The Bears created some additional salary cap room, clearing $2 million by restructuring the contract of Julius Peppers (not giving him a pay cut) and giving Earl Bennett a $1 million reduction in base salary. The latter move was probably somewhat cap driven and also because Bennett’s performance hasn’t matched the contract extension he signed in December 2011, not to this point anyway. Bennett can earn the money back through on-field performance. This has given the Bears operating room under the cap for this season in the event of injuries and additional needed signings. It’s also given them a little wiggle room to consider something maybe at the end of the season or the club can always elect to slide the leftover cap room into 2014. I don’t believe there will be a rush to sign Cutler during the season and Cutler probably doesn’t want to rush into anything. There is one game in the books. If he performs well over the course of the season, he can enhance his value. The Bears will have the franchise tag at their disposal if they want to ensure Cutler doesn’t go anywhere. I don’t believe any deals are imminent.
Does all of the cap maneuvering mean Phil Emery is willing to lock up some free agents instead of waiting until after the season and money wars? -- @ChiBears27 from Twitter
Twenty-six of the 53 players on the roster right now have a contract that expires at the end of this season. But the issue here, in my opinion, is that only two of those 26 are players that are coming out of their rookie contract – defensive end Corey Wootton and strong safety Major Wright. It’s those players, the guys coming out of their first four-year contract in the NFL, that are ripe for extensions, deals that can get done early and provide the player with long-term security and the club with just a little bit of a home-town discount because the club assumes the injury risk in signing a player to an extension early. The issue here is the Bears don’t have a large group of these players in the primes of their career. That is where clubs want to sink big money. They want to pay ascending players in their mid-20s. Why would Emery rush to throw money around at players on the wrong side of 30? There will be players in that category the Bears would like back at the end of the season, no question. Not all of them but surely some. But paying older players is a riskier investment and I think the club wants to see what those guys can do and how they hold up. If you recall this past offseason, there were not a lot in the way of “money wars” going on for veteran players in the marketplace. That is how Emery landed starters like James Anderson, D.J. Williams and Matt Slauson at club friendly prices.
If there was one player on the roster in the final year of his contract that you think absolutely should get extended, who is it and why? -- @SternOne from Twitter
See the reply above. And the one above it. Phil Emery has not completely ruled out the possibility of something at some point this season but right now it is not on the agenda. It depends on how these guys perform. If left guard Matt Slauson remains a durable performer, my guess is they would like to keep the offensive line growing together. Strong-side linebacker James Anderson looks like a nice find. Cornerack Charles Tillman has been terrific the previous two seasons. But to single out a player here – and at this point in the season – would be just throwing you-know-what against the wall and waiting to see what sticks. It’s a long season. Emery shouldn’t have money burning a hole in his pocket.
I’m surprised the Bears didn’t draft a quarterback for development behind Jay Cutler. I hope he stays and evolves but do you see a quarterback being drafted in 2014? -- @wickercat from Twitter
You share the same sentiment as WSCR-AM 670 host Mike Mulligan, who has a Wednesday Tribune column during the NFL season. Mulligan was adamant the Bears needed to draft a quarterback this past April because of the uncertainty of Cutler’s future. However, the team had only six draft picks to use and the list of needs was well documented. Add in the fact that this was considered a poor draft for quarterbacks and that could be one reason why Emery passed. We’ll see if some of the mid-round picks develop in the next year or two. Some like Mike Glennon in Tampa Bay, a third-round pick. He was the third passer selected and Josh Freeman looks to be on shaky ground with the Bucs. Oakland already cut its fourth-round pick Tyler Wilson, the sixth quarterback drafted, and re-signed him to its practice squad.
