Enough Already, Let's Play

Bears head coach Lovie Smith got his team to the bye week with a perfect 6-0 record. And although they are in prime position to make a play for home-field advantage in the NFC, he'd much rather focus on the 49ers this week. Smith met with the media at Halas Hall on Wednesday, and Bear Report was there to hear what he had to say.

After a steady dose of relatively stationary quarterbacks so far this season, Smith knows that the 49ers present a different challenge.

"Offensively, Alex Smith gives us some different problems we haven't had as far as playing a mobile quarterback," he said on Wednesday. "They do a great job with bootlegs and sprinting out, getting him on the perimeter."

Despite the progress the second-year signal-caller has made in San Francisco, he may not be the most important part of the 49ers offense from their 2005 draft class.

"Running game-wise," Smith continued, "Frank Gore is having an excellent year. He's a good back. So we have some things to contend with there. We're expecting, of course, a good game."

Having the bye week to lick their wounds and get away from football for a few days is nice and all, but Smith has waited long enough and wants to get back out on the battlefield.

"We're just anxious to play as much as anything," he elaborated. "It's been a while, seems like it's been forever, since we played that Monday night game. Getting the rest that we had this past week should help a lot. Again, we're just ready to play. Today was just a typical Wednesday practice for us. (We) got a lot of good work done."

The biggest concern right now for the Bears is replacing strong safety Mike Brown, who was lost for the season after tearing ligaments in his right foot two Mondays ago. Although his skills can be replaced in the secondary, his fiery demeanor and take-charge attitude will be severely missed. The organization took a look at some free agent safeties at Halas Hall this past week but ultimately decided to go with the talent they have in-house.

One of those talents is Brandon McGowan, who is due to come off the physically-unable-to-perform list this week, but that decision has been delayed after he violated a team policy last week.

"He had a good practice today," Smith said of McGowan. "As far as the decision, when the decision will be made, we'll just let it play out and see how it goes. He looked good in practice today."

The 49ers defeated the Bears in game one of the exhibition season back in August, but they were accused of possibly showing too much and perhaps tipping their hand with what they planned to do this year.

"You have to play a game," Smith said, defending his opponent's supposed game-planning efforts so early in the season. "So you have to show something. Once you play a team the seventh game of the year, you've seen everything that they're going to do. No, I can't say that they showed too much then. They showed enough to beat us out there, so just enough."

The running game - or lack thereof - has also been of paramount concern to Smith. The Bears had one of the better rushing attacks in the NFL last season despite next to no passing game, yet they are having a tough time developing any sense of rhythm on the ground this year. Rex Grossman & Company have brought the air show to a new level, but since Bear weather is in the forecast for this Sunday, either Thomas Jones or Cedric Benson has to start making a bigger impact.

His team currently sits 24th in the league in rushing offense at just 97.7 yards per game and tied for 30th at 3.2 yards per carry, but Smith thinks those numbers are deceiving.

"We like our commitment to the run," he said. "Except for this past game when we got behind, we have carries as much an anything. I think if you continue to run the football, eventually you'll break some, and the running game will look a lot better. But we have a commitment to the run, and that has opened up some other things for us in the passing game. So we'll continue to do it, and hopefully we get better at running the football."

Benson in particular has been frustrated with his role in the offense. He got 14 carries and two rushing touchdowns in a blowout win against Buffalo, but he was limited to one rush and one reception a week later in Arizona. Tailbacks need reps in order to get into a rhythm, and the former Longhorn seems to feel that he's not being given an opportunity to succeed.

When asked about Benson's supposed unhappiness, Smith downplayed the thought that his second-string runner is feeling left out of the gameplan.

"I think all players that feel like they can help the football team would like to play more than they're given the chance to," he said. "And as far as Cedric's role, he's one of our running backs that we're going to play. We like to play him early in the football game and get him reps. This past game, it was hard to do that. As far as how we see him playing this week, right now on a Wednesday, it's just that. We're going to play him. We're going to play him early and expect him to play well."

And what about Benson voicing his displeasure to members of the media as opposed to addressing his coaching staff behind closed doors?

"I'm okay about our players speaking their mind any time," Smith stated. "As far as what they say, I'm sure most the time they'll say the right thing. But a guy speaking his mind, I have no problem with it."

If, however, Benson only receives one carry again against the 49ers on Sunday, maybe Smith has a problem with it after all.

JC


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