Camp Chat: John Clayton

It's hard enough to master every minute detail of one NFL franchise, let alone all 32. ESPN senior writer John Clayton likes what he sees at Bears training camp so far, and with the lack of quality opponents in the NFC North, he expects even more success in Chicago this season. Clayton took some time to talk to Bear Report during Wednesday's practice.

The Bears won't have the luxury of sneaking up on the league like they did last year. Is it possible they will have a better team this season but a worse record?
"I don't see it. I think that you look and see that they still have one of the easiest schedules in the league. They still have one of the easiest divisions in the league. And so it should flutter around the same. Maybe it might be a game or two drop, but I can't really see it being that much more with the schedule. Because again, it's a good team on paper, it's probably better, and the schedule isn't appreciably tougher. So I don't see where there will be a big dropoff. I mean it's not like the Giants or Carolina. They go from an easy schedule to a tough schedule. This team goes from an easy schedule to an easy schedule."

The defense was great in 2005 and made some quality additions in the draft and free agency. Can they be even better this season?
"I think so because it's the same group that's now a year more into the system, and it should only grow. It's probably going to be in that cycle that Tampa Bay was and all, the same way that Carolina was for some time. Because it's the youngest group of Pro Bowl defensive players in the league, and they're all between the ages of like 23 and 27, 28. The fact that they didn't lose anybody, they should only be able to grow, and they've added to their depth in case of injury. So I would have to think it's only going to get better."

The organization and the fans are putting an awful lot of faith in Rex Grossman, who is still largely unproven. Are the Bears being irresponsible, or do you think Grossman can be a star?
"Now let me get this straight though. Kyle Orton and Rex Grossman are making five times or six times less than the $6 million Brian Griese is making. I have to think that they've covered their bets because in case there is an injury to Rex Grossman, there is Brian Griese. So obviously they have faith in Rex Grossman. He's the starting quarterback, but if there is any injury, it's going to be Brian Griese. That was one of the biggest moves of the offseason I think. Because now they're not going to have to restrict the offense in case of injury. They can actually keep the same offense going, try to score anywhere between 17 and 21 points a game as opposed to just trying to run the ball and kill the clock and do that type of offense. So no, I think that they were more aggressive than most teams at trying to get somebody to come in. They're paying him significantly more than the other two guys combined."

How legitimate are the Ashley Lelie and Joey Porter trade rumors? Is it possible a deal could be worked out with Thomas Jones, or is this all training camp chatter?
"Training camp chatter. They're not going to give up Thomas Jones for anything less than a trade that includes a #1 (draft pick). Maybe it's gonna require more. No trade there. Ashley Lelie, I don't know if he really fits. Yeah, he's a tall receiver, he can make some big plays, but the cost would be like about a 3rd round or 4th round pick. I really don't see anything happening right now. Now it may change if there's an injury, but there's no reason to give a running back that's, at least in their eyes, worth a 1st round pick for a wide receiver that's going to go for a 3rd or 4th round pick. If they really want him, they can give the 3rd or 4th round pick and make the trade. I don't see that happening right now."

As far as you personally, what is your travel schedule like this time of year? Do you ever sleep in the same bed twice during training camp?
"I hardly sleep. I usually average two hours a night because literally what I have to do is drive … 250 to 500 miles a day. You get to a hotel usually about ten o'clock. You sleep till about maybe one o'clock, if you sleep. And then I have to get up and write before I get up the next morning at five or six, and then drive and move on to the next place. Because I'm trying to catch 16 teams or 17 teams in a 16, 17 day period. But I'll leave Chicago's camp, drive as close as I can to Green Bay, probably stay in Milwaukee and get there about eight or nine o'clock, get up at one o'clock, do some writing, and then drive the rest of the way to Green Bay. And then drive to Minnesota on Friday. I'm in a bed, but I'm not sleeping."

But it's still not a bad way to make a living, right?
"Nah, it's great."

JC


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