Chris Steuber: It seems like every week Devin Hester is making a play that changes the face of a game. How good is he really, and what kind of potential does he have playing on offense or defense?
John Crist: If you go back and read some of the live game blogs I've been writing from the press box this season, it's gotten to the point where I don't even bother trying to describe Hester's greatness in the return game anymore because I simply don't have the words. Hall-of-Famer and Bears legend Gale Sayers was one of the greatest return men in NFL history and scored eight times on punts and kickoffs, but it's only taken Hester a grand total of 22 games to match that number – that doesn't even include the TD he scored on the opening kick of Super Bowl XLI this past February, by the way. Position-wise, he really wanted to make it as a cornerback because he grew up idolizing Deion Sanders but never truly looked comfortable in coverage and was moved to receiver during the offseason program.
Hester has been doing a little bit more on offense with each passing week and still has a long way to go, but that 81-yard scoring strike he delivered last Sunday could be a sign of things to come.
CS: How much do the Bears miss Thomas Jones, and do you think they regret their decision to trade him to the Jets during the offseason?
RB Thomas Jones
Al Bello/Getty Images
JC: Bears fans are conveniently forgetting that the running game was just about non-existent at this point last season as well, but the team was 6-0 and having all kinds of success throwing the football at the time. And while Jones hasn't exactly been lighting it up with the Jets and is yet to score a touchdown, it's certainly reasonable to speculate that his workman-like attitude and locker room presence have been missing from this offense. Remember that Jones came to Chicago as a journeyman first-round bust, however, he left as a back-to-back 1,200-yard rusher who could move the chains, catch the ball out of the backfield, and pick up a blitzer in pass protection with the best of them.
No way was GM Jerry Angelo going to reward Jones with a second contract at 29 years old considering the money he'd already committed to Cedric Benson, so getting something for him – albeit just a flip-flop of second-round draft picks – looked like a smart move at the time despite not necessarily passing the smell test with many Bears fans.
CS: The Bears drafted Curtis Enis with the fifth-overall pick in 1998. They drafted Benson with the fourth-overall pick in 2005. Enis' career ended with a knee problem, but he was inconsistent prior to his career-ending injury. Are the Bears worried about the development of Benson at this point?
JC: If you're asking if Benson reminds me more of Enis than he does of, say, Walter Payton, then I think the question is fairly rhetorical right now. Benson was one of the most highly-decorated tailbacks in the history of the college game and did it at a classic football factory, the University of Texas, but he is yet to live up to the lofty expectations and can't be viewed as anything but a disappointment thus far. Head coach Lovie Smith continues to say all the right things when asked about his featured runner, but he's not breaking tackles, doesn't show much burst in the open field, and has been nothing short of awful in the passing game – he's not a good blocker and drops at least one ball every game.
Benson looked like the real deal down the stretch last season and was arguably a better back than Jones at times, but it's possible he's gotten complacent with his competition now in New York and he doesn't have to fight tooth-and-nail for playing time anymore.
CS: What is the problem with the Bears defense? Despite the injuries they suffered this season, can you pinpoint a reason for the defensive struggles?
S Adam Archuleta
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
JC: I know that the easy excuse for the failures of any NFL team is injuries, but nobody can deny the fact that the Bears have been a walking M*A*S*H* unit on the defensive side of the ball. S Mike Brown is the emotional epicenter of the locker room and a fantastic player when healthy, but he ruptured his ACL in Week 1 and will finish the season on injured reserve for a third consecutive year. Additionally, DT Dusty Dvoracek is also out for the year with a ruptured ACL, DT Tommie Harris is currently playing with a sprained knee, former Eagle DT Darwin Walker missed last week with knee troubles, LB Lance Briggs was inactive one game thanks to a bad hamstring, CB Nathan Vasher has been out a while with a strained groin, CB Charles Tillman was out one week with a bad ankle, and S Adam Archuleta has been playing despite a broken right hand – that list includes seven of the 11 opening-day starters, six of whom have been absent for at least one contest.
But aside from the lengthy injury report, the front four is undersized and has a tough time matching up with bigger offensive lines, depth in the secondary is dangerously thin, and – excuse me while I dodge this lightning bolt – All-Pro LB Brian Urlacher just isn't making the plays we're used to seeing.
JC: Unless Griese gets hurt or completely stinks up the joint for a prolonged period of time, I'm quite confident that Grossman has started his last game in a Bears uniform. He's a free agent after this season and could have earned a significant contract extension to stay in Chicago for the long haul if he had gotten off to the kind of start he did a year ago, but now it appears that he'll waste away on the bench for the rest of 2007 and might not get a single offer to be a starter anywhere else in 2008. If the Bears continue their losing ways and are eliminated from playoff contention before they reach the end of the schedule, don't be shocked if third-stringer Kyle Orton gets another change to show what he can do in a starting role.
If I had to make a prediction, I'd say Grossman leaves via free agency to sign as a backup elsewhere, Griese returns as the starter next season, and Angelo selects a quarterback in the second or third round of this April's draft – the failed Grossman experiment has likely soured him on taking another QB in Round 1 – to groom for 2009 and beyond.