Nate Caminata: There have been rumblings that Lovie Smith might not return. What is the coaching situation in Chicago, and if Lovie goes, whom would the Bears target? Could Sunday's game determine his fate?
John Crist: Had the Bears been embarrassed by the Vikings again this past Monday night, and then found a way to lose to the lowly Lions in the season finale, I think there probably would have been enough ammunition at Halas Hall to dump Smith and eat the $11 million left on his hefty contract. But after upsetting Minnesota in front of a prime-time audience, the first time all year this team has looked good on a national broadcast, Smith is probably safe for the time being. Be that as it may, he will most certainly have new offensive and defensive coordinators next year.
But on the off chance that Smith is indeed pink-slipped, history suggests the Bears are more likely to target a first-time head coach like Ron Rivera or Mike Heimerdinger than a proven commodity like Bill Cowher or Mike Shanahan.
NC: Chicago Bears B.C. (Before Cutler) seemed to have more success in life with Kyle Orton. The team won more games, and their quarterback threw fewer interceptions than touchdowns. How did Cutler's first year in the Windy City go, and what has been its reception amongst fans and the locker room?
JC: Everyone in Chicago is guilty of letting the Jay Cutler acquisition conjure up delusions of grandeur, even national pundits like Peter King of Sports Illustrated who saw one training camp practice and decided that was enough to pick the Bears for the Super Bowl. I think smart fans knew Cutler wasn't a finished product and it would take some time for him to be a Pro Bowler once again, but nobody was prepared for the ridiculous amount of interceptions. The rash of red-zone turnovers has been nothing short of unforgiveable, especially when you look to the north in Green Bay and find out that Aaron Rodgers has never been picked off in the red zone.
That being said, Week 16's four-touchdown performance – including the game winner in overtime – goes to show Cutler can be sensational when he's feeling it, although it's tough to root for him since he doesn't present himself well in the media and is dripping with arrogance.
NC: Rod Marinelli will be finishing his first year as defensive line coach in Chicago. After the incessant chatter in the booth about Marinelli's greatness as a coach, which made just about every Lions fan sick, did the results back the hype?
JC: Based solely on the results, adding Marinelli to the coaching staff didn't have much of an effect on the Chicago pass rush. People who try to suggest that the Cover 2 has gone the way of the dodo bird – like the old 46 did – are simply wrong, as it works just fine in Minnesota and Indianapolis because those teams have premier pass rushers at the right defensive end position. Veterans like Alex Brown and Adewale Ogunleye swear Marinelli showed them things they'd never considered before, and the youngsters were equally impressed with his passion for teaching and appreciation of intricate details, yet the defensive line as a whole has produced only 22 sacks in 15 games.
With the National Football League being a results-oriented business, Marinelli's magic touch appears to be much more sizzle than steak thus far.
NC: Brian Urlacher missed most of the year. After last offseason's rumors of retirement, is that some thing he'll consider once the season ends? How many more years of productivity does he have left?
JC: Urlacher was talking up the idea of retirement two summers ago as a ploy to trick the organization into giving him more money, and he succeeded. Bears fans were really looking forward to once again seeing the Urlacher of '05 and '06 vintage since he finally didn't have to spend an offseason rehabbing a back or neck injury, so a fluke dislocated wrist in the opener that cost him his 2009 was a tough pill to swallow for everyone involved – especially the former Defensive Player of the Year himself. While both Hunter Hillenmeyer and Nick Roach have played well at times manning the middle, the fact remains that Urlacher can do things athletically those two can't.
No. 54 will be back next year, and even if he may not be a Pro Bowler anymore, his presence both on and off the field is impossible for this franchise to replace.
NC: What can Lions fans expect Chicago to tackle in free agency and the draft?
JC: As you know, it's difficult to answer those questions at this juncture since the state of the collective bargaining agreement is up in the air, plus neither Smith nor general manager Jerry Angelo is guaranteed to return in 2010. They have a few players on the roster that could be restricted or unrestricted free agents depending on what happens, specifically safety Danieal Manning, who is still more athlete that football player, and defensive end Mark Anderson, who should be the perfect third-down pass rusher but isn't productive anymore. And good luck finding ready-made starters in the draft, as the Cutler and Gaines Adams trades have left the Bears without both their first- and second-round picks this April.
If history is any indicator, Angelo will target middle-of-the-road bargains in free agency and then trade down once or twice on draft weekend in order to accumulate a few more selections and plug the holes on this team.
To go back and read Part I of this Behind Enemy Lines series, where Nate answered five questions from John, Click Here.
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Behind Enemy Lines: Part II
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