Why didn’t the Bears blitz more vs. Cincinnati? -- @Benyaminr1 from Twitter
I counted 12 blitzes on 33 pass attempts for Andy Dalton and that is a ratio that is pretty consistent for the defense prior to this season. There are a variety of reasons. For starters, the Cover-Two scheme the Bears play is predicated on getting home with four down linemen and covering with seven on the back end. That’s what the defense is all about. Keep the ball in front of you and make the tackle. Eliminate the big plays and force the opponent to methodically drive the length of the field to score. If an offense isn’t perfect – or darn good – it’s not going to pull off the 10-play, 80-yard drive that is often needed. What’s another reason? Defensive end Julius Peppers should be able to dominate or at least win a one-on-one matchup with reserve left tackle Anthony Collins. And franchise-tagged defensive tackle Henry Melton ought to collapse the pocket on occasion.
There was a lot of talk this preseason about Isaiah Frey. How'd he do in his debut? -- @K_M0neyswag from Twitter
I had Frey, the cornerback, on the field for 16 snaps (excluding plays with penalties) and 14 of those were in the nickel package. He also lined up twice on the outside when Charles Tillman was out of the game in the second quarter. The Bears didn’t go to their nickel package until the second quarter and the Bengals occasional hurry-up offense might have made substituting difficult. I thought Frey was solid in a small role. He was credited with four tackles – two solos and two assists – by coaches following their review of game tape. He made a nice tackle of A.J. Green on an inside route in the fourth quarter. The sample size was awful small and I am interested to see what Frey can do when he gets more playing time and is challenged more by an opposing quarterback.
Does Marc Trestman call his own plays or is Aaron Kromer doing that? -- @Zisk22 from Twitter
Trestman is the play caller and he radios the plays in directly to Jay Cutler. But Kromer has a big role in what the Bears are doing offensively and certainly is a heavy influence in the running game.
What do you see as the most dangerous “quarter” of the Bears’ schedule this year? -- @mspmef from Twitter
We’ve yet to hear Marc Trestman break the season down into quarters like former coach Lovie Smith did frequently. I think the season is pretty evenly divided. Certainly before it started and prior to the victory over the Bengals, I probably would have said the first quarter. But there is one win in the books now and all of a sudden the Week 3 trip to Pittsburgh doesn’t look quite as daunting with injuries piling up early for the Steelers. The Bears do not have a quarter with more than two games against a 2012 playoff team and only face one in the final quarter with the season finale at Soldier Field against the Packers. Quarters two through four look pretty even to me right now.
(home games in caps)
The Bears will have to face the Giants on a short week with a Thursday game but at least they’re at home for that and the game before against the Saints is also at Soldier Field. A bye to prepare for the trip to Lambeau Field will help. I think the second quarter looks most challenging but if you believe in the Cowboys and Eagles after one week, maybe the home stretch would be your choice.
Can we expect a lot of two tight end sets like on Sunday moving forward or will it be based more on the type of opponent the Bears play? -- @rohanwarriar from Twitter
That will be a week-to-week proposition based on what Marc Trestman views as the best game plan. The Bears used at least two tight ends in 27 of their 61 snaps against the Bengals. The bet here is the desire to support the pass protection was a major factor in that decision. The Bears could also use multiple tight ends when they want to run the ball but I would think attacking a team’s nickel defense would be an even more intriguing way to get Matt Forte rolling. The Bears used a lot of it but they don’t quite have the personnel at the position yet to compare to a team like the Bengals with Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert.
When can we expect to see Jon Bostic at middle linebacker? -- @backupindy from Twitter
This was without question the most popular question of the week and I received many submissions that were similar – even more than those inquiring about the many ways to spend Phil Emery’s money. D.J. Williams started the game at middle linebacker and was on the field for all but the nickel snaps when James Anderson moved into the position. I thought Williams looked a little rusty and wasn’t around the ball a whole lot. Coaches credited him with seven tackles – three solos and four assists. Marc Trestman believes the arrow is only pointing up for the veteran.
“I just think he’s going to just get better,” Trestman said. “He ran well for his first game back. His conditioning, quite frankly, was better than we thought. He played hard, he played fast and I think he’ll just continue — like everybody else we’ve gotta do a better job with our run fits. We gotta get off the field on third down. That’s everybody. That’s not just the pass rush. That’s our second-level coverages, our back-end coverages, everybody’s gotta be in place. It’s never one guy. It never will be. And so I think that’s part of it. Not only D.J. — your question’s on D.J. — but it’s also the 10 other guys. On defense, the way we play it, all 11, they have to be in the right spot. Particularly with all the zone coverage we play.”
