Ask David: Answers to your Bears questions

Standing on top of a bench in front of his locker Thursday, wide receiver Rashied Davis raised a reporter's stray digital tape recorder he had found and began auctioning it off around the room.

"Do I hear 20 ... 25?'' barked Davis, one of the more playful Bears. "Give me your best bid.''

There were none.

Everybody knew that on Thursdays, when the Bears "open'' locker room tends to be an ideal place for a nap, chances are there was not much on that tape recorder worth bidding on to save. Thursdays are when Brian Urlacher meets the media, generally not saying much that would be quoted if he weren't Brian Urlacher. Thursdays are good for the kind of background conversations that you really don't want to record.

Wednesdays are a different story. Especially this past Wednesday, when the Bears provided plenty of tape for the audio archives.

There was Lovie Smith from the podium criticizing newspaper columns, including , that portrayed Cedric Benson as pouting after last Sunday's game against the Vikings.

There was Benson himself casting himself as misunderstood, again, and receivers coach Darryl Drake echoing that idea as he walked behind him off the practice field.

And there was Ricky Manning Jr., professing his innocence despite pleading no-contest to a felony assault charge that included the accusation that Manning made ethnic and homophobic slurs toward the victim.

Now that was a day a reporter didn't want to misplace his tape recorder.

E-mail is so much easier not to lose. So here is some of yours from the past week that I'll try to answer.

Come on, David, Benson is a pouter? After not seeing one play in a close divisional game in which Thomas Jones again proved he is a 3-yard-a-carry back, Benson was screaming, jumping and pumping his fist on national television when Grossman reached the sideline after the game-winning TD pass. He wasn't pouting, he wasn't hanging back, he was screaming and hugging his starting quarterback. Do you think it would be a good sign if he wasn't noticeably bothered by not playing? He's a high first-round pick. If he didn't react that way, then I'd be nervous. Stop fishing for the non-story. --Tim, Glen Ellyn, Ill.

It's hardly a non-story. I was on the field after the game, 20 feet away, watching Cedric Benson walk off with an expression and pace that I considered indicative of a player sulking. Probably a half-dozen media members mentioned Benson's mood to me before I returned to the press box. I formed an opinion based on that observation and Benson's history. I simply made the point in Tuesday's column that I would have expected a member of a team that had won such a big game to be more visibly enthused, and that's not such a ridiculous expectation as some people have suggested. Perception can be reality for players as scrutinized the way first-round draft picks are scrutinized.

We read body language regularly in this business. Dangerous? Perhaps. But it's necessary for anyone who relies upon observation as part of their job. I've been told by Bears players, coaches and front-office personnel that the way Benson reacted was just in line with his laid-back personality. That Benson is easily misunderstood and often misinterpreted because of his unique makeup. They are around him regularly and I certainly respect them for springing to the defense of a player as important to the franchise's future as he is. They know him better than I do. But no matter how much they protest, sorry, I still have a hard time believing that nothing was bothering the guy as he walked off the field after not playing in that game. And my basic premise was that a player with Benson's pattern of behavior risks becoming a distraction if he allows a bad attitude to get in the way of his progress or a playoff season. I have been assured it's a faulty premise, and now Benson can prove it.

Are the Bears being too cautious and conservative in their use of Brian Urlacher? Facing tough bookend tackles like Walter Jones and Sean Locklear, do you expect Ron Rivera to blitz Brian more often? I don't expect Alex Brown to get enough pressure this week, why not bring back the Urlacher blitz? It may also keep him interested in a scheme that he complains about on occasion. --Bob, Highland Park, Ill.

I've never heard Urlacher complain about this scheme, but if you have, let me know what he said because that would be a story. What's not to like? It's the single-gap scheme that allows him to play downhill and helped him earn NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors last season.

The Bears might be wise to blitz Urlacher or Lance Briggs a little more against the Seahawks, you're right, particularly when Seattle goes to that four-receiver set. Pressure will be the best way to cover Seattle's four top-quality receivers but Matt Hasselbeck is likely to take quick drops that require quick releases. I don't think the Bears are being cautious at all in their use of Urlacher; they have 10 sacks in three games. They have created pressure within the realm of the Cover 2 defense largely because of how hard Tommie Harris and the Bears' ends are to block. Delayed blitzes with Urlacher, as with many linebackers, often make sense. But a player as naturally disruptive as Urlacher excels when he lets the flow of the game dictate his big plays.

All the Halas Hall propaganda about blitz pick-up aside, Thomas Jones has been largely unimpressive as a runner this year. It's not a matter of yardage, but he's dancing way too much in the backfield and appears indecisive--in short, everything he was in Tampa Bay. Is there any chance of seeing Benson or Adrian Peterson getting some carries, or is Lovie too afraid of another backlash to benching/platooning Jones? --Phil Mayo, Chicago

I disagree with your assessment of Thomas Jones' running. The numbers haven't been there yet, and on a handful of plays he has danced more than Bears fans got used to seeing him dance last season. But he still runs hard, hits the hole and protects the football the way an NFL running back needs to do all three of those things. And the Bears' running game has served its purpose even if the yards-per-carry average isn't anywhere near where they want it. Understand that teams have come into games against the Bears geared to stop Thomas Jones, a sign of respect due to his 1,300-yard season. He may not have as many yards this season, but it would be a mistake to stop handing him the football. He has value as a runner that's only enhanced by his skills as a blocker and receiver -– all-around ability that makes him the Bears' best running back.

