Q: How important are organized workouts during the lockout? Are the Bears and Jay Cutler falling behind? Should I be nervous as a die-hard Bears fan that my team is being lazy in the offseason? -- Christopher (Naperville, Ill.)
A: Should you be nervous about the lack of organized Bears workouts? No. Almost every single player on the roster has been training for the upcoming season since March. Running back Matt Forte and tight end Greg Olsen have been working out together back in Chicago for weeks. Other players like center Olin Kreutz, guard Roberto Garza, linebacker Nick Roach, defensive tackles Matt Toeaina and Anthony Adams, and wide receivers Johnny Knox and Rashied Davis (just to name a few) have spent much of the offseason training at professional off-site facilities in the area. Others like safety Chris Harris, cornerback Zack Bowman, defensive tackle Marcus Harrison and quarterback Caleb Hanie (just to name a few) opted to train the past few months out of state. I’m sure there is a risk that a few players could report to training camp unprepared -- the first practice is scheduled for July 23, lockout permitting -- but the majority will be in shape. Now, would it be nice to see Cutler throwing to the receivers, tight ends and running backs? Sure. Is it vital to the success of the 2011 Bears? No. Be nervous about the NFL being potentially forced to cancel regular season games in the fall because of the labor dispute. Don’t sweat Cutler and the receivers not playing catch and running a few routes in May.
Q: Settle the backup quarterback debate for me. Will Nate Enderle be the No. 2 quarterback behind Cutler in the upcoming season? -- Peter (Madison, Wis.)
A: Enderle will be the No. 2 if Hanie pulls the NFL version of Steve Sax and somehow forgets how to throw a football. I mean that with absolutely no disrespect towards Enderle, but there shouldn’t be any question about whether or not Hanie is worthy of the being the primary backup. Forget for a moment that Enderle is a rookie fifth-round pick out of Idaho who will probably require quite a bit of seasoning before he is NFL-ready; Hanie came off the bench ice cold and almost led the Bears past the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship game. How can that not buy him the benefit of the doubt from the coaching staff?! The Bears took Enderle for two reasons, (1) Martz likes him, obviously and (2) Hanie is expected to leave via free agency whenever he gets the chance -- probably in 2012. But in 2011, barring an injury or a totally unexpected collapse, the Bears quarterback depth chart will read: No. 1 Cutler, No. 2 Hanie and No. 3 Enderle.
Q: Guys, as a graduate of West Virginia, I’m excited the Bears took linebacker J.T. Thomas in the sixth round of the 2011 NFL Draft. What are his chances of playing next year? -- Elliot (Crystal Lake, Ill.)
A: Bears general manager Jerry Angelo probably feels good about Thomas’ chances of making the 53-man roster, since he chose Thomas at No. 195 over a few other linebackers the Bears also liked in the draft. Unless Thomas turns out to be the second coming of Michael Okwo or Marcus Freeman, he should step in and provide relief on special teams while also giving the Bears a little extra depth at the linebacker position. While the Bears are expected to attempt to re-sign Brian Iwuh, it would be nice if the organization could find an eventual replacement for Lance Briggs on the weak side. Don’t get me wrong, Briggs is still a great player, but he’s going to be looking for a new contract in another year or two (Briggs is under contract through 2013) and will be the Bears be willing to pay another linebacker in his early 30s? Anything can happen between now and then, but if Thomas turns out to be a good player, he could figure into the future plans of the organization. Of course, Okwo was drafted in 2007 to be the heir apparent for Briggs, and we all know how that turned out.
Q: What’s the likelihood the Bears bring back punter Brad Maynard? He was terrible last year, in my opinion, and the Bears need to cut their losses and move on. What’s the deal? -- Luke (Waukegan, Ill.)
A: Right now, the odds of Maynard playing for the Bears in 2011 are remote. Although the punter is still regarded in many NFL circles as the best directional kicker in the game, the Bears were unhappy with Maynard’s statistics and performance last season -- 35.2 yards per punt net average. The Bears sound content to move on and sign a new punter in free agency (whenever that begins) to compete with Richmond McGee for the starting job. However, I continue to believe the Bears would be better off bringing back the veteran for another year. Unlike in 2010, not only will Maynard be healthy when the season begins, he’s going to extremely motivated to prove his doubters inside the building wrong. Plus, why make a change at punter in the same year when the rest of the special teams units could undergo a major overhaul depending on the free agency rules put in place for the upcoming campaign. The Bears have a really good thing going with their trio of specialists -- Maynard, kicker Robbie Gould and long snapper Patrick Mannelly --why screw up the chemistry?
Q: I’ve heard you guys talk about the Bears’ need at defensive end. Why? Didn’t they sign Julius Peppers last year? Isn’t Izzy Idonije coming off a career year? That doesn’t make any sense. -- Joe (Niles, Ill.)
A: First off, you can never have too many players with the ability to rush the passer. If anybody knows that, it’s Bears head coach Lovie Smith, who saw the defense fail to consistently pressure the quarterback in 2007, 2008 and 2009. What did those years have in common? The Bears missed the postseason, putting Smith on the hot seat in 2010. Secondly, Idonije, 30, has only been a full-time starter for one season, and while it’s certainly possible he puts together another solid year, to simply assume it’s going to happen would be foolish. Corey Wootton, a fourth-round pick in 2010) is best known for effectively ending Brett Favre’s legendary career, but besides that one memorable snap, Wootton didn’t provide too many other highlights. It would be wrong to write off Wootton after one season, but the Bears need to protect themselves in the event Idonije’s production tails off or Wootton fails to pan out. Plus, Peppers, who faces at minimum a double-team every play, turned 31 years old back in January. Maybe Henry Melton moves outside if rookie Stephen Paea or somebody else locks down the under tackle spot, but right now, that’s impossible to predict. What the Bears need to do, and I believe they will do, is address defensive end in free agency for the second consecutive year.