I am still not sure what we saw in the game Sunday. When Minnesota touched the punt back into the field and Eric Weems knocked it into the end zone (and out of the end zone), would it have been a Minnesota touchdown if the Vikings had could recovered the ball in the end zone before it slid out the back end? – Ray Geiselman
This was one of the most popular questions of the week with many inquiries about what was a terrific heads-up play by Weems. Vikings cornerback Marcus Sherels prevented the punt from going into the end zone and as cornerback Josh Robinson and linebacker Audie Cole were about to down the ball at the 3-yard line, Weems arrived and knocked the ball into the end zone and it subsequently went out of the back of the end zone.
Once the ball was touched first by the Vikings, it became a free play for the Bears. Weems could have picked the ball up and fumbled it right there and the ball would have been awarded to the Bears at the 3-yard line. Tribune contributor Matt Bowen said when he played for the Redskins that special teams coach Danny Smith described it as a “free play” and in this instance Weems gained 17 yards for the offense as the Bears got the ball on the 20-yard line on the touchback.
Here is the definition from the NFL, Rule 9, Section 2, Article 2:
FIRST TOUCHING BEYOND THE LINE: “First touching” is when a player of the kicking team touches a scrimmage kick that is beyond the line of scrimmage before it has been touched by a player of the receiving team beyond the line. If the ball is first touched by a player of the kicking team, it remains in play. First touching is a violation, and the receivers shall have the option of taking possession of the ball at the spot of first touching, provided no penalty is accepted on the play, or at the spot where the ball is dead. First touching does not offset a foul by the receivers.
It’s not something new to Bears special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis. When he was with the Cowboys, Bryan McCann picked up a ball that the Lions’ John Wendling batted away from the end zone. McCann ran 97 yards for the game’s go-ahead touchdown in the 2010 game.
“I call it ‘no consequence’ because once they touch the ball as the kicking team right there on the punt, that’s basically a free ball for us to do anything we want with it,” DeCamillis said. “What happens is, if (Weems) would have fumbled the ball, if (McCann) would have fumbled the ball, it still would have just reverted back to the spot. There’s no consequence that happens to us right there. That means that (Weems is) paying attention to the rule, he understands it, and it worked out to us.”
I don't get it. Why are the Bears being chastised for starting D.J. Williams at middle linebacker over the rookie Jon Bostic? After all, he was signed for his experience. And why is Earl Bennett being used so sparingly? I am aware of their offensive weapons, but I thought that he was to be a major contributor in the coaches’ eyes? -- Chuck Durante Guilin, China
I continue to receive a high volume of questions about the situation at middle linebacker and with the third wide receiver and Earl Bennett. When it comes to Williams, yes, I think he is starting because he is more experienced and has a better handle on the nuances of the defense at this point. That being said, in my opinion he hasn’t been around the ball a whole lot through the first two games. Tackling statistics are subjective and the Bears coaches have credited him with seven solos and six assists, giving him four and two, respectively, in the win over the Vikings. Against a run-heavy team like Minnesota, you would expect Brian Urlacher to have far greater numbers. In fairness to Williams, he shouldn’t be compared to Urlacher. It also should be pointed out Williams is coming off the field in the nickel package, so there he was not in the action for 19 of the 64 Vikings plays. My hunch remains Bostic gets on the field at some point this season but I don’t know if the coaches want to shake up the lineup when things are going well.
As far as Bennett, his playing time increased significantly from the opener when he had 16 snaps to the last game when he was on the field for 32 of the 66 plays. Bennett was only targeted twice, but he made two catches, including a big 16-yard reception on the field-goal drive at the end of the second quarter and he doesn’t appear to be in jeopardy of losing any playing time. It’s all predicated on the game plan and how much the team wants to deploy three-receiver sets.
Any idea when the Bears could try Jon Bostic at middle linebacker or is he forever stuck on special teams not seeing any time on defense? -- @CloudyFuture from Twitter
Forever stuck on special teams? It’s been two games. I think the team has expectations that are high for Bostic, just like the fan base, but the coaches probably saw enough in preseason (along with the big plays) to tell them he needs more time to develop.
