Here is this week's installment of the mailbag:
1. Jeff, I haven't heard Stephen Paea's name mentioned lately, is his toe injury still bothering him? What is the outlook on Paea long term? -- Joseph, Barrington, Ill.
Paea is far enough removed from the turf toe injury that it should not severely alter his play moving forward. As for the long-term future, I'd like to see the Bears consider moving Paea to the three-technique in the offseason and keep him there. At the moment, Paea is a better nose tackle. But with an entire offseason to work at the three-technique, I think Paea could be a very effective pass-rusher. I mean, he is one of the strongest guys in the NFL. And he dominated in college at Oregon State, more so during his sophomore season than his junior season. Paea just needs a little more confidence. Remember, Paea didn't speak a word of English until he was 16 years old. He didn't play football until his senior year of high school. In many ways, Paea is still figuring it all out. But his strength and natural abilities are off the charts.
2. Why won't Mel Tucker consider Shea McClellin as a linebacker? Bears coaches and management appear to want him to fail so they can dump his salary rather than what's best for the team. -- Gary, Mineral Bluff, Ga.
Hold on, Gary. The Bears desperately want McClellin to succeed, not fail. McClellin was Phil Emery's first draft choice as general manager of the Bears. Do you honestly believe that Emery wants McClellin to fall by the wayside? On the contrary, the Bears are expected to do everything in their power to make McClellin a player. But he can't switch to linebacker in the middle of the season for a variety of reasons, the most important being that McClellin is probably best suited to play linebacker in a 3-4 defense, not this version of the 4-3. McClellin is certainly capable of moving around the field and lining up in a two-point stance, but not on every down. Because the team had to move Corey Wootton inside to the three-technique defensive tackle, McClellin has to play defensive end. After McClellin and Julius Peppers, the Bears don't have many other options at end, which is why McClellin's snap counts have been skyrocketing since the opening weeks of the season. And McClellin is only making $771,034 in 2013 and has a projected salary-cap number of $2,253,654 next season. Money is not an issue. I agree that McClellin looks to be out of place at defensive end, but that is a problem the Bears need to worry about solving in the offseason. What's done is done.
3. I didn't understand the signing of Mel Tucker when it happened, and I'm even more confused now. The Jacksonville Jaguars ranked No. 30 last year in defense. -- Scott Daggett, Glendale Heights, Ill.
Tucker clicked with Bears coach Marc Trestman when Tucker arrived at Halas Hall to interview for the defensive coordinator position after Rod Marinelli turned down the Bears' offer to stay. Trestman was so impressed with Tucker that he pressured the Bears to offer Tucker a contract before he had an opportunity to interview with the Cleveland Browns for their vacant defensive coordinator spot. Safe to say it hasn't gone well. The Bears rank No. 27 in total defense, No. 29 in points allowed, No. 27 in passing defense and No. 24 in rushing defense. Who deserves the blame, Tucker or the players? Usually in these situations both parties deserve equal share of the blame. But I'm sure Tucker has a multi-year contract, so I don't know if the Bears will consider making a change in the offseason. My best guess is that Tucker returns as the Bears defensive coordinator in 2014, but that's just a guess. Let's see how the rest of the season unfolds.
4. Why are the Bears sitting on their hands? They should have signed Jay Ratliff the moment Dallas let him go. Please tell me Ratliff is coming to Chicago. If he's not, then please tell me what number I can reach Phil Emery at to complain. -- Robin, Chicago
Here is what I know about Ratliff as it pertains to the Bears. Originally, the Bears were not interested in Ratliff upon his release from Dallas because they did not believe the defensive tackle would be physically ready to play in 2013. The Bears do not have the salary-cap space to sign injured players not in a position to help them this season. But after Ratiliff and his doctor indicated that he might able to return to field in 2013, the Bears decided to go in for a closer look and bring Ratliff to Halas Hall to have the team's medical staff examine him. Where it goes from here is unclear. Ratliff is scheduled to visit other teams besides the Bears and Kansas City Chiefs, and still might not be medically cleared to return for several weeks, if at all this season. I think the Bears were wise to do their due diligence on Ratliff, but I don't necessarily see the need to rush and sign him until he is ready to play. And sorry, Robin, I believe Emery's number is unlisted.
5. Do you think the Bears will blow up the defense after the season? -- Mike, Chicago
I can't speak for scheme, but I would expect a massive effort in the offseason to overhaul the personnel on defense. Both starting cornerbacks (Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings) have expiring contracts, so the best guess is the Bears will need at least one new cornerback next season. Major Wright and Craig Steltz are both headed toward free agency, so safety is an obvious need. The Bears will also need fresh bodies on their defensive line with Henry Melton, Wootton and Nate Collins all coming out of their respective contracts, not to mention Julius Peppers, who is scheduled to count $18,183,333 against the salary cap in 2014. The Bears should be in decent shape at linebacker after spending two draft picks last year to select Jon Bostic and Khaseem Greene, but the secondary and defensive line are likely in for a serious overhaul. So, to answer your question, I do think it's fair to say the Bears will blow up the defense after this season. It's been a great run, but the defensive problems this season have been too overwhelming to ignore.