No Need for Covert Operation at Halas

Will Browns coach Eric Mangini lose a wink of sleep wondering if the Chicago Bears start Frank Omiyale or Josh Beekman at left guard? Uh, no, he won't. So why is Lovie Smith being so secretive?

If you're a fan of the Monsters of the Midway, frustrated and looking for answers after a 45-10 meltdown in Cincinnati, you probably had your spirits lifted Wednesday if you read the interview with general manager Jerry Angelo at the team's official Web site.

"Do we need to look at some personnel? Yeah, we do," Angelo admitted in his weekly Q&A. "There's some of that going on, as you'll see Sunday."

Since Angelo wasn't specific in terms of what moves will be made and how many there might be, the speculation began.

On the offensive side of the ball, Frank Omiyale has been nothing short of a disaster at left guard, a position he never played in the NFL before signing a $14 million contract in free agency to do just that in Chicago. The former Falcon and Panther can't take all the blame for a running game that ranks 29th in the league at just 80.7 yards per game and tied for 23rd at only 3.7 yards per carry, but there's no question his transition inside from tackle hasn't gone well. The 6-4, 310-pounder has whiffed on blocks repeatedly, and he hasn't looked very fluid when asked to pull.

Last year's starter, Josh Beekman, is waiting in the wings, and while the third-year pro was far from sensational in 2008, he was certainly better than Omiyale has been through six games.

Defensively, with six-time Pro Bowler Brian Urlacher gone since halftime of Week 1 due to a wrist injury, both Hunter Hillenmeyer and Nick Roach have started at the middle linebacker spot. The coaching staff likes what Roach brings to the equation athletically, plus he's smart enough to make the calls since he's a Northwestern alumnus, but communication in the huddle and at the line of scrimmage has been an issue. The Midway Monsters have seemed confused at times before the snap, lending credence to the thought that Roach isn't aligning his teammates properly and putting them in the best position to make plays.

Hillenmeyer is healthy again after missing a few games with a fractured rib, and since he's a veteran and knows this version of the Cover 2 backward and forward, perhaps he should shift back to the middle and let Roach move to the strong side.

So after Wednesday's practice, when coach Lovie Smith stepped to the podium to take questions like he always does, the print, radio and TV people did their best to find out what was happening before Week 8's matchup with the Browns.

Smith, for some reason, responded like a government official being probed about the inner workings of Area 51.

"I'm not going to talk about anything personnel-wise," said Smith, obviously annoyed with the direction his press conference was taking. "To me, that's pretty clear. If that's all you want to talk about, there's nothing else to talk about."

Lovie Smith
Getty Images: Jonathan Daniel

When asked why he doesn't feel the need to talk about anything personnel-wise, which leaves little to talk about at these things, by the way, Smith thought he might put his team at a competitive disadvantage ahead of the Cleveland contest.

"We don't want to give the opponent an advantage," he said. "We want them to wonder what we're going to do, like [the media is] right now. That's the way it's been throughout, so it's not like there's something new that I'm coming up with right now."

To Smith's first point: Does he really believe that Browns coach Eric Mangini is going to toss and turn all week long wondering if it's going to be Omiyale or Beekman at left guard? Now Mangini is guilty of similar behavior, refusing to name his starting quarterback for Week 1 and looking like a fool in the process. Still, Derek Anderson and Brady Quinn are different enough QBs that it could have an effect on a defense's game plan depending on which one of them is at the controls.

But this isn't a quarterback decision. It's a left guard decision. This isn't like figuring out the special sauce McDonald's puts on a Big Mac and then running off to Burger King to sell the formula. Will Mangini's plan of attack change one iota whether it's Omiyale or Beekman in the starting lineup? No, it won't.

Bears fans want to know if Smith is doing anything to improve his club after getting pasted by the Bengals, so why did he feel the need to put on FBI-issued sunglasses and get snippy with their conduit (the media) to the team?

And as for his second point: Yes, Smith has indeed announced adjustments to his lineup at the podium in the past. He did it in 2006, when Danieal Manning supplanted Chris Harris at free safety. He did it in 2007, when Rex Grossman was benched in favor of Brian Griese at QB. How do you think Smith officially declared Kyle Orton the winner in that infamous competition with Grossman in 2008? By saying so, right there at the very same podium, right there in the very same media room, right there to the very same print, radio and TV representatives that have covered him since he first got the job in 2004.

So instead of simply answering the questions honestly and controlling the message to some degree, Smith got defensive and acted like the media don't have the right to ask him anything related to personnel. Shortly after the press conference, ESPN 1000 confirmed that Hillenmeyer will start at middle linebacker, and the Chicago Tribune reported that Beekman will start at left guard. Not only did Smith make a mountain out of a molehill for no reason, but the harmless information he tried so hard to treat like the combination at Fort Knox came out anyway.

All the while, Mangini and his staff were preparing like they usually do and probably didn't bat an eyelash.

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John Crist is the Publisher of Bear Report and a member of the Professional Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit and become a Chicago Bears insider.

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