With Shaun Alexander out, Mike Holmgren will probably go to the air, using three-, four- and possibly five-receiver packages regularly. How do you feel the Bears secondary will match up to the Seattle receiving corps? --Sam, Los Angeles

Against four-receiver sets, linebacker Lance Briggs will remain on the field and that could create a matchup problem Mike Holmgren and his staff likely will try to exploit. That would be my biggest concern against Seattle, but Smith and Rivera believe their defense is better with Briggs on the field and they have earned the benefit of the doubt. I think it's a good test for rookie Danieal Manning to face crafty veteran receivers who will test his ability to stay deeper than the deepest more than the Vikings' corps. I'm not worried about Mike Brown. Given the smallish size of the Seahawks' receivers, I expect Charles Tillman to have a big game. That leaves cornerbacks Ricky Manning Jr. and Nate Vasher, both of whom are off to solid starts. But let's face it, as any defensive back will tell you (if they're honest), how well they play in the secondary will be directly related to how much pressure Hasselbeck feels from the pass rush.

With Shaun Alexander not being able to suit up Sunday night for the Seahawks, what do you think the chance, if any, that Ron Rivera and the defense will now focus a bit too much on Seattle's passing game, and, thus, slack off when it comes to prepping to shut down their running game? --Rooks Howlin, Point Roberts, Wash.

I think there's a better chance of it snowing Sunday night. This defense slacks off for nothing, and nobody in the locker room thinks losing Alexander means Seattle won't still try to run the football. Maurice Morris is better than your average backup, even if he's no league MVP. Like any NFL offense, the Seahawks will strive for balance that helps both elements: running and passing. So in order for the Bears to force them into being one-dimensional, they must focus on stopping the run first and then using their game plan to shut down the pass.

I've read a lot about how the Bears and other teams rotate in defensive linemen to keep them fresh. Meanwhile, the offensive linemen are rarely rotated but the running game tends to get stronger as the game goes on. So who really has the advantage in the fourth quarter -- the fresh D-linemen or the in-the-groove O-linemen? --Andrew, Portland, Ore.

Don't forget the running back's role in that equation. The good ones are conditioned well enough to see seams late in the game that didn't exist early whether it's because of fatigue, scheme, whatever. It always depends on conditioning, but remember defensive linemen also run downfield after the football probably on average more than offensive linemen do. On a 300-pound body, that difference can be noticeable and result in a defensive line offering less resistance in the fourth quarter. The Bears, like many teams, rotate those defensive linemen so they can demand they run to the football and create or chase turnovers.

David, in an article you wrote this week, you brought up two names all Bear fans would like to forget, John Shoop and Terry Shea. Out of curiosity, are either one of them accomplishing anything in the NFL? --Ray Geiselman, Glasgow, Kent.

Both guys are gainfully employed with NFL teams. Shoop is the tight ends coach for the Oakland Raiders and Terry Shea is coaching quarterbacks for the Kansas City Chiefs. Remember Shoop had more success in Chicago than Shea, but Bears fans seldom want to give Shoop any credit for his role on the 2001 NFC North champs. At times he was too inflexible and overly conservative, which Dick Jauron embraced, but what was a NFL assistant in his mid-30s going to do when offered the job, turn it down? Shea, on the other hand, will go down as Lovie Smith's first major hire –- and mistake. He tried force-fitting an offensive style with personnel that wasn't suited for it and –- his worst offense -– endorsed the signing of backup quarterback Jonathan Quinn.

It looks more and more likely that Lance Briggs will walk after this year because of his high salary demands. Apparently he was offered to be the Bears' second highest-paid player behind Urlacher and declined. What would the Bears receive if he signed with another team? Would it make sense to franchise tag him to ensure the Bears receive equal value in return? --Charley Borneman, Portland, Ore.

It might make sense to apply the franchise label on Briggs, but Bears GM Jerry Angelo won't have to make that decision until after the season. The exact terms of the contract Briggs turned down remain sketchy, but are believed to have approached the $56.5 million deal of Urlacher's. That makes more sense than it may sound considering Urlacher signed his contract in the summer of 2003 and currently rates as an NFL bargain. If Briggs leaves the Bears after this season, all they receive in return would be memories because he's an unrestricted free-agent.

My guess is that Seattle will follow the Vikings' game plan and throw a lot of blitzes at Rex Grossman. A good way of countering this would be the screen pass. It seemed like the Bears tried this on a number of occasions last Sunday, only to have Jones run into one of the oncoming defenders. Is this something defenses are designing to do or can Jones reasonably avoid this and get open for the screen? --Jon, Arlington Heights, Ill.

Some teams are good screen teams (like Seattle), and some aren't. The trouble with last week's screen-pass attempts was not just Jones but the pressure getting to Grossman before Jones had cleared. It appeared to be a timing issue, and one likely to be worked out before the Bears try again this Sunday. It's a good point: Against a healthy pass rush, and even a blitz, the screen can be effective in theory because of the way blockers outnumber defenders after the rush has cleared. And in the open field, Jones' moves make him a threat.

Thanks for writing. Talk to you next week.

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