I've said since the start of training camp that Gould's leg strength looks to be better than it was last year. He has been drilling 55- and 60-yarders in practice fairly regularly, and his accuracy has been very good, as well. Perhaps most importantly, he has been getting his kickoffs deeper so far in the preseason, which can really help field position for a team known for playing tough defense.
Last season due to injuries, the Bears offense was forced to run the ball and play a conservative type of offensive football. Now this season the offense is healthy, so what do you look for as far as run-pass ratio and playing style? - BearHeart (Southern Wisconsin)
We all know the playbook was scaled back considerably once Kyle Orton took over. On top of that, a big part of the offense, play-action, wasn't quite as effective because that's one of the things Rex Grossman does very well. I'm sure they will be very happy with a 50/50 split between the run and the pass, but don't be surprised, if it's closer to 55/45. Expect the offense to be opened up a little, but if the Bears have a lead, they will be running, punting, and playing tough defense once again.
Why is the team universally supporting Thomas Jones to be the starting running back? Does anyone even like Cedric Benson? – Ben (Orland Park, IL)
As far as Jones is concerned, the team simply believes him to be a known commodity. He produced very well last year even though he had no passing game to support him and had to face eight-man fronts every week. If he can put up another 1,300-yard season, this offense has a chance to be much better than last year. Benson just seems to be wired a little differently than your typical football player. There is no question that he has incredible talent, but last year's contract holdout probably rubbed some of the lesser-paid veterans the wrong way, and he has done very little so far this year to endear himself to the other guys in the locker room.
Every time I read an article that talks about Rashied Davis, it mentions about him being a virtual unknown because he was a cornerback last year. None of the writers seem to know or care that he was an All-Star reciever in the Arena League, and that the Bears for whatever reason decided not to use him for his talents when he came in. Can you please explain why this is never mentioned and instead he is said to be a wild card as opposed to an experienced All-Star Arena League reciever? - Cole (Naperville, IL)
I challenge you to name me one 1,000-yard receiver in the NFL who cut his teeth in the Arena League first. Yes, Davis was productive indoors and certainly has an array of skills, but translating AFL success to NFL success just isn't that easy. It's sort of like a stud racquetball player starting to play tennis. Sure, the game is all about hitting a ball with a racket, but despite the similarities, it's not really the same. I think Davis can contribute, but thinking he will just because of his AFL resume is a serious leap of faith.
Did the Bears ever seriously consider a trade for guys like Ashley Lelie and Donte Stallworth before they were traded elsewhere? – Kenny (Baton Rouge, LA)
I believe GM Jerry Angelo had preliminary conversations with Denver about Lelie, but since he really didn't appear to be a good fit in the offense, the deal wasn't going to happen unless he came pretty cheap. Stallworth going to Philadelphia seemed to materialize very quickly, so I don't think the Bears ever had a chance to make an offer to the Saints. I have written that New England's Deion Branch would be a perfect complement to Muhsin Muhammad, so if his price starts to go down and the likes of Mark Bradley and Bernard Berrian don't produce quickly, maybe Angelo will pick up the phone after a game or two.
Is Mike Brown in danger of missing a good chunk of this season too with his Achilles' injury? – Darnell (Bourbonnais, IL)
As I've said before, you can't take anything the Bears organization says about injuries too seriously. Head coach Lovie Smith uses his words very carefully when telling the media who's banged up and might miss some time. If this was the first time Brown had this injury, it probably wouldn't be that big of a deal. But the fact that he's been off the field a bunch each of the last two seasons with similar hurts has to make the team a little nervous. Brown tried to give it a go in the playoff loss to Carolina last January, but the second he started bleeding again, he knew his day was over.
Who in the NFC North do you think can give the Bears some trouble this season? – Sonny (Oak Park, IL)
I believe the Bears are the class of the division while the Packers are destined for the cellar. Either the Lions or Vikings will probably be a little better than expected and give the Bears a good fight. I wouldn't be surprised if the Lions win 9 or 10 games with Mike Martz calling the plays on offense and Joey Harrington holding a clipboard down in Miami. I'm expecting Martz to get the most out of Kevin Jones, who I have always felt is a huge talent at tailback. Hard-hitting linebacker Ernie Sims is as good a bet as any to win Defensive Rookie of the Year, too.
Alex Brown had a monster game last season against Carolina, but his statistical production for the rest of the season was understated in comparison, I think. How committed are the Bears to Brown as a starting DE, what do you think we should expect from him in the future, and what do you think was the deal with him getting a vote for Defensive Player of the Year in 2005? - Jake (Central Illinois)
I firmly believe that Brown is much better than his statistics indicate, and that's one of the things he and I talked about in Bourbonnais. If an end makes just one play a game and gets a sack, he'll go to the Pro Bowl based on those 16 sacks. Never mind the fact that he gets run on at will and lets reverses go right by him because he doesn't stay home. Brown is a very good all-around end and unquestionably one of the dominant personalities in the locker room. I don't know who gave him that Defensive Player of the Year vote last season, but it's not unlike some of those writers to intentionally vote against the grain.
Do you think there's a team in the NFL that can come out of nowhere and win a division like the Bears did last year? – Derek (Lakeview)
If you look at the last several years, it's almost a guarantee that a handful of teams will make the playoffs that weren't necessarily predicted to be any good whatsoever. I'm not sure if they can win the division, but you have to like what the Baltimore Ravens did in the offseason. Quarterback play is just about the only thing that has held this team back since they won the Super Bowl in 2000, and Steve McNair should provide a calming influence to that offense. If Jamal Lewis can come back after a horrible 2005 and be the bruising runner we have seen in the past, they'll score some points. Ray Lewis isn't the player he used to be, but he's still a standout on defense and one of the best on-field motivators in all of sports.
What is the best thing about being up in the press box for NFL games? – Emil (Lisle, IL)
Two words for you: free buffet.