Bowl level after four years in the league (only four interceptions in 53 games with the Colts prior to coming to the Bears). What are the chances we see the same kind of turnaround with Conte? – Ryan G., from email
Anything is possible. Jennings took off after a change of scenery and Conte doesn’t have that as part of his equation right now. There are a lot of questions every week about the safeties and the best thing I can tell you is the starting spots are wide open for competition to be determined in training camp and preseason. I see Ryan Mundy as the favorite to win the strong safety spot. In my estimation, free safety likely comes down to Conte or rookie Brock Vereen but M.D. Jennings is getting work with the starters at this point.
I've always wondered how a defense is able to get the right personnel on the field to match up with the offense. This seems a bit complicated since offenses are more and more complex with different packages that often change from play to play. Do both teams make changes very openly to ensure they won't be deceived when they are on defense? Is there a designated coach who looks out for substitutions and relays the info to his team? I'm sure there is a system in place and I'd love to know since this is not something a fan can pick up unless he is on the sideline. – David P., Fort Collins, Colo., from email
NFL rules grant the defense the opportunity to make a substitution if the offense makes changes to its personnel. Coaches are watching to see what personnel changes are made by the offense in order for defensive adjustments to be made. That is why you’ll typically see the sub-package players standing near the appropriate defensive coaches on the sideline, ready to run on the field, if necessary. It gets a little tricky when offenses try to run personnel on and off the field while being in a hurry-up mode. But Rule 5, Section 2, Article 10 reads “if a substitution is made by the offense, the offense shall not be permitted to snap the ball until the defense has been permitted to respond with its substitutions.” The offense is prohibited from snapping the ball quickly to draw a penalty but all of that is, of course, a judgment decision to be made by officials.
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