We are giving so much love and attention to the legacy of Brian Urlacher's career in Chicago and rightly so. I loved watching the guy on the field and wore his jersey on Sundays. But when is he gonna shut up? It seems like every week there is a report about something he said about the Bears. Jay Cutler didn't call him, the Bears’ fake injuries (to stop the clock), I was treated unfairly. My question is, does this become an issue in the locker room and is this the reason they may not have wanted him around with a new regime instilled? Think about if he was in the clubhouse like many Bears fans wanted. – Billy Menz, Philadelphia
I think there are multiple layers involved here, Billy. General manager Phil Emery will disagree with me, but it is my opinion the Bears made a contract offer to Urlacher they knew he would refuse. The Bears maintained back in the spring they genuinely wanted him to return. I don’t believe the contract offer was crafted with Urlacher’s relationship with Cutler or the prospect of him playing under Marc Trestman in mind. I think the Bears put a dollar value on a player that felt was declining on the field -- and I think they should have known how he would respond to that offer. Urlacher is in the media business now and someone has given him some good advice because he’s come out with some statements that have garnered attention. That’s one way to make a mark quickly in his new career path. What Urlacher says is not an issue to the players in the locker room. Many of them, almost all of them that were around for any time, remain close to Urlacher. That doesn’t mean they have to agree with everything he says. It’s not a big issue that Urlacher and Cutler were not fast friends either. A lot of people can go to their work and get in a room with 52 co-workers and probably find people they’re not real thrilled with on their team. That’s life.
Is Michael Bush hurt? I don’t understand why Marc Trestman would throw the ball on first-and-goal? Moreover, why Jay Cutler would throw it over the middle? -- @loydj2 from Twitter
Bush is healthy and he really hasn’t played enough to get too dinged up. Bush had just five snaps against the Vikings and was on the field for 14 plays in the opener, nine in the final drive when the offense was running out the clock. Trestman wanted to use the element of surprise in the play you are referring to when he put heavy personnel on the field with three tight ends, fullback Tony Fiammetta and Bush. I thought running it from there would have been a good idea, but I don’t call plays. The Bears liked the matchup with Martellus Bennett but he was double covered. Fiammetta was also well covered after Cutler’s play fake to Bush. That led Cutler to third option Steve Maneri over the middle. Trestman suggested Cutler would probably have been better off throwing the ball away.
Who is going to take the third wide receiver spot? Earl Bennett, Marquess Wilson or Joe Anderson? -- @mjwtruth from Twitter
Bennett has been the man pretty much all along with the exception of the time he missed with a concussion. I don’t foresee this changing soon either although Anderson was on the field for three offensive snaps against the Vikings. It’s hard to knock Bennett for making only two catches against Minnesota. Jay Cutler threw only targeted him twice. I’ve documented pretty thoroughly how Bennett has not been a big-time performer since his contract extension. Entering this season, his production mirrored that of Devin Hester as a wide receiver since the new deal. However, I still believe Bennett is the third-best receiving option for this offense and I suspect he’s got some big games ahead of him. Given a chance to play, I don’t see Anderson or Wilson suddenly outperforming Brandon Marshall or Alshon Jeffery and I also doubt they would be an upgrade over Bennett, who has a better grasp of the offense.
People keep writing that Bears are weak at corner behind starters. Besides Isaiah Frey, what is the situation there? -- @ssrangarajan from Twitter
Zack Bowman is the top backup on the outside and Frey is playing the nickel and the fourth option on the outside behind starters Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings. Sherrick McManis is also in the mix along with undrafted rookie free agent C.J. Wilson. I don’t think any NFL team would be very secure with a fourth cornerback starting, maybe with the exception of the Seahawks, who had enough young talent to release Antoine Winfield in final cuts. I don’t think the depth chart looks much different here than it has in some recent seasons. The plan, of course, was to have Kelvin Hayden as the nickel back before he was injured.
