Charlie Bernstein: Kyle Orton has been brilliant at times and not so good at other times, but pretty good overall this year. And I noticed that he is wearing the captain's C. Do you believe that he is the QB of the present and future, or should the Bears look to the draft?
John Crist: Orton has certainly regressed after looking like a borderline Pro Bowler six or seven games into the season, and the hiccup in his productivity can be traced directly back to the Week 9 matchup with the Lions when he sprained an ankle on the last play of the first half and consequently missed his next start. It's not like Orton's game is dependent on mobility in and out of the pocket or anything, but the rapport he was developing with a pretty sub-standard crop of receivers simply hit the skids upon his return. The former Purdue Boilermaker is coming off his worst outing of the year, a three-interception meltdown in Minnesota, although he wasn't protected by his offensive line and his wideouts dropped several catchable balls.
It remains to be seen whether or not Orton is indeed the quarterback of the future in the Windy City and not just the quarterback of the present, but the Bears front office would be wise to hold off on throwing a big bag of money at him yet – he's still under contract through 2009.
CB: The Bears have looked fantastic at times on defense but also allowed big yardage at other times. What do you make of the inconsistency?
JC: Lovie Smith always has been and always will be a Cover-2 guy on defense, although, for the first time, there have been rumblings in the locker room that perhaps the head coach's bread and butter needs to be kicked to the curb. While the Bears have been pretty good against the run more often than not and held the likes of Joseph Addai, Michael Turner, and the Chris Johnson-LenDale White combination to no better than 54 yards on the ground, an inconsistent pass rush has put way too much pressure on the secondary. Chicago simply doesn't have a shutdown cover man in the defensive backfield, and they've been gashed through the air too often as a result.
CB: Adewale Ogunleye is one of the best pass rushers that not many people around the country have heard of. How has he played this season, and how big of a part of what the Bears do defensively is he?
JC: Ogunleye had arguably the best season of his Bears career in 2007, registering 9.0 sacks, 57 total tackles, and forcing six fumbles – that last number tied for third in the league. But 2008 has been a much different story, as the Bears' left end has only racked up 4.5 sacks, two of which came against a pitiful St. Louis offensive line in Week 12, and is yet to jar the ball loose from an opponent. Smith's version of the Cover 2 simply doesn't work without relentless pressure from the down linemen, so Ogunleye's subpar output has to be at least somewhat responsible for the fall of a once great D.
With a $6.5 million salary cap figure for 2009, it's quite reasonable to assume that Ogunleye will be wearing a different uniform next year.
CB: I saw that Devin Hester caught a touchdown pass Sunday. How has the experiment of Hester to wide receiver worked, and how much has it affected him in the return game?
JC: Hester must be commended for making strides as a wide receiver, and his 65-yard scoring strike off a shallow slant pass last week was fun to watch, but the player widely considered to be the greatest return man in history – already – has looked lost on punts and kickoffs all year long. The coaching staff maintained throughout the offseason that Hester has the skills to develop into a No. 1 receiver one of these days, although it's hard to get excited over 34 catches for 442 yards and three TDs in 11 games. And when you factor in that he's only averaging 21.9 yards on kickoff returns – the team has since replaced him there with Danieal Manning, by the way – and just 6.0 yards on punt returns, one has to wonder if the former Miami Hurricane simply has too much on his plate right now.
If I were running the team, I'd take Hester out of the offensive huddle altogether and tell him to focus on special teams again, although that's never going to happen since the four-year, $40 million contract extension he signed back in July only reaches maximum value if he contributes heavily as a wideout.
CB: Chicago will load up the line of scrimmage against Jacksonville this week and force them to throw – because why wouldn't they? How has the Chicago secondary played this season, and can they stop the possession machine which is Matt Jones?
JC: The Bears have been bruised and battered in the secondary most of 2008, both because of injury and ineffectiveness. Former Pro Bowl selection Nathan Vasher was recently moved to injured reserve, although he was hardly performing like a Pro Bowler and already had some of his snaps being taken away by second-year pro Corey Graham – Vasher, as a matter of fact, could be a salary cap casualty this offseason. Charles Tillman forces turnovers with the best of them but has been banged up himself, Mike Brown isn't making those game-changing plays we've come to expect from him over the years, and Kevin Payne needs a lot of work from a technique perspective.
With regard to how they'll defend a skyscraper like Jones, look for Tillman to shadow him most of the day because his size and strength has served him well defending bigger receivers like Roy Williams and Plaxico Burress in the past.
Be on the lookout for Part III of this three-part series on Friday. To go back and read Part I, where Charlie answered five questions from John, Click Here.
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