I've been saying since training camp last season that Thomas Jones would probably be gone after 2006 to make room for Cedric Benson, but I've backed off that prediction to some degree since the two of them played so well together down the stretch. Muhsin Muhammad has a salary cap figure of about $6 million for 2007, but the receiving corps would be way too young and inexperienced without him. If I had to pick one guy, I'd say Adewale Ogunleye because his production has been down since coming to the Bears in a trade with Miami before the `04 season. He's only accumulated double-digit sacks once in three years, and youngster Mark Anderson is simply too good to be a backup any longer. Ogunleye will also have a salary of $3.9 million in `07, and the team needs to move some money around if they want to retain Lance Briggs.
I know the NFL Combine is next week, but what exactly goes on? Is that open to the general public? – Barry (Noblesville, IN)
First of all, you have to be a member of the media and get a thumbs-up from the NFL in order to attend, like I fortunately did, so fans can not attend. I'll be heading over on Thursday morning and staying through Sunday night for all the player evaluations - offensive linemen, tight ends, and special teams specialists on Thursday; quarterbacks, running backs, and wide receivers on Friday; defensive linemen and linebackers on Saturday; and defensive backs on Sunday. For the most part, potential draftees have all their measureables tested - 40-yard dash times, bench press, shuttle run, vertical leap, exact height and weight, et al. Teams - and to a lesser extent, the media - have the opportunity to interview players up close and personal in order to gauge whether or not they like what they see and will put them on their draft board. If you want to find out even more about the NFL Combine and what it could mean for the future of the Bears, check out the Offical Website.
Let me be clear here. I love Mike Brown. He's the leader of the defense. It's so frustrating to watch him always get hurt. Is he going to be back next year? – Jackie (Dekalb, IL)
As I like to say, Brown is the emotional epicenter of the defense. When the Bears have been at their worst on that side of the ball the last two seasons in particular, it's been when he's on the sideline in street clothes. He was so durable his first four years in the league, starting 63 of 64 games and showing an uncanny ability to come up with the big play when it mattered most. But 2006 was the third consecutive campaign that he missed time with a lower-leg injury, and as you would expect, there are whispers around Halas Hall these days that he might get cut because he has a $2.44 million salary in `07. The Bears will most certainly draft a another safety early in April's NFL Draft because they need fresh faces, but I do feel Brown will be back because he's too good a player when healthy and incredibly popular in the locker room.
What determines whether or not a player gets invited to the NFL Combine? Can anybody just pay their own way if they're not invited? - Larry (Mt. Prospect, IL)
The following is directly from the people at the NFL Combine:
Participants are determined annually by a Selection Committee. The Directors of both National and BLESTO scouting services, which combined represent 26 NFL teams, are joined by members of various NFL player personnel departments to form the committee. The participating NFL executives can rotate on a yearly basis and remain anonymous. ALL eligible players are reviewed and voted on by the committee members. Each athlete receiving the necessary number of votes, by position, is then extended an invitation. While it is not a perfect science, the goal of the committee is to invite every player that will be drafted in the ensuing NFL Draft.
And to answer your other question, even if an uninvited player wants to pay his own way, he can not participate because of the limited space.
Which of the guys who spent the season on injured reserve might be a big contributor next year? Not Brown or Harris obviously. I mean the young guys – Charlie (Oak Lawn, IL)
We all know that the healthy return of Brown and Tommie Harris is the key to patching up the holes in the defense that were exposed in the Super Bowl. Jamar Williams was starting to look like a solid linebacker and a very good player on special teams before he banged up his shoulder, so keep an eye on him. But I think Dusty Dvoracek, who missed all of 2006 with a bothersome foot injury, could make a splash next season. He's been fully healthy for a while and could have played toward the end of the year had he not been moved to injured reserve, plus he's raved about his work with strength coach Rusty Jones and the progress he's making with his body. Ian Scott might not be back, so Dvoracek should get a chance to contribute because this system mandates a lot of rotating along the defensive line.