What do you think is the main reason the Bears defense has not been successful getting off the field on third down? -- @gregfeltes from Twitter
If there was an easily identifiable explanation for the Bears being tied for last in the NFL with the Rams at 51.9 percent (14 for 27), defensive coordinator Mel Tucker would make a move here or there and have it corrected. Certainly a big factor in third-down struggles has been the lack of a pass rush. They don’t necessarily need to pile up big sack statistics because forcing an early throw on third down can just as easily lead to the opponent punting. But the pass rush has been AWOL. Playing well on third down starts with being better on first and second downs. The Bears rank 21st on first down with opponents averaging 5.46 yards per play. The good news? The Steelers are 31st converting third down, moving the chains on only seven of 25 opportunities so far. Maybe Pittsburgh will help the Bears get right in this area.
Any reason the Bears haven’t tried Lance Louis? Just not a good fit for a zone blocking scheme or what? -- @ChallengeRandy from Twitter
I think the Bears feel like they upgraded both guard positions in the offseason with the signing of veteran Matt Slauson and drafting of Kyle Long. Louis was released by the Dolphins and my suspicion is he wasn’t physically where he needs to be after ACL reconstruction late last season. Louis had a tryout for the Chiefs last week but was not signed to a contract. He remains a free agent and when he’s better physically, I bet he will get a chance somewhere but he might need an offseason to learn an offense with a new team to be in position to challenge for a starting job. Keep in mind he’s just more than 10 months removed from knee surgery.
What is the skinny on Taylor Boggs? Lack of depth gives him roster spot? Or is he a legitimate project for Aaron Kromer at center? -- @ThorCo34 from Twitter
The Bears feel he is a legitimate prospect with 34-year-old Roberto Garza in the final year of his contract. Left guard Matt Slauson is also capable of playing some center, if needed, and the presence of a developmental center is a good thing. Whether or not Boggs pans out in the future, who knows? He might get a chance to prove he can stick next year.
What's with the lack of pass rush from the defensive linemen? Did Rod Marinelli really mean that much to the "Rush Men?" -- @IBleedBluNOrang from Twitter
The Bears have two sacks through two games and that is hardly unheard of for them or any other team. What’s been alarming, though, is there haven’t been enough plays where they’re close to the quarterback. The pass rush has been anemic and there is no way around that. Marinelli certainly was a strong presence for the defense and the linemen, specifically. But they went through stretches under him where the pass rush wasn’t quite what they would have liked. Two games is a small sample size. The Steelers are having a heck of a hard time protecting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Perhaps the Bears will have more success Sunday night.
With the defensive line struggling to get pressure, could that pressure Mel Tucker to blitz more often if there is no improvement? -- @JSFITZY from Twitter
No question about it. But the Cover-2 scheme is predicated on rushing the quarterback with four down linemen and that is what the Bears have struggled to do. Tucker will blitz from time to time but get caught in a bad blitz and you can be burned for a big play. I don’t expect Tucker to overreact and panic, though. He’s not going to turn this defense upside down anytime soon. The Bears are going to stay the course.
Why didn’t Lovie Smith use Matt Forte more as a receiver? He showed in college and Sunday that he is good at it. -- @bullscub from Twitter
Smith saw plenty in Forte as a receiver. He ranked third among running backs in the NFL from 2008 through 2012 as a receiver with 2,325 yards. He was also third with 267 receptions so I think it’s fair to say he was “good at it” when Smith was the head coach. Forte wasn’t deployed quite as much in the pattern last season and general manager Phil Emery referenced that after the season. But let’s not ignore the fact that Forte has been a multi-dimensional player really since arriving as a second-round draft pick.
Any reason to expect Marquess Wilson to get wide receiver reps in the games anytime soon? Is he even practicing with the ones? -- @mdouvris from Twitter
Wilson has not dressed for the first two games and until he’s in uniform, he’s not going to be making any plays on the field. Media is not permitted to watch team drills in practice but I can tell you that NFL teams practice what they plan to do on Sundays. Somy hunch is the majority of Wilson’s work is coming with the scout team. As I have detailed above, I think Earl Bennett is a better option at this point.