Until the Bears are unsatisfied with Williams – or there is an injury that necessitates a shakeup, I think Bostic is going to remain a core special teams performer. But I am curious to see what he can do on defense when he’s given an opportunity. I would think the Bears want to see him before the season is out, but they’re committed to winning and right now their belief is Williams is the man for the job.
Do you see this year's offense potentially being top-10 with current weapons, playbook and O-Line? -- @Monctonscout from Twitter
Nothing wrong with dreaming big but you are asking for a lot. The Bears were 28th on offense last season. They churned out all of 97 yards in the first half Sunday against the Bengals. For what it is worth, the 323 yards they ended up with was good enough to rank them 20th after Week 1. When you talk about the weapons, let’s explore that. They added one new skill position player to the mix – tight end Martellus Bennett. He’s a good player. Made a heck of a catch on the touchdown throw from Jay Cutler. He’s an every-down tight end too which lends real versatility to what Marc Trestman wants to accomplish. But enough to move the Bears from 28 to 10? The offensive line looked better, no question. I think it will grow. We also said that after Week 1 last season when the Bears hung 41 points on the Colts at Soldier Field. There will be growing pains this season. There will be improvement. How much? That remains to be seen. It would take a real jump to reach the top 10 and truthfully if the Bears’ defense plays like it should – better than it did against the Bengals – they won’t need a top 10 offense to be a very good team.
You certainly should. Earl Bennett looks like the fifth option right now simply because he projects to have less playing time than those other players you listed. But that doesn’t mean he can’t help – more some weeks than others – and be a factor in the success of the offense. The fifth target for the Raiders in 2002, when Marc Trestman was the offensive coordinator for that Super Bowl team, was tight end Doug Jolley. He made 32 receptions for 409 yards and two touchdowns. I’m not saying the Bears are headed to the Super Bowl. But I think those are realistic statistics for Earl Bennett. He needs to stay on the field and he should make that happen.
Will Devin Hester catch a pass this season? -- @stlouisdailybee from Twitter
Watch the NFL long enough or cover it and you learn never to say never. But I have not seen any signs of Hester having involvement on offense to this point. He certainly did not in training camp. The media is allowed to view only a snippet of practice during the season – a stretching period and brief individual drills. You certainly would have read about it by now if Hester was getting any action with the wide receivers. But never say never.
Will Joe Anderson and Marquess Wilson make an impact this year? – @lurk79 from Twitter
It’s too early to make declarative statements about either one of these players. Right now, each one would need an opening in the depth chart to have a shot. Anderson was active on Sunday but participated only on special teams. Wilson did not dress for the game. The Bears are committed to Earl Bennett as a third receiver right now. Anderson was very impressive in the spring and I didn’t think training camp went quite as well for him and he suffered a shoulder injury in preseason. Wilson is impressing wide receivers coach Mike Groh but he has a lot of growing to do.
Did the offense not allowing any sacks have more to do with the gameplan or the performance of the offensive line? -- @MichaelVilarino from Twitter
Both. Marc Trestman was very candid that his goal was to keep Jay Cutler upright. To that end, he kept tight ends and backs in to help block. They moved the pocket. Cutler got the ball out quickly. The linemen executed. It was an across-the-board effort to protect Cutler. That’s the way it is everywhere in the league. When Cutler was sacked in the past, it wasn’t always the linemen. Sometimes it was other players, even Cutler. Sometimes the defense had a better play call. There are so many factors that go into sound pass protection.
