Who is your choice for the biggest surprise of the season so far? Would I be in the running if I said Tim Jennings? -- Chuck Durante, Guiling, China
There are a number of candidates. Tim Jennings is a good one, seeing he was benched at the end of last year. Not too many people thought Alshon Jeffery would have the kind of success he had so early in his career. Corey Wootton certainly has shown something he has not shown before. You probably couldn't call Lance Briggs a surprise, but he has unexpectedly taken his game to a higher level. But the biggest surprise to me has been Major Wright. He looks like a completely different player, and has been a big reason for the defense's success.
Panthers made me wonder how many game-winning drives Jay Cutler has led for the Bears. I only remember one -- the 2009 game against Pittsburgh. Can you tell us how many? -- Jeff Ormond, Troy, Mich.
Since Cutler has been with the Bears, he has had eight game-winning, fourth quarter drives. He has had only two since the start of the 2011 season, however. He had another five when he was with the Broncos. The game winning drives with the Bears came against the Steelers and Seahawks in 2009, against the Lions (twice), Packers and Bills in 2010, against the Eagles last year, and against the Panthers this year.
Dan, do you think the Bears defense is too old in some places like the detractors say or is everything OK and can the Bears reach the Super Bowl this year or what do they have to worry about from a critical features standpoint? -- Peter J. Sherman, Cary, Ill.
The Bears defense hasn't been too old in October, that's for sure. Whether or not it is too old in December could be another matter, however. Understand something about age in football players -- it is most likely to show up late in the season. That's when their bodies get worn down, and they can lose speed and explosion, or can be more susceptible to injury. I'm not saying the Bears defense is going to fall apart down the stretch. But I am saying there is a possibility that age will show up later in the season. That's another reason why it's going to be critical for the Bears offense to pick it up over the next month. The more snaps the defenders are exposed to, the more likely it is they will wear down. The offense needs to take control of games and give the defense a break in order to keep the defense humming.
If you were Phil Emery, would you give up two first round picks to the Browns for Joe Thomas? That may sound steep, but it really isn't if you consider we would be using one of those picks on a tackle anyway and you never know what you're going to get (i.e. Chris Williams). I like J'Marcus Webb but he's much too inconsistent and is a swing tackle on a championship caliber team. I would even throw in an extra third or fourth round pick if the Browns asked for it. Also, I think we can afford to give up these picks because we really don't have many needs at all outside of the O-Line. I've always thought first round picks were valued much too highly since in the end the draft is really a crapshoot no matter where you're picking. I prefer the George Allen method of trading for proven NFL talent instead of speculating. -- David Lean, Chicago
Interesting proposition David. I really don't like the idea of trading away a lot of draft picks. But I'd have to say I would trade two first round picks for the best left tackle in the NFL if I was intent on using one of them to draft a left tackle anyway -- especially if I knew one of the picks was going to be in the bottom half of the draft. It's starting to look like the Bears' 2013 first round pick will be a late one. I am not sure the Browns would do this deal though. If you have a player like Joe Thomas, you consider him a building block. You don't get better trading away all pros. Players like him aren't available very often. The other factor that gives me pause in this scenario is the Bears really need young players -- and lots of them. The Bears traded away third round picks in 2012 and 2013 for Brandon Marshall. They traded away two first round picks and another third for Jay Cutler. They traded a second round pick for Gaines Adams. And they have missed on some high round picks. You can't keep going for veterans without replenishing the pipeline with younger players. Thomas will be 28 in December. For an offensive tackle, that really isn't old. But it would be preferable if he were 24.
Any chance they could try to get Greg Olsen back? What do you think? I sure hated to lose him. -- Tony Hydzik, Darien
I think Mike Tice would appreciate Greg Olsen, or a player with similar abilities, more than Mike Martz did. But I don't see this as something that could happen any time soon. The Bears acquired a player they think can fill the role Olsen filled when they drafted Evan Rodriguez. It remains to be seen if Rodriguez will develop into an above average receiving tight end. There is no reason why the team would be averse to going after Olsen again someday that I know of. The Panthers signed him to a contract extension last year, and you usually don't get rid of players you recently signed. But they are in the midst of organizational upheaval and could make unpredictable moves.