Since the Bears’ pass rush is pretty anemic, do you think that Zach Minter will get activated anytime soon? -- @jemx0 from Twitter
Minter has been inactive for the first two games as the defense goes with Nate Collins as the reserve in a three-man rotation. Minter is a young prospect with some upside but I don’t view him a big-time pass rusher even though he had 17 ½ sacks in 44 career games at Montana State. I think Collins has played well too so I don’t envision Minter taking his spot right now.
Do you think the Bears still need a speedy wide receiver? When I watch their wide receivers, they seem to be missing that vertical threat. -- @Davesully64 from Twitter
I certainly had a vertical threat as one of the secondary needs for the offense entering the draft back in April. But the Bears were short on draft picks and late-round gems like Johnny Knox can be difficult to uncover. If you were going to make a want list – not a need list – I think you would probably include some speed at wide receiver for the offense. I might prioritize another tight end ahead of that right now and a younger, more affordable option at running back. But we’re a long way off from the draft. Quarterback Jay Cutler seems happy with what he has to work with right now and the Bears certainly have an abundance of size at the position even if they don’t have the fastest wideouts.
What's with Henry Melton? Is he hurt? Still coping with concussion? He has failed to penetrate which then makes it difficult for Julius Peppers, Corey Wootton and Shea McClellin to make sacks. – Steven Davidson
Melton is just one of several players who have not performed well getting after the quarterback. Let’s keep in mind the game against the Vikings was played on a wet field so traction was far from optimal. But I don’t think it is fair to say the others are not getting to the quarterback because Melton isn’t doing his job. I understand what you are saying and a disruptive three technique will create plays for other linemen. But a productive end is going to create plays for the other linemen too. It’s been a collective slump. I don’t believe Melton’s preseason concussion can be attributed to his play either.
What do you think is the position that can least afford an injury? For me, it is a toss-up between defensive tackle and offensive tackle. -- @FelicelliJoe from Twitter
I am going to disagree. It starts with the quarterback. Period.
Can you tell me some good things about Shea McClellin that don't include the words “good motor?” I'm starting to worry about him. -- @Perno from Twitter
I think McClellin has good instincts on the field for a defensive end. He can diagnose plays and we have seen evidence of that in games and practice alike.
When is David Bass going to see the field? -- @thedawson123 from Twitter
The Bears are still getting Bass up to speed since adding him in the first week of the season. He’s going to have to show them he can make an impact rushing off the edge to get a shot on Sundays.
I'm glad Devin Hester is making an impact again but why didn't he score last week? Was it poor blocking or has he lost a step? -- @MVT34 from Twitter
I don’t think you can ever talk about poor blocking when a returner breaks off an 80-yard return and a 76-yarder. Hester was caught on the first return by a player that came all the way across the field. Craig Steltz was not able to seal him off but that is a difficult block to make. The Bears had a 15-yard advantage in average starting field position against the Vikings and that is a substantial edge.
Why not play Jon Bostic to help the defense on third downs? -- @rainshdw08 from Twitter
One of the linebackers is coming off the field in the nickel package and you know the Bears are not going to pull Lance Briggs off the field. Right now, they are removing D.J. Williams and I think that is the right move. One of the brightest spots of the defense through two games, in my opinion, has been the play of James Anderson. He’s played strong side in the base defense and he moves to the middle in the sub package. He is currently tied for the team lead with 20 tackles (12 solos) and he has a team-high three pass breakups. Anderson has good range and a better understanding of what is required in coverage than Bostic does. Using Anderson in the nickel defense is a no-brainer right now.
What do you think about Dante Rosario? Will he be a good target? And where is Michael Ford? -- @AJohnson9225 from Twitter
Rosario will be an upgrade over Kyle Adams in the passing game, no question about that. He’s got the ability to run a little bit and is also flexible enough to be used out of the backfield. I don’t envision big receiving statistics for him but he got 12 snaps in the last game and I’d expect that figure to grow some depending on the game plan each week. Rosario can be a steady complementary player.
As far as Ford, he has yet to be active on game days and that means the team has identified players they believe can be a better help on special teams at this point.