Tim Yotter: The Bears seem to be getting the tight ends more heavily involved, especially Sunday night against the Packers. The talent level seems to have improved with the addition Greg Olsen, but is that also an effort to create easier throws for the quarterbacks?
John Crist: Desmond Clark was one of the better tight ends in the NFC last season with 46 catches for 626 yards and 6 touchdowns, but the Bears have been needing an upgrade at the position for quite some time. Olsen was by far the best tight end available in the 2007 NFL Draft, and he was even better than advertised all through training camp before a sprained knee in the preseason finale derailed his development at the beginning of the year. Offensive coordinator Ron Turner slowly started working him into the lineup once he got healthy, but we really got to see what the Olsen-Clark combination could do last week against Green Bay when they joined forces to catch 7 passes for 119 yards and a pair of scores.
Quarterback Brian Griese has always been very accurate with the short and intermediate throws despite his lack of overall arm strength, so having two tight ends who can make plays in the middle of the field should only improve Chicago's aerial assault.
TY: Do you believe that Griese has secured the starting job for the foreseeable future, and, if so, how does that change the offense?
QB Brian Griese
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JC: Head coach Lovie Smith was Rex Grossman's staunchest supporter through thick and thin, but his penchant for costly turnovers was killing this team and ultimately forced his benching after Week 3. Both Grossman and Griese are statues in the pocket and have trouble avoiding pressure when applied consistently, however, Griese does a better job of getting rid of the football on time in the face of a fierce pass rush and doesn't just launch the ball downfield when the odds are against him. As I alluded to earlier, Griese's strength is the short passing game, which means a lot of action for Clark and Olsen but not as much for the likes of Bernard Berrian – possibly unavailable this week with a toe injury – and Mark Bradley down the field.
I was a little surprised that Grossman wasn't moved all the way down to No. 3 behind Kyle Orton once Smith decided to make the switch, but I firmly believe that the former first-rounder has started his last game in a Bears uniform unless something catastrophic happens to Griese on the injury front.
TY: Cedric Benson still only has a 3.0-yards-per-carry average so far this season. Is that just the type of production the Bears are going to have to put up with, or are there other factors leading to his relative ineffectiveness?
JC: Benson has taken a lot of heat in the Windy City for his relative lack of effectiveness so far this year, but people have quickly forgotten that Thomas Jones wasn't very productive at this point of the season last year either. Turner deserves some of the blame for not making a commitment to the running game until the Green Bay tilt this past Sunday night, and an offensive line that is overflowing with experience and cohesiveness has not performed very well in the ground game or in pass protection so far. Benson is not the kind of tailback who's going to elude tacklers at the line of scrimmage and make something out of nothing, but he can be awfully tough once he reaches the second level because he runs hard and isn't afraid to lower his shoulder against helpless defensive backs.
The rushing attack didn't really get going in 2006 until about midseason when the Jones-Benson tandem finally found its mojo, meaning it might be time for second-stringer Adrian Peterson to get a few more carries in order to mix it up a little bit and keep Benson fresh for the fourth quarter.
TY: The Bears did an awful lot of switching around in the secondary against the Packers. Can you tell us what that was all about? Are they still searching for a combination of players they feel comfortable with after the injuries that have hit them?
DB Danieal Manning
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JC: You pretty much have it figured out – the entire starting secondary from Week 1 was out of action by Week 4 because of injury after injury, so the Bears have been scrambling to find a lineup that works while everyone is on the mend. Getting left cornerback Charles Tillman back last week was a big shot in the arm, but right corner Nathan Vasher is still struggling with a sore groin and will probably be on the shelf for a few more weeks. Danieal Manning may be the best overall athlete on the team, but he looks out of place trying to cover receivers as a cornerback and would probably be much more comfortable back at free safety.
Ricky Manning Jr. has excelled in the nickel package but doesn't seem up to the task as an every-down corner, so look for seventh-round rookie Trumaine McBride, who exceeded everyone's expectations during training camp, to push Danieal Manning for playing time and Brandon McGowan to keep the starting job at free safety opposite strong safety Adam Archuleta.
TY: Speaking of injuries, is it fair to say that the weakness of the defense – and surprisingly so – is the defensive line since the Packers averaged 5.5 yards per carry with a previously struggling backfield? I know the Bears are razor thin on depth at defensive tackle.
JC: Green Bay registered 121 yards on 22 carries last Sunday despite entering the game as the worst rushing team in the league statistically, but keep in mind that 44 of those yards came on one run by rookie DeShawn Wynn very early in the contest. If you eliminate that one play, the Packers only averaged 3.7 yards per attempt – the ground game was pretty much completely shut down after intermission. Projected starter Dusty Dvoracek was lost for the season in Week 1 with a ruptured ACL and newly-acquired Darwin Walker has battled some minor injuries of his own the last few weeks, meaning 49ers castoff Anthony Adams and swing man Israel Idonije have been asked to contribute at defensive tackle much more than originally anticipated.
All-Pro Tommie Harris has been sensational even though he played on a sprained knee the last two ballgames, proving yet again that he's better on one leg than most anyone at his position in the NFL.
To read Part II of Behind Enemy Lines, where Tim answers five questions from John, Click Here.