Mailbag: Why no defensive workouts?

Q: I speak for all Bears fans when I say I want to know why Brian Urlacher doesn't get off the couch and organize workouts for the defense. Let's go Urlacher! If he's too busy to do his job, then my friends and I will drive up, put on the pads and run these guys through drills. This is getting ridiculous. -- Jorge, Joliet, Ill.

A: It's getting ridiculous all right, starting with this e-mail. At the risk of having Jorge drive to my home and conduct a makeshift dive drill in my backyard or bull-in-the-ring on my patio, let me try and explain why it isn't necessary for defensive players to attend these unsanctioned offseason workouts. As we reported two weeks ago, Bears quarterback Jay Cutler began throwing to other skill position players during small, informal workouts in the suburbs surrounding Lake Forest. The purpose of the workouts was to knock off the rust, run a few routes, catch some passes, then head off to finish players' training at the health club/facility of their choosing. It's not a very complicated process. Even though I mentioned in a previous mailbag that I didn't view Cutler and fellow quarterback Caleb Hanie hooking up with their receivers in May as critical to the team's future success, there is some value since the offense is still learning the timing of the Mike Martz offense.

But what would the defense gain from these workouts? Extra practice covering air? Urlacher (11), Lance Briggs (eight), Charles Tillman (eight) and Chris Harris (six) have a combined 33 years of NFL experience, most of that time spent playing in the Cover 2 defense. These guys haven't forgotten their drops, keys and reads since the lockout began. Plus, if you add defenders to these non-padded workouts, the risk of injuries on both sides of the football skyrockets. If the Bears are going to lose a starter to an injury, I'd much rather it happen during the actual season as opposed to some Tuesday in June on a local high school field without any trainers or support staff to help out in the event of an emergency. And why would any player in their right mind want to take that risk during the lockout?

What really matters is when the lockout ends, players report to work in good enough physical shape to begin football-related activities. Most Bears players have spent the bulk of the offseason staying in excellent condition, and while there could be a few guys who eventually show up to camp overweight or out of shape, that number is expected to be small. So take it easy, Jorge. A seven-on-seven passing drill at the end of May isn't going to help the Bears in September versus the Atlanta Falcons or New Orleans Saints.

Q: Guys, what are the Bears' top two areas of need in free agency? -- Buster, Chicago

A: In my mind, it always starts up front on the offensive and defensive lines. Even though the Bears drafted offensive tackle Gabe Carimi in the first round, and defensive tackle Stephen Paea in the second round, I think GM Jerry Angelo needs to take a hard look at offensive guard and defensive end in free agency. That's where I'd start because I don't view Chris Williams as a serviceable left guard. Maybe the Bears should let Williams and Carimi compete for a starting tackle job in the preseason (if there is a preseason) and let the best man win. I realize that's not ideal for the Bears, especially since Williams was the 14th overall pick in the 2008 NFL draft, but money and draft status shouldn't stand in the way of protecting the quarterback.

When it comes to harassing the opposing quarterback, the Bears still need help at defensive end to complement Julius Peppers, who faces at the minimum a double team on almost every snap. Not to take anything away from the season Israel Idonije had in 2010, but the Bears still need more sacks from the end spot opposite Peppers. Also, Idonije is only under contract through 2011.

Of course, the Bears could use depth at wide receiver, cornerback and linebacker, but I'd be OK if the Bears opened up the regular season with a starting lineup that included Devin Hester, Johnny Knox and a healthy Earl Bennett (something we did not see last year) at receiver, Nick Roach at strong side linebacker (if the Bears don't attempt to bring back Pisa Tinoisamoa) and Zack Bowman at cornerback.

Q: What happens to Frank Omiyale now that Carimi got drafted in the first round? Are they going to get rid of Omiyale for once and for all? Please, Bears nation is dying for some good news during this stupid lockout -- Brady, Winnetka, Ill.

A: Actually Brady, I believe the Bears should keep Omiyale on the 53-man roster as a backup swing tackle and guard. This might surprise people, but a lot of Bears players thought Omiyale did a decent job at left tackle last season, even though his sacks allowed numbers tell a different story. Unfortunately for Omiyale, those somewhat positive reviews didn't extend upstairs to the coaching staff, so I imagine his days in the starting lineup are over, barring an injury to J'Marcus Webb or Carimi.

But there is great value to having a backup with 31 career starts (including playoffs) at left tackle, right tackle and left guard. Maybe things would have turned out differently if the Bears hadn't signed Orlando Pace in 2009 and allowed Omiyale to play offensive tackle, the position he was brought to Chicago to play. Instead, Omiyale was moved inside and struggled badly at left guard before being bounced back outside the following season. I'm not asking anybody to feel bad for Omiyale -- he did get paid a nice chunk of change to sign a four-year contract with the Bears -- but in my opinion, he's been the scapegoat for a lot of the team's problems on the offensive line the past two years. Omiyale is a serviceable player, certainly a better tackle than people give him credit for being, and somebody the Bears would be wise to keep around for another season.

Q: When do you think the Bears will start handing out contracts to players like Matt Forte? Will it happen before the next offseason? -- Robert, Crest Hill, Ill.

A: Once business resumes in the NFL, I expect the Bears will try to hammer out a deal with Forte either before the season or early in the regular season. Once Forte is locked up to a lucrative deal, the Bears will probably turn their attention to tight end Greg Olsen. I view Forte and Olsen as the must-deals for the Bears during the actual season, but I'd also keep a close eye on Earl Bennett, Chris Harris and Bowman, who like Forte and Olsen, are entering the final year of their respective contracts.

Bennett and Harris certainly seem like strong candidates for extensions at some point, but Bowman's situation is completely up in the air. If he returns to the starting lineup and begins to make plays a la 2009 (a team-high six interceptions) the Bears might be interested in getting something done. But that all hinges on Bowman's performance on the field and ability to stay healthy. Tight end Kellen Davis and veteran guard Roberto Garza are also in the final season of their deals with the Bears.

Johnny Knox is signed through 2012, but could be in-line for a new deal at some point if he keeps producing.

Q: This probably sounds like a silly question in light of all the hardcore NFL news right now, but what are coaches doing during the lockout? -- Ted, Paxton, Ill.

A: Ted, the only silly questions are from middle-aged men who volunteer to be tackling dummies for Urlacher. This is a good question, but the answer is kind of boring. Coaches, at least the Bears coaches, have been going to work during normal weekday work hours. Most just go through their playbooks, change a few things and wait for the lockout to end. Most coaches plan their vacations around the time OTAs end (the Bears last OTA is tentatively set for June 23) and training camp begins (report date is scheduled for July 22), but if the NFL doors are forced back open by the court system in early July, there will be no vacations for coaches in 2011. That stinks for them, but I'm sure most would welcome the return of football activities regardless of the personal inconveniences.

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