Does Ron Rivera have a chance at the San Diego job? It looked like he was finally going to stick around after Dallas hired Wade Phillips. - Jerry (Libertyville, IL)
I never thought Rivera was a legitimate candidate in Dallas for the same reason that I don't think he'll get the San Diego job. Both of those teams run a 3-4 defensive scheme, while all of Rivera's experience as a coodinator is in the 4-3. You have to understand just how much of a difference there is between the two in terms of personnel. A 4-3 defensive end is asked to do different things than a 3-4 defensive end, just like a 4-3 outside linebacker is asked to do different things than a 3-4 outside linebacker. No way can Rivera just walk into San Diego and implement the cover-two system with which he is most familiar, and the organization can't expect him to simply adopt the system that's in place right now either.
You wrote this week that it's time for the Bears to move Devin Hester to offense. Was that just wishful thinking, or do you really think there's a chance it could happen? - Stevie (Branson, MO)
I did write a feature this week about the Bears potentially moving Hester to offense, and you can read it Right Here if you missed it. Not only do I feel he would be better suited as on offensive player because of his incredible natural ability with the football in his hands, but I also don't feel he'll ever turn into a capable NFL defensive back. Hester got some time in the secondary late in the year when Nathan Vasher and Charles Tillman were out of the lineup, and to put it lightly, he did not impress. There were rumors at Miami that he had trouble with the playbook and was only moved over to defense for that reason, but teach him him half a dozen routes and give him a reverse every now and then, that's all. But Hester apparently wants to be a DB because of his boy Deion Sanders, so he would likely resist a position change.
If we assume the worst case scenario and Lance Briggs leaves Chicago, who could possibly replace him? Anyone on the current roster? - Bluto (Hammond, IN)
After Briggs skipped out on the voluntary workouts last summer, head coach Lovie Smith put Leon Joe in the starting lineup at weakside linebacker when training camp began. Briggs regained his spot as a starter just a few days later, so replacing him is certainly a tall task. Joe is more of a special-teamer and a freak athlete than a linebacker, so he's probably not the right guy. I already talked about Williams a few questions ago, although he played primarily on the strong side in college and was working there a lot before he got hurt. I have to believe that a suitable replacement is not currently on the roster, so expect the Bears to attack free agency and the upcoming draft accordingly should Briggs wind up elsewhere.
Is there any way you would want Terrell Owens on the Bears? I know he's a nightmare, but he's awesome. He could take the offense to the next level. - Dex (Stillwater, OK)
There is no denying Owens in terms of what he can do on the football field. But plainly speaking, I just don't think he's worth it with the ridiculous amount of baggage that he brings with him everywhere he goes. The Bears could certainly use another weapon in the passing game, but this is not the kind of offense that's going to get Owens 90 catches and 15 TDs. If he didn't get along with Jeff Garcia or Donovan McNabb, two quarterbacks who have been to multiple Pro Bowls, how do you think he's going to react to being on the receiving end from Rex Grossman? I wouldn't expect to see Owens playing for the Bears any sooner than I would expect to see Tim Hardaway sipping a mai tai at the Blue Oyster.
Who is a below-the-radar player that you would like to see the Bears get in the draft? - Rick (Arlington Heights, IL)
You knew that I was going to pick a Florida State guy because that's my alma mater, but I really think Lorenzo Booker has a chance to be a pretty good player in the NFL. There's no way he can be an every-down tailback because he'll never be able to take the punishment. However, he is a fantastic open-field runner, catches the ball beautifully out of the backfield, and could be a perfect change-of-pace guy. I know the Bears are loaded right now at running back, but if they decide to get rid of Jones and elevate Benson to the top of the depth chart, they'll need another backup alongside Adrian Peterson. This team needs a home run threat, and Booker could be a weapon as a second- or third-rounder.
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