Notebook: The wideout situation

The Sports Xchange discusses Chicago's need for better receivers, how to increase production from the defensive line, the safety situation, the aging defensive core and more.

In the last 39 years, the Bears have sent one player to the Pro Bowl as a wide receiver.

That was Marty Booker after the 2002 season. That's also the last time the Bears had a 1,000-yard receiver. And by refusing to acknowledge their desperate need for a big, game-changing wide receiver, the Bears only call more attention to their lack of such a player.

"In the offseason we look to improve our ball club -- wide receiver, linebacker, defensive line, O-line, running back, the works, coaching staff," coach Lovie Smith said when asked specifically about the wide receiver position. "Wide receiver is a part of that."

Wide receiver is the position that most requires the Bears' immediate attention. More specifically, they need the kind of big wide receivers who are dominating the NFL. Guys like Brandon Marshall, Calvin Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald.

That's why several mock drafts project the Bears to select Notre Dame's 6-3, 230-pound Michael Floyd with the 19th overall pick in the draft.

If 6-3 Roy Williams is not back with the Bears next season, as expected, then 6-0, 206-pound Earl Bennett would be their biggest wide receiver.

Of the 17 NFL wide receivers who had more than 1,000 receiving yards last season, 11 are taller than Bennett.

Smith acknowledges the benefits of having bigger targets in the passing game, and quarterback Jay Cutler has mentioned numerous times that he'd love to have someone like the 6-4 Marshall, who caught 206 Cutler passes for 2,590 yards in 2007 and '08 in Denver.

"You don't have to have that ball right in the perfect spot every time, if you have a big body to throw the ball to," Smith said. "All those things come into play. I think most guys would tell you they would like to have big receivers. But, as much as anything, you would like to have good receivers that can do something with the ball."

Floyd would give the Bears a big body and a physical, talented player who caught 179 passes for 2,172 yards and 21 touchdowns the past two seasons. He leaves Notre Dame as the school's career leader in receptions (271), yards (3,686) and touchdown catches (37).

But he comes with baggage - three alcohol-related incidents while in college, including a DUI last March and two previous underage-consumption arrests.

At the Scouting Combine last week he was asked about those indiscretions by NFL teams - a lot.

"It's just about answering their questions and moving forward," Floyd said. "You tell them that you've grown from it, that it's behind you. It was a mistake that happened in the past, and I'm moving forward.

"It was just immaturity. People all the time have mistakes like this. Unfortunately, it happened to me on a big stage, going across the nation. Now it's about making sure you don't make the same mistake again and just staying on the positive side of things."

Other wideouts the Bears should consider in the draft are Georgia Tech's 6-4, 220-pound Stephen Hill, after he ran in the 4.3s at the Combine and Wisconsin's Nick Toon.

--In six of Jerry Angelo's final nine drafts as the Bears' general manager, he used at least one of his top two picks on a defensive lineman.

Phil Emery has replaced Angelo as general manager, but the Bears could again target the D-line early in the draft, even though coach Lovie Smith considers that position to be a team strength.

"I like some of the things we were able to do on our defensive line," Smith said at the Scouting Combine. "(But) do we need to do a better job with it? Yes. I think those guys will say that, and we're saying it because we are capable of doing more."

In the Bears' defensive scheme, a heavy emphasis will always be placed on getting most of their pass rush from the front four without relying on help from the back seven. Last season, right end Julius Peppers had 11 sacks despite battling frequent double-teams. But 3-technique tackle Henry Melton (seven sacks) was the only other Bear who had more than the five sacks by left end Israel Idonije, who is an unrestricted free agent.

This year's draft crop of defensive linemen could help, since it's ranked well above average, partly because Illinois defensive end Whitney Mercilus renounced his final season of eligibility after leading the nation with 16 sacks and nine forced fumbles.

The Bears would probably love to get a chance to take him with the 18th pick in the second round, but considering the high value the NFL places on getting to the quarterback, Mercilus might be gone by then. When he was asked at the Combine which teams had shown interest in him, he named the Bears first.

--Despite talk that the Bears might be in the market for help at safety, either in free agency or the draft, coach Lovie Smith believes that position is in good shape with Major Wright and Chris Conte as the starters

"I think I'm on record of how I feel about Major Wright," Smith said of the 2010 third-round draft choice. "I think he's a good football player, a good football player who hasn't had an offseason with us yet, truly."

Despite missing five games with a hamstring injury as a rookie, Wright was in on 31 tackles and last year he started 11 games (eight at free safety and three at strong) and tied for second on the team with three interceptions. He was fifth on the team with 78 tackles.

"I'm just as excited about Chris Conte," Smith said of last year's third-round pick. "We made moves of going a different direction on a couple players last year because of Chris Conte. Chris has a lot of range. He can do a lot of things."

Partially because of Conte's early emergence, the Bears cut veteran safety Chris Harris and relegated another veteran safety, Brandon Meriweather, to the bench. Conte started nine games at free safety, despite missing the final two weeks with a sprained foot and ankle and was 10th on the squad with 47 tackles.

