How many more questions will Bears coach Lovie Smith be forced to answer about quarterback Jay Cutler's supposed lack of toughness? (Tom Hauck/Getty)
John Crist: Bears coach Lovie Smith keeps having to field these questions about Jay Cutler's toughness based on what happened in the NFC Championship Game, and he's obviously getting tired of it. What can be done to stop the snickers and change the national opinion?
Jeremy Stoltz: Cutler needs to win. He's a polarizing figure amongst fellow players, fans and the media, and it's doubtful anything he does off the field will be able to repair his image. Throughout the league, people are hung up on his body language, which most likely will never change. He could do charity work until he's blue in the face, and everyone will still think he's selfish. At this point, the only way he can quell the vitriol is to perform on the field. If he lifts his team to great heights, he'll be able to put the rest of the nonsense behind him.
JC: Take us back to the NFL Draft. Who was your favorite of Chicago's picks? Least favorite? Did the team properly address its biggest needs and get good value with each selection? If you had been in the war room, is there anything you would have done differently?
JS: Former Wisconsin tackle Gabe Carimi in the first round was a no-brainer and addresses the team's biggest position of need. Whether he lines up on the right or left side, he'll provide an immediate upgrade to the offensive line. The head scratcher was former Idaho quarterback Nathan Enderle. With so much invested in Cutler, and Caleb Hanie a serviceable backup, drafting a third-string signal caller in the fifth doesn't make much sense. The team addressed its needs in the trenches but did nothing to upgrade its needs at cornerback and wide receiver. Had I been in the war room, those positions would have been filled in the mid rounds in lieu of another safety and quarterback.
JC: Usually we have free agency and then the draft, but this year -- eventually -- it's going to be the other way around. Now that the draft is in the rearview mirror, what position would you most like to see the Bears address in free agency, and who could be a possible target?
JS: Even with the selection of Carimi, the offensive line is still a mess. The team would be wise to grab an interior lineman to further stabilize a unit that has been sub-par for two years now. Carl Nicks would be the ideal free-agent acquisition, as he's an elite player at the guard position. Other free-agent options at guard are Davin Joseph, Harvey Dahl, Justin Blalock or Marshal Yanda, all of whom would provide Chicago the solid interior presence it's been lacking for years.
JC: On the offensive side of the ball, Chicago seems to have a fine selection of second and third options at receiver, but a primary target has been lacking for quite some time. Assuming there are no major additions, what role best suits the wideouts currently on the roster?
JS: With no further additions, the Bears will start the season with Johnny Knox on one side and Earl Bennett on the other. Knox has great speed and can stretch the defense. He'll be entering his third season in 2011, which is typically the time when most receivers take their biggest step forward. Bennett made big strides last year and will be entering his fourth season. He did not drop a single pass in 2010 and should continue to develop as a dependable possession receiver. Devin Hester is no longer being touted as a No. 1 and will see the field as a slot option. Beyond those three, though, the pickings are slim.
JC: Defensively, both Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs were special again this past season, but nobody seems capable of being the third banana at linebacker. Hunter Hillenmeyer is already gone, and both Pisa Tinoisamoa and Nick Roach are free agents. Any insight?
JS: It's expected the team will try to re-sign Tinoisamoa or Roach, if not both. Tinoisamoa is a savvy veteran who is very familiar with Smith's defense, yet he's had a hard time staying on the field due to injury and just had a third surgery on his right knee. Roach is four years younger and has performed well when given the opportunity. The team will most likely try very hard to bring him back to man the SAM (strong-side) position. Don't rule out free agency, either, where a player like Stewart Bradley could be had at a decent price.For all the latest news, notes and quotes on the Bears, visit BearReport.com.
|John Crist is an NFL analyst for Scout.com. Jeremy Stoltz is the publisher of Bear Report and BearReport.com.|