Tim Yotter: After almost a full season of Jay Cutler, what is the reaction of the fans and media to trading for him? Is he considered a bust already or just needing more time and talent around him?
John Crist: For an organization that has been looking for a difference maker at the game's most important position for half a century or so, it's all the more disappointing when it only takes Cutler one year to go from Pro Bowler in Denver to Rex Grossman Part II in Chicago. Luckily for Cutler, there are a lot of people making excuses for him across the board, be it a porous offensive line, no running game, inexperienced wide receivers, little support from his defense or an incompetent coaching staff – perhaps all of the above. That being said, nobody can lead the league in interceptions by accident, and the former first-round draft pick has admitted more than once that he simply hasn't played well in 2009.
There are a handful of fans and media convinced that Cutler is a permanently flawed player and won't take the Bears anywhere, but the majority still feel he's too talented to be this bad for long and he'll be much better next season.
TY: From the looks of it, it appears there is an overall talent issue on the Bears roster. How would you prioritize the needs and is it rebuilding time?
JC: As you suggesed in Part I, the Bears need to get better in the trenches on both sides of the football. General manager Jerry Angelo had done well in years past plugging holes along the offensive line with free-agent additions like John Tait and Ruben Brown, but he struck out this year with Orlando Pace and Frank Omiyale. Defensively, Tommie Harris isn't nearly the player he used to be and can't be an every-down dominating force like he was when he was younger and healthier, which has only exposed players like Alex Brown and Adewale Ogunleye as run-of-the-mill pass rushers.
It's going to be incredibly difficult to do so with labor unrest on the horizon and no picks in the NFL Draft before Round 3, but the Bears have to stockpile some young blockers on offense and generate more pressure on defense.
TY: One of the bright spots has been rookie receiver Johnny Knox. At this point, how do you see his future – as a potential No. 1 wide receiver or just a complementary guy?
JC: The receiving corps as a whole has been a bright spot for the Bears, at least when you consider how badly they were trashed during training camp, but the problem is that all of them appear to be complementary pieces – there is no Alpha dog. Knox and Devin Hester would both be at their best in a No. 3 role and doubling as return men, a lot like the Vikings have done with Percy Harvin, yet instead they've had too much thrown at them offensively and it's led to a lot of miscommunication in the passing game. While I like Knox and think he has a quality future in front of him, I don't see him developing into an 80-catch guy.
If the Bears have a Sidney Rice-like success story in house already, it's either going to be Devin Aromashodu, who spent half the year on the inactive list, or rookie Juaquin Iglesias, who catches passes these days on the scout team.
TY: What in the name of Chicago Bears football has happened to Matt Forte?
JC: Like Cutler, Forte has a lot of ready-made excuses because the offensive line hasn't opened up holes consistently and the air attack isn't good enough to keep that eighth man out of the box. All that aside, it's been puzzling to watch Forte regress so badly this season, and it's even more curious since most of the elite backs in the NFL make the leap from good to great in Year 2. Give the young man credit because he's still a tremendous receiver out of the backfield and doesn't mind sticking his nose in there to protect the QB, but he doesn't make tacklers miss and constantly comes up short in short-yardage situations.
The Bears really need a between-the-tackles banger to get those tough yards, which is the role that was set aside for veteran Kevin Jones, so losing him to injury in the preseason was tough.
TY: Is there any chance that Lovie Smith survives and coaches the Bears next year? If not, what are some of the names that could come in and what sort of changes would be necessary?
JC: Bears fans are one more embarrassing loss away from lighting the torches and marching to Halas Hall in mob-like fashion, but Smith has a puncher's chance to be retained for 2010 since this organization has a history of letting coaches hang around a year too long – Dave Wannstedt and Dick Jauron come to mind. There is also the fact that Smith is one of the better-paid coaches in the league and owed $11 million through 2011, but Angelo did his best to convince the Chicago media recently that money wouldn't factor into any decision. Since he refused to give his coach a vote of confidence during that same Q&A, either Smith is indeed on his way out or Angelo is just trying to save his own job.
I find it hard to believe the McCaskeys will swallow Smith's contract and then shell out $7-8 million per year on top of that for Bill Cowher or Mike Shanahan, so I'm more inclined to think it will be another first-timer like Mike Heimerdinger or Ron Rivera.
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Behind Enemy Lines: Part II
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