"I just don't think we've been in this good of a position at the two starting safety positions (as we are) right now," Smith said. "But, at the same time, we do need to provide more depth. Craig Steltz is a free agent. He's done a super job in every role we've put him in since he's been here."

Steltz, a fourth-round pick in 2008, started the final four games last season and had 37 tackles in the final five contests, third best on the team.

--The original plan was for the Bears' new quarterbacks coach to also have the title of "passing game coordinator."

But Jeremy Bates, who succeeded Shane Day, did not get the additional title.

"I think people jumped the gun a little bit on 'passing-game coordinator,' coach Lovie Smith said. "That was out there a lot. You discuss it, and I thought about a lot of different things. But in the end, I didn't feel like we needed one.

"We have a (offensive) coordinator in Mike Tice. We don't have a defensive run-game coordinator or anything like that, and I didn't feel like we needed it. I was trying to get the perfect group that I could on the offensive side of the ball."

Bates was the Broncos' quarterbacks coach in 2007 and '08, when Jay Cutler threw for 8,023 yards, and he will contribute to Tice's offensive game plan.

"Everybody will have input," Smith said. "Jeremy Bates has been a coordinator in this league (with the Seahawks in 2010). I know what he's done, and I know his history with Jay Cutler. I just didn't feel like we needed any more titles."

--The release of nose tackle Anthony Adams wasn't a surprise given his limited role last season, when he had a career-low 17 tackles and was inactive in five of the last nine games.

The 31-year-old Adams fell behind younger tackles Matt Toeaina, Henry Melton, unrestricted free agent Amobi Okoye and rookie Stephen Paea in the Bears' defensive tackle rotation. Adams started four games last season after starting all 16 a year earlier and a total of 36 in his four previous seasons with the Bears.

The early release will give Adams a better opportunity to hook up with a new team ahead of the unrestricted free agency period, which begins March 13.

A tweet from Toeaina -- "Jealous of the next lockerroom u go to bro," --summed up how teammates and just about everyone else who encountered Adams felt about the classy, 6-0, 310-pound Penn State product.

The Bears also released tackle/guard Frank Omiyale.

--Just because Matt Forte still doesn't have the lucrative long-term contract that he's been pining for the past year doesn't mean the Bears don't love him.

The Pro Bowl running back is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent on March 13, but before that day arrives, the Bears will either have given him the security of a multi-year deal or tagged him as their franchise player, guaranteeing him a $7.7 million salary for 2012. Teams have until March 5 to assign the franchise tag and the Bears have reportedly begun contract negotiations with Forte's agent Adisa Bakari.

"The team hasn't changed its approach to Matt Forte at all," Bears coach Lovie Smith said at the Scouting Combine. "I think we're on record of how important Matt is to our organization. Matt's going to play his football for the Chicago Bears. So you start with that. In time, hopefully he can get an agreement in place that suits Matt and we feel comfortable with. I think it's just a matter of time; that will happen eventually."

With the NFL relying more heavily than ever on throwing the ball, the status and value of running backs appears to have dipped around the league.

"I wouldn't say that in Chicago; maybe other places," Smith said. "The running back position will always have value for us. With the (weather) elements and all the things we want to get done, just our basic philosophy, there will always be a premium placed on the running back."

Forte was having the most productive season of his four-year career in 2011 when a sprained knee ended his season after 12 games. At the time he was leading the league in yards from scrimmage with 997 yards on the ground and 490 yards on receptions. His 4.9-yard average per carry last season is a career best.

Team Needs

Wide receiver: There is no No. 1 receiver on the roster. The most productive member of the group, Johnny Knox, is slowly rehabbing from a devastating hit late last season that necessitated back surgery. Devin Hester regressed for the second straight season. Earl Bennett is a reliable possession receiver, but he missed five games with a chest injury. Roy Williams showed why very few other teams were interested in him last offseason with an inconsistent and unimpressive campaign. He clearly was not the big, field-stretching wideout that the Bears crave.

Offensive line: Every position on the line could be upgraded, but left tackle is probably the most pressing need, given the lack of protection provided by J'Marcus Webb last season. But there is one school of thought that says Webb isn't as bad as he was made to look last season by Mike Martz's preponderance of seven-step drops and the lack of help he received from tight ends.

Pass-rushing defensive end: Free agent Israel Idonije is a solid run defender, but he had just five sacks playing across from right end Julius Peppers, who drew constant double-teams. The Bears' defense is based on getting solid pass-rush pressure from the linemen, but they did not get that consistently last season, even though 3-technique tackle Henry Melton had seven sacks.

Quote to Note: "Just look at what those guy have done. I've heard that about Lance Briggs (31) getting older, Brian Urlacher (33), Julius Peppers (32), Charles Tillman (31). All four of those guy were in the Pro Bowl this year. We have other concerns; that's not one of them." - Coach Lovie Smith dismissing any notion about the Bears' defense getting too old.

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