Nate Caminata: Kyle Orton hasn't looked spectacular (78.0 rating) but, unlike Rex Grossman, seems to do just enough not to lose a football game. What is the perception of the quarterback position in Chicago, and can Orton put the Bears in a position to achieve the postseason?
John Crist: I don't think there are many Bears fans who are convinced that Orton can be that proverbial quarterback of the future, but the feeling is that he makes just enough plays and does a good enough job avoiding mistakes to take this team back to the playoffs. Orton did throw three touchdowns in the first half last Sunday against a very good Philly secondary, although he also committed three turnovers – very Grossman-like, you might say – and almost single-handedly kept the Eagles in the game. Both circumstances are somewhat unusual for him, as he's usually pretty responsible with the football, doesn't worry about his stats too much, and only seems to be concerned with the final score.
While Orton could very well earn himself a contract extension after the year if he does well since he's only signed through 2009, rookie Caleb Hanie, an undrafted free agent out of Colorado State, enjoyed a great preseason and has Bears fans praying he's the next Tony Romo.
NC: Many Lions fans have been tracking the progress of former player and first-round pick Kevin Jones, who seems to be – not so shockingly – effective with an offensive line in front of him. Has Jones turned any heads in Chicago, and will he continue to spell Matt Forte, share duties with the rookie, or eventually supplant him? How many carries can we expect him to get against his former teammates, who are allowing over 200 rush yards per game?
JC: The organization couldn't be more thrilled with Forte, a second-round draft pick out of Tulane who's leading the league in carries (92) and also pacing the team in receptions (18). I believe the original plan was for Jones to come in and alleviate some of the pressure on Forte, but even though Jones is way ahead of schedule after knee surgery and rushed 13 times for 45 yards in a Week-1 upset of the Colts, Forte has simply been too good to take off the field. The coaching staff knows they may be pushing their prized rookie too hard, although they don't seem to care since he gives them their best chance to win.
I for one believe Jones needs to see more time – every third series or so seems about right – and have always thought he was a pretty good player, but the former Lion is nothing more than second banana in the Windy City these days.
NC: To throw back another question at you: Lovie Smith has been successful installing the Tampa-2 system in Chicago. In your professional opinion, what do you credit to the obvious discrepancies between the two defenses?
JC: Well, as we've already discussed to some degree during this series, the Bears have had more success finding players to fit and flourish in this scheme. Both Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs are Pro Bowlers at linebacker, Tommie Harris is arguably the best defensive tackle in the game when healthy – although, that's not very often lately – Adewale Ogunleye and Alex Brown are a pair of well-rounded D-ends, the corner combo of Charles Tillman and Nathan Vasher is solid if not spectacular, and Mike Brown is just terrific despite spending so much time on injured reserve since 2004. You can talk about systems and coaches night and day, but until you get players that are good enough to run the system you want to run and run it effectively, you get what you currently have in Detroit.
Aside from Ernie Sims at the weak-side linebacker position, I don't see a single Lion who might compete for a starting job on this Chicago defense when operating at full capacity.
NC: With the ineptitude of Detroit and Minnesota and Green Bay suddenly looking very beatable, is there a realistic perception – we don't put much stock into Chicago radio – that the NFC North is Chicago's to take, or will it be a two-team race between the Packers and Bears?
JC: The Midway Monsters didn't so much as put together a two-game winning streak this past year until Weeks 16 and 17 when they were well out of the playoff hunt, so I'm reserving all judgment of this team until it proves it can chalk up a few victories in a row. The schedule suggests that the Bears should be 5-2 heading into their Week-8 bye, with Sunday's matchup in Detroit being followed by another roadie at rebuilding Atlanta and then home against a Minnesota club that isn't living up to its expectations. Smith and Co. deserve some credit for hanging with superior teams and pulling out big victories from time to time, but Chicago also has a nasty habit of playing down to inferior competition and letting a few Ws carelessly slip away.
Aaron Rodgers has the most important shoulder in all of the NFC North right now if you ask me – if he's fine then the Packers are fine, but they're in trouble if they start flip-flopping back and forth between a couple of rookie QBs in Matt Flynn and Brian Brohm.
NC: Two parter: What is the thought in Chicago of the Detroit Lions franchise, including the Lions tumultuous off week that included the firing of Matt Millen? Are the Lions "written off" by Chicago – among other opponents – as a viable threat this year?
JC: If I had to guess, I'd say you asked this question somewhat rhetorically: You already know that Bears fans have been writing off the Lions for years, even though Detroit found a way to sweep Chicago in 2007. Trust me, most everyone here was quite sad to see Millen finally go, although now they're trying to find a way to polish up – OK, delete entirely – his resume and get him an interview in Green Bay. The Lions haven't played defense for years, but maybe they'll finally start addressing that glaring problem in the draft since Millen's thirst for top-10 wide receivers may finally have been quenched.
The Bears organization offers plenty for outsiders to laugh at, most notably their half-a-century-and-counting search for a franchise quarterback, but at least they've been to the Super Bowl – twice.
Be on the lookout for Part III of this three-part series on Saturday. To back and read Part I, when Nate answered five questions from John, Click Here.
Behind Enemy Lines: Part II
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