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Bears mailbag: Who's ready to break out?

ESPNChicago.com Bears beat reporter Jeff Dickerson dips into his mailbag ...

Q: Jeff, who do you think will have a breakout season for the Bears this year? Is there a player capable of having the kind of impact Izzy Idonije or D.J. Moore had in 2010? -- Charlie, Long Grove, Il.

A: It's hard to measure the impact of an offensive lineman, because unlike other positions, you don't use standard statistics like sacks, interceptions, touchdowns, etc. to evaluate how a player performed in a given year. But my vote goes to second year offensive tackle J'Marcus Webb. I don't know for sure if he'll be a permanent left tackle or a right tackle, but he did a nice job up front starting 12 games as a rookie seventh-round draft choice out of West Texas A & M. Predictably, there were times when Webb struggled last season, however, I'm expecting quite a bit of growth from the tackle from Year 1 to Year 2. Webb delivered a memorable speech at the 2011 Brian Piccolo Award -- an honor he shared with veteran defensive lineman Anthony Adams -- back in April at Halas Hall, and while the ability to speak in public doesn't automatically make you a good football player, the time and energy Webb poured into preparing for the speech, at least to me, spoke volumes about his increasing maturity level. Plus, Bears offensive line coach Mike Tice is a big fan of Webb's work and potential, and at the end of the day, I haven't met many people who know more about offensive line play than Tice.

Q: I'm put off that you keep saying wide receiver isn't a must position for the Bears in free agency. Have you seen the midgets the Bears have at wideout. Jerry Angelo needs to do whatever it takes to sign a big-name free agent wide receiver like Vincent Jackson, Santana Moss or Braylon Edwards. You're foolish if you feel a different way. -- Rob, Gurnee, Ill.

A: Rob, here are the top three things I remember saying when the Bears offense struggled in 2010:

1. Why can't these guys protect Jay Cutler?

2. Does somebody need to remind Mike Martz that Matt Forte is on the roster?

3. Will somebody tell Cutler that D'Angelo Hall doesn't play for the Bears!

My issues with the offense are simple. If the Bears can find a way to protect Cutler and employ a balanced attack -- Martz did eventually do this for much of last season -- then they have a great chance to compete for a playoff berth in 2011. You can win with Johnny Knox, Earl Bennett, Devin Hester and Greg Olsen as the primary pass catchers. The Bears cannot win if the offensive line stinks, or they don't mix in the run enough, or Cutler goes crazy and starts throwing the ball to players in the wrong colored jersey.

That being said, I would not object if the Bears went out and signed a wide receiver in free agency. Fine by me if Angelo can land Jackson, Moss or Edwards, because all three could help the offense. But if the Bears decide to invest their dollars in other positions and don't do much to address receiver, that's also fine by me. The key is that the Bears continue to fix the offensive line. Drafting Gabe Carimi was a start, but don't stop there, find another solid interior offensive lineman. That would be my suggestion, not that anybody at Halas Hall is asking my opinion.

Q: Your co-worker Kevin Seifert recently rated Bennett as having the best hands in the NFC North. Do you agree? -- Dexter, Rensselaer, Ind.

A: I agree to a point. Clearly, Bennett isn't the best overall receiver in a division that features the likes of Calvin Johnson and Greg Jennings, but that's not the debate. Seifert pointed out that Bennett dropped only one of the 70 passes thrown his way in 2010, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Translation: Bennett catches nearly everything. So, if you use the "drops" statistic compared to number of attempts as the measuring stick, you can make a strong argument Bennett does have the best hands in the NFC North.

The only issue is that Johnson (134) and Jennings (122) each had a significant higher amount of targets than Bennett (70). I feel there is solid chance Bennett closes the gap in 2011 in terms of the number of targets, because (1) he's healthy unlike last offseason, and (2) he's already a proven commodity in Martz's eyes. Bennett should see the football early and often once the season begins.

So, I might want to see Bennett get around 100 targets in 2011, look at the number of drops (which I expect to be a very small number), then make my final decision.

Q: Do you know who the biggest bargain is salary-wise for the Bears? I say it's Greg Olsen, but my friend is convinced the answer is Matt Forte. Can you help out two die-hard Bears fans? Thanks. Jake, Oswego, Ill.

A: I'm glad you guys enjoy numbers. I don't. But you both make a strong case. Olsen's projected cap number for 2011 is $1,970,102 with a base salary of $900,000. Forte's projected cap number for 2011 is $938,334 with a base salary of $555,000. Forte is clearly the best bargain, but Olsen isn't very far behind when you take into account production. I expect both to receive contract extensions in the near future.


Q: JD, what does the latest round of legal news mean for Garrett Wolfe? I was disappointed we didn't get more out of a third-round pick, but my kids and I always found Wolfe to be kind whenever we met him at events and your old television show taping at ESPNZone. I'm rooting for the guy. What can you tell me? -- Thomas, Evanston, Ill.

A: The Florida authorities' decision not to file any felony charges against Wolfe -- he only faces a level-one misdemeanor of resisting an officer without violence -- is important and should prove to everybody there is much more to the story than first reported.

Best case scenario for Wolfe is to have the entire matter resolved before the start of free agency. I'm not sure if that can happen -- Wolfe's camp thinks the case can be wrapped up in 20-50 days -- but the sooner the better. Once a judge rules on the misdemeanor charge and Wolfe is able to tell his side of the story, it'll be up to NFL teams to decide whether they want to sign the running back. Look, I can understand if teams pass on Wolfe because they can find younger, cheaper special teams players, or maybe his size is a concern, or lack of carries in four years with the Bears. That's fine. That's the business of football. But it would be unfair if Wolfe finds himself out of the league because teams are concerned about his character.