Special Delivery: JC Answers Your Questions

It's Friday once again, sports fans, which means it's time for a pre-New Year's Eve version of Special Delivery. If you have a question that you would like to have JC answer, post it in the appropriate pegged thread on the message boards, or send it to his EZInbox. Our first question comes from Jerry of Algonquin, IL and concerns how much the starters will play on Sunday.

I know everyone is going to ask this question, but how much can we expect the starters to play against the Packers on Sunday? Shouldn't the Bears want to eliminate them altogether? - Jerry (Algonquin, IL)
I wouldn't say that head coach Lovie Smith learned his lesson last year after resting most of his starters in Week 17 at Minnesota, but he certainly seems more willing to let his horses play significant time on Sunday. I'd be very surprised if Rex Grossman played in the second half, and if he leads a touchdown drive midway through the second quarter, it wouldn't shock me if he takes a seat right then. As far as the Bears taking extra satisfaction in eliminating the Packers if indeed they are still alive for a postseason berth, I don't think that is much of a factor. The organization will pay lip service to the rivalry because that's what fans want to hear, but they're much more concerned with being as healthy and prepared for the playoffs as possible. Winning Super Bowl XLI is the only thing that really matters.

What's it been like having Tank Johnson back at practice this week? How much will he play in the game? - Darryl (Tempe, AZ)
It was business as usual for Johnson at practice this week, although it's been reported that he dropped 15 pounds since the raid on his house a few weeks ago. Lovie Smith assured the media that Johnson is not being punished anymore, so I expect him to get the start on Sunday. He'll play as long as it takes to knock off the rust, but look for Israel Idonije and Antonio Garay to play a bunch. It remains to be seen if Johnson has truly learned his lesson, but he certainly seemed sincere when he talked this week. Either way, the Bears are going to need him in the postseason because he was playing very well before all this happened.

Why has Ricky Manning Jr. been so good as a nickel defender but so bad as a starting corner? What's the difference? - Wyatt (Oveido, FL)
Before Nathan Vasher and Charles Tillman went down with their various injuries, Manning was performing at a very high level as the nickelback. In nickel situations, he's usually lined up against a slot receiver and oftentimes an opponent's No. 3 or No. 4 threat. As a starter, Manning was periodically having to cover their best receiver. Not to mention the fact that he wasn't playing quite as many snaps as the nickelback, but he was on the field all the time as a starter and probably suffered some fatigue. With Vasher and Tillman back to 100% in the playoffs, I'd expect to see Manning settle back into his nickel role and start being a difference-maker again.

Who is more important to this defense, Mike Brown or Tommie Harris? I know things really began to unravel after Harris got hurt, but it sort of got started once Brown went down. - Marvin (Lisle, IL)
It is an interesting debate whether Brown or Harris means more to the defense because they each bring different qualities to the table. Brown is the unquestioned leader in the secondary, and although he may not be the natural athlete Danieal Manning is, he makes up for those physical deficiencies with smarts. The guy is simply never out of position and supports the run as well as any safety in the NFL. Harris was incredible the first four games of the season and earned another Pro Bowl selection even though he was injured, but the intangibles that Brown brings to the huddle are undeniable. He was the more irreplaceable player if you ask me.

How much does it mean to Rex Grossman to start all 16 games this season? I think he should be relieved. Does he care at all? - Smithy (Ventura, CA)
Based on what I heard from Grossman at his Wednesday press conference at Halas Hall, I firmly believe that starting all 16 games is a big deal to him. After all the freak injuries he's endured and wishy-washy support some Bears fans have given him, I think he's very proud. Not only does he feel he's shaken the unjust 'injury-prone' label, but he also survived a healthy charge from Brian Griese to replace him as the starter. Grossman probably won't play more than a half or so on Sunday, but that half will mean a lot to him. He's also undefeated in his career facing Brett Favre and the Packers, so I'm sure he wants to keep that mark intact.

Who do you think has been the most improved player on the Bears this season? - Larry (Indianapolis, IN)
I answered a similar question during this week's Behind Enemy Lines series, but I feel it's Bernard Berrian in a landslide. If there was one position the Bears weren't sure about heading into training camp, it was a secondary wideout opposite Muhsin Muhammad. Not only has Berrian established himself as a legitimate deep threat down the field, but he's also proven that he can make a tough catch in traffic and leads the team with six TD catches. On top of that, he's allowed Muhammad to become more of a possession receiver - a role that suits him much better at this stage of his career - and helped Desmond Clark find room to operate in the middle of the field. Berrian was known as more of a track guy before this year, but he's a full-fledged NFL wide receiver now.

Whatever happened to Dante Wesley? I know he wasn't brought in to be a starting corner, but is Devin Hester really better than him in coverage? - Allen (Latrobe, PA)
Wesley was primarily added this past offseason to be a special teams performer, and for the most part, he's done the job there. Size-wise, he looks much more like a safety than a cornerback, so I wonder if a position switch might be in his future. As far as making an impact as a reserve corner, I'm very surprised to see Hester getting so much action in the nickel package ahead of Wesley. I can't say for certain if the Bears like Hester more as a coverage guy right now because he still has a lot to learn, but it's possible they feel they have to play him because they have more invested in him. Personally, I think it's a good idea if Hester does nothing but return punts and kickoffs in the postseason because that is where he will truly make an impact.

What does it say about the NFC when the Packers, a team that was thought to be the worst in the NFL after Week 1, might slide into the playoffs? - Hudson (Sheboygan, WI)
Green Bay certainly didn't look like a playoff team back in September, that's for sure. But they have the rest of the NFC to thank for keeping them alive, most notably the Giants, Panthers, and Falcons. All three of those teams have twice the talent and experience as the Packers, but they've all been miserable down the stretch. The Panthers in particular have been a colossal disappointment since many pundits had them earmarked for the Super Bowl before the season started. You have to give first-year head coach Mike McCarthy credit because Green Bay very easily could have folded the tent when they were 4-8.

Rashied Davis has made some big catches this season, but he hasn't done much else. Do you see him continuing on as a receiver, or might he be best served to switch back to defense? - Winston (Berwyn, IL)
Davis is the sixth-leading receiver this season behind Muhammad, Berrian, Clark, Jason McKie, and Thomas Jones. He's only caught 20 balls, but as you said, some of them have been worthy of the highlight reel. Davis hauled in the game-winning touchdown against the Vikings in Week 3, and his twisting-and-turning grab in Week 15 set the tone for a clinching field goal over Tampa Bay in overtime. Keep in mind that he's not on the field for even half the snaps, and since this isn't Mike Martz's passing attack, the Bears don't need him to catch 40 or 50 balls to be effective. I'm sure offensive coordinator Ron Turner wants to find ways to get Mark Bradley more involved next season and might use Devin Hester from time to time, but personally, I'd be surprised if Davis moved back to corner.

Seriously, how upset were you when you heard that the New Year's Eve game was moved to prime time? - Shannon (Andersonville)
Considering that I've been planning a New Year's Eve party at my house for a month now and have already received 77 RSVP's, let's just say that I unleashed a few four-letter words.

Special Delivery runs every Friday on BearReport.com. If you have a question that you would like to have JC answer, please find the appropriate pegged thread on the message boards or send it to his EZInbox.

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