By JEFF DICKERSON
Q: What will it take for Lovie Smith to take off the blinders? Are we fans the only ones that can see Matt Forte is not what he was cracked up to be? -- Cheryl Lewis, Goldthwaite, TX.
A: Despite a mediocre 2009 season, I'm still a believer in Matt Forte. You cannot overlook the two injuries he dealt with last year -- hamstring in the offseason / MCL sprain in the regular season -- and in my opinion, both played a role in his lack of burst as a runner. Plus, let's not discount how poorly the left side of the offensive line performed, especially the first six games of the year. It seemed like whenever Forte ran to the left, Orlando Pace and Frank Omiyale were incapable of sustaining their blocks and opened up little space. When a running backs lacks faith in his offensive line -- my opinion, Forte never said that -- bad things tend to happen. All that being said, I know the Bears want to add another running back this offseason, a guy with a little "juice,” to pair with Forte in 2010. I'm all in favor of that line of thinking, but I think it's unfair to write off Forte after just two seasons.
Q: I love what the Bears are thinking with Pisa Tinoisamoa. I believe Tinoisamoa being healthy next year, with Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs back together, you could stamp that as a three-headed monster. Kind of makes me think back to the days of Rosie Colvin and Warrick Holdman. -- Tony, Peru, IL.
A: I don't think there's any question linebacker is the strongest group on the defense. Even with all the injuries last year to Urlacher and Tinoisamoa, Hunter Hillenmeyer, Nick Roach and Jamar Williams stepped in and did a nice job. Tinoisamoa is a quality individual, and unless he gets a better offer from another team, he should come back on a one-year deal. That would give the Bears incredible depth, and perhaps allow them to shop around somebody like Hillenmeyer, who is coming off one of his best professional seasons. I still like Roach's athletic ability and versatility, so I would not rule out the Bears finding some way to utilize him next season, even if Tinoisamoa is the starting strong side linebacker. Any way you look at it, if Urlacher comes back healthy, this unit will once again carry the defense.
Q: If Devin Hester produced on special teams, why don't the coaches have him returning kickoffs? After all, isn't that what made him a household name? -- Mario, Atlanta, GA.
A: In case you missed it, Hester told ESPN 1000's Waddle and Silvy last week he wants to play more special teams next season. I'll believe it when I see it. The way for Hester to get paid is as a receiver, and the more hits he takes in the return game, the less chance he has to collect on those offensive incentives. I don't blame Hester for wanting off special teams (we all want more money, right?), I blame the Bears for anointing him their No. 1 wide receiver. When the head coach came out and announced to the team that Hester was going to be the Bears top wideout in 2008, that planted the seed for Hester to view special teams as a much lower priority. As expected, Hester hasn't been nearly the kind of impact player in the return game, scoring a grand total of zero touchdowns in 2008-09. Compare that to 13 special teams scores in his first two seasons. Coincidence?
A: Let me tell you, the Bears have a lot of faith in Gilbert and Melton, and some in the organization feel Melton will have a major impact next year. I don't quite share their enthusiasm, because I really never saw Melton do anything last year in training camp. In fact, I viewed his placement on injured reserve as the only way the Bears could have afforded to keep him around. But I'll give him the benefit of the doubt, and look forward to seeing him compete at either end or defensive tackle in the spring. Gilbert also showed very little in limited playing time, so it's impossible for me to predict whether or not he'll make a splash this upcoming season. But here is what I can say with a fairly high degree of certainty; because of the lack of draft picks, and the uncertainty surrounding free agency, the Bears better pray these two turn out to be future starters.
Q: Mike Tice has the reputation for excelling in the run game. Mike Martz is a pass-first type of guy. Will they be able to co-exist? -- Mr. Cox, Greenville, NC.
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A: Even though everybody at Halas Hall is saying all the right things, the Martz/Tice relationship has the potential to be highly combustible. Notice I said potential, because at the moment, I'm inclined to give the Bears the benefit of the doubt on certain matters. Put it this way: what's going to happen next fall if after two plays Martz decides to scrap the entire 50-page game plan and begins to call things entirely on the fly? You think Tice is going to be cool with that? My guess is that could cause problems, and might lead to some very interesting dialogue over the coaches' headsets. It's always a little complicated when two strong personalities are on the same coaching staff, on the same side of the ball. But at least things won't be boring on offense this year, and I think most Bears' fans would view that as progress.