Dan, can you tell us exactly what a head coach does during the week? Isn't a head coach in the NFL really more like a head supervisor? How much coaching does he actually do? Aren't the coordinators on offense, defense and special teams the real tri-head coaches? Does the head coach put in any plays during the week? How much of the game plan in all three phases does he design? Basically what I'm trying to say is that all head coaches in the NFL are overpaid because they don't really do much work at all. -- Greg La Cava, Belleville
Head coaches usually are among the most hard-working men in their organizations. Each situation is a little different depending on the head coach's strengths, his staff and the organization. But they often have their hands in everything. They have to answer to ownership. They are involved in roster moves. They have a strong say in game planning. They oversee practice and meetings. They plan itineraries. They manage the coaching staff. They deal with medical issues. Sometimes they do hands-on coaching. Lovie Smith, for instance, has coached the Bears nickel backs at times during his tenure. They have media responsibilities. You are correct in saying they are like "head supervisors," but that does not mean they are on the golf course every day by 3 p.m.
Is Shea McClellin comparable to Trace Armstrong other than the fact that they were both white defensive ends selected in the first round by the Bears? -- John Ford, Portland, Maine
They both were known for their motors and both had a variety of pass rush moves. But other than that, they really are not that similar. Armstrong was a much longer player with a completely different build. He is 6-foot-4 with long arms, and he outweighed McClellin by at least 15 pounds. Armstrong rushed the passer much differently than McClellin does.
HHey Dan, am I the only one upset that they changed the song that is played at Soldier Field before Devin Hester returns kickoffs? I miss the good old days when he danced to Soulja Boy before racing one back for a touchdown. Is that why he can't return anything good this year? -- Josh Greve, Durand
Changing the song was Hester's call. Greg Miller, the Bears' director of broadcasting and scoreboard operations, tells me Hester asked him to play "John Doe" by Rick Ross before the Lions game. Miller also tells me Hester has changed songs in the past but gone back to Soulja Boy. So there is a chance you will hear Soulja Boy again. But if anyone is counting on a song to shake Hester out of his slump, good luck with that.
Dan, in your time watching the NFL, which one player would you give the highest grade? -- Alex Brady
I think some of the players whose careers ended before I starting covering football, like Jim Brown, Dick Butkus and Don Hutson, probably were the best ever. I've seen some great ones though. Lawrence Taylor was unbelievable. Reggie White was incredible. Anthony Munoz was in a class by himself as a blocker. I'd put Peyton Manning at the top of the quarterback list. There certainly have been some great Bears: hall of famers Richard Dent, Dan Hampton, Walter Payton and Mike Singletary, and many more. If I have to pick one though, I'll go with Jerry Rice. He dominated his position like no other player I've seen.
On the Cam Newton fumble recovered in the end-zone by the Panthers' WR Louis Murphy: I thought that the offense cannot advance the ball through a fumble. If that is the case, shouldn't the ball have been re-spotted at the 1 after the recovery in the end-zone? -- Jim McMahon, Huntersville, N.C.
You can advance the ball through a fumble with two exceptions, Jim. Rule 8, Section 7, Article 4 of the 2012 Official NFL Playing Rules states that if a fourth down fumble occurs, "the player who fumbled is the only Team A player permitted to recover and advance the ball." And, "if the recovery or catch is by a teammate of the player who fumbled, the ball is dead, and the spot of the next snap is the spot of the fumble." The same rules apply if a fumble occurs after the two minute warning.
Why did the Bears trade Tyler Clutts when he did a decent job last year, I know Mike Tice likes tight ends, but wouldn't Clutts do a better job than what Kyle Adams is doing? -- Isaiah, Hope, Minn.
If the Bears thought as much of Clutts as you did, he'd still be on the team. My read is they wanted to have a better blocker. Really, the player who is replacing Clutts is supposed to be Evan Rodriguez.
I read and enjoy Brad Biggs' "10 Thoughts" column every week. How many thoughts do you have after each game? Is it intimidating to work with someone who has 10 thoughts after every game? Does he have 10 thoughts about everything? What kind of mental training has he gone through to think so much more than the rest of us? I look out the window and see clouds, and I think "it is dark, and it might rain." Even if you give me credit for two thoughts there, Biggs has already had those thoughts, plus EIGHT more. It must be humbling to interact with him every day. -- Chris C., Chicago
Biggs' "10 Thoughts" is a must read for Bears fans the day after every game and one of the most popular features on chicagotribune.com. It is definitely humbling to work with the prolific Mr. Biggs, whose mind is bursting with thoughts. Those thoughts don't just roll off his pen though. Did you know he often stays up all night after a game so we can read them early Monday morning? Often the day after a road game I will meet Brad for an early morning flight after a night of sleep and he will have yet to even take a nap. His work ethic, energy and determination are incredible.
Reader Q&A: Dan Pompei's Bears mailbag
Our Bears columnist answers readers' questions about the biggest surprise player this season, Cutler's game-winning drives, as well as the work ethics of Lovie Smith and Brad Biggs.
Bears safety Major Wright puts a hit on Panthers' quarterback Cam Newton Sunday.