Do you think there is an issue with the defense? Are the players onboard with Mel Tucker’s system? -- @CoreyBohler from Twitter
The defense played poorly for the first 2 ½ quarters against the Bengals and certainly a fortuitous bounce with the interception off the hands of A.J. Green and the strip by Tim Jennings bailed the unit out. But the Bears did play better defensively down the stretch. I think one issue you have to keep in the back of your mind is the age of the defense. This unit is getting older. The core players are on the other side of 30. That’s just a fact. I believe they have bought into Tucker’s system. Why wouldn’t they? It’s the same one they played before. There are too many players on that side of the ball with expiring contracts to think they’re not fully invested here. They’re only going to get paid for what they put on tape in 2013.
Is there a good chance the Bears start 4-0? -- @dustbrother109 from Twitter
There certainly is a chance. The Vikings were a playoff team a year ago but they’re trending downward, in my opinion. I’d expect the Steelers to be better in Week 3 than they were in a lousy Week 1 home loss to the Titans. My suspicion is the Lions have a chance to compete for a playoff berth this season and that is why I had them ahead of the Vikings in a preseason power ranking. The Bears have lost in their last two trips to Pittsburgh and last had success there in a 20-0 shutout on Nov. 12, 1989. Meanwhile, the Bears have won four of their last five games over the Lions at Ford Field but I sense this could be an improved team. We’ll see how they do on Sunday at Arizona and then the following week at Washington. There is a chance Detroit could enter that Week 4 matchup sitting at 3-0.
What are some ways that the pass rush needs to improve vs. the Vikings? -- @Benjamindegraaf from Twitter
In every way. But it starts with the four down linemen. When those players excel, there isn’t a need for blitzes and manufactured efforts to create pressure on the quarterback.
With all of Phil Emery's control of the roster, does he have any say on starters or playing time? -- @GoBearz99 from Twitter
Those decisions are made by Marc Trestman and his staff. But Emery is in regular discussions with Trestman about the roster. They seem to be working well together to this point. I don’t get the sense Emery is pushing an agenda with him.
Regarding the mistake in spotting the ball near the end of first half after the Bengals' punt and the personal foul on Dre Kirkpatrick: Watching on TV, I noticed immediately that the ball was spotted incorrectly and cost the Bears nine yards of field position. I saw the ball go out of bounds just inside the 50-yard line and it therefore should have been placed just inside the 35-yard line after the 15-yard penalty. That could have had a huge impact on the game if it had cost the Bears the field goal they eventually scored, as that 58-yarder by Robbie Gould ended up being the difference in the game. After the game, I saw that Marc Trestman said he didn't realize it had been spotted incorrectly. My question: Why don't the Bears (or other teams) have someone in the booth upstairs watching for such obvious mistakes (incorrectly spotted balls, mistakes in determining what down it is such as occurred after the offsetting dead ball personal fouls in the Packers/49ers game, etc.) that can be corrected easily if they communicate with the head coach and then have the coach confer with the officials? I realize that the assistant coaches upstairs may be too busy dealing with strategy, communicating with other coaches on the field, etc., to notice everything like this. So why not have someone whose sole job on game days is to look for such mistakes and try to correct them? I would volunteer for the job, but I don't live in Chicago and prefer to watch the games on TV anyway. -- Mark Snyder, Pasadena, Calif.
That’s a good question, Mark, and the Bears are fortunate the officiating error, which the NFL acknowledged, did not impact the outcome of the game. Trestman has 17 assistants listed in the media guide on his staff and there are support staff members that also contribute on the sideline and in the booth on game days. I can’t say how the mistake escaped all of them. But it happens and you cited some other examples. Keep in mind that because this mistake happened within the final two minutes of the first half, Trestman could not have challenged the spot of the ball. However, he certainly could have and should have brought it to the attention of officials. Coaches rely on their staff in the box for information on replays and all sorts of other help. The belief is they will catch what they need to the majority of the time. Assistants are working off television replays in the booth to make very quick decisions when it comes to replay challenges, ones that must consider game situation, down, distance and more. No team is perfect throughout the course of the season. No team would be perfect with a staff of 25 and a dedicated replay/ball placement czar. This one would have gotten far more attention had it come back to haunt the Bears.