Michael John Schon: Obviously, the quarterback position has been a major concern this season in Chicago. Although Rex Grossman looked good in his return last week, head coach Lovie Smith still appears hesitant about committing to him for the remainder of the season. How has this uncertainty affected the team on a general level, and what are the possibilities of a switch back to former Bronco Brian Griese once his shoulder is healed?
John Crist: I truly believe that Griese was healthy enough to play last week in Seattle, but the left shoulder sprain he sustained the previous Sunday in Oakland gave the organization the excuse it needed to throw Grossman back in the mix and see how he would respond after being benched in Week 4. The Bears signed Griese before 2006 simply to be their backup quarterback in case of major injury or overall ineffectiveness. Griese did give a shot in the arm to a dormant Chicago passing game, but he was not able to avoid the same problem that led to Grossman's removal in the first place – too many turnovers.
Griese participated in all drills at practice Wednesday and appears to be fully healthy, but you'll probably see third-stringer Kyle Orton get a crack at the starting job – it could happen if the Bears fall out of playoff contention down the stretch – before Griese is given another opportunity this season.
MJS: Rookie cornerback Trumaine McBride has had some pretty big shoes to fill replacing injured starter Nathan Vasher. What kind of drop off, if any, have you seen, and what are the possibilities of Vasher being able to return before the end of the season?
CB Trumaine McBride
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JC: GM Jerry Angelo has been criticized lately for getting nothing out of the 2007 NFL Draft aside from first-round tight end Greg Olsen, but McBride, a little-known seventh-rounder out of Ole Miss, has proven to be a pretty good player since the first day he showed up for mini camp. After Vasher's injury, the Bears tried nickelback Ricky Manning Jr. and safety Danieal Manning at right corner opposite Charles Tillman, but McBride has been the best of the bunch by far. Now the rookie has made a few mistakes along the way and Seattle took advantage of his over-aggressiveness on more than one occasion, however, he brought some semblance of stability to the secondary by allowing each of the Mannings to return to his original role – until Matt Hasselbeck and Co. torched them for 337 yards passing last Sunday.
Vasher was supposed to return from his groin problem after the bye in Week 9, but he's still nowhere near 100 percent and could be knocking on the door of injured reserve before too long.
MJS: RB Cedric Benson looked very impressive in the early stages last week against the Seahawks, but pretty much became an afterthought from the second quarter on. Was it a conscious decision by the coaching staff to limit his carries as the game progressed, or was it more a matter of Seattle making the necessary adjustments that kept him out of action?
JC: Benson had been a colossal disappointment on every level as the starting tailback before Week 11, so the coaching staff made a commitment to get second-stringer Adrian Peterson more involved in the offense heading into the Seattle game. Unfortunately from a game-plan perspective, Benson ripped off a 43-yard touchdown run on his first carry and a 20-yard gainer on his second attempt, which means that he was pulled in favor of Peterson just as he was getting hot. Nobody can blame Bears brass for wanting to get Peterson more touches on offense since everyone in Chicago was clamoring for that very move, but the timing could not have been worse because the running game is all about feel and rhythm.
Benson was finally feeling it and getting into a rhythm with his offensive line Sunday, probably because he felt Peterson nipping at his heels, so offensive coordinator Ron Turner needs to be held responsible for not adjusting his game plan on the fly.
MJS: It's no secret that Denver has struggled against the run all season. Do you expect Chicago to adopt the obvious run-first approach this week, or will Lovie Smith try and mix it up with an equal balance between a ground and air attack?
C Olin Kreutz
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JC: It's become somewhat of a joke around the Windy City with Coach Smith's weekly assurance that his team gets off the bus running the football, especially when you take a closer look at the numbers: 81.6 yards per game (29th in the league), 3.2 yards per carry (31st), and 11 fumbles (T-32nd). Remember that Benson was supposed to have a huge day facing Oakland's dreadful rushing defense in Week 10, but he only managed 72 yards despite a career-high 28 carries. The ground game did show some signs of life with a 4.9-yard average on 22 attempts at Seattle, but if you take away Benson's first two rushes of 43 and 20 yards, the Bears put up just 44 yards on 20 carries afterward.
The main culprit is the offensive line, which has not played well at all this season and has slipped from "experienced" to "old" seemingly overnight – right tackle Fred Miller has been beaten repeatedly, left guard Ruben Brown was mercifully moved to injured reserve after trying to play with a bad shoulder, and center Olin Kreutz is not performing up to his usual All-Pro standard.
MJS: After last year's unbelievable success, 2007 has proven to be quite a struggle. What's been the biggest disappointment so far this season, and with all the injuries Chicago's had over the past several weeks, do they still have enough gas in the tank to legitimately compete for a playoff spot in the NFC North?
JC: The Monsters of the Midway got career seasons out of many players on both sides of the ball in 2006, but aside from tight ends Olsen and Desmond Clark on offense, linebacker Lance Briggs on defense, and Devin Hester on special teams, nobody really stands out in 2007. The offense has been marred by poor blocking up front and inconsistent effort from the skill-position players, plus the defense hasn't been able to force takeaways and can't seem to avoid the injury bug. I think there are many Bears in that locker room at Halas Hall who are realizing the hard way just how special last year's run to the Super Bowl was and – perhaps more so – how hard it is to get back a second time.
Even at 4-6 they are certainly alive in a watered-down NFC, but there is very little reason to believe right now that this team can finish 6-0 or 5-1 and make another postseason run.
Be on the lookout for Part II of Behind Enemy Lines, where Schon answers five questions from Crist, on Friday.