It would be impossible to respond to the hundreds of Plaxico Burress questions individually. So with his departure from prison on Monday, we'll try to use this mailbag to impart a little logic into whether Burress makes for an ideal fit to the Bears offense.
The most common complaint concerning Chicago's passing game, according to the fans, seems to be the lack of a big possession-type of receiver to complement the speed of Johnny Knox and Devin Hester, along with slot man Earl Bennett.
Even Bears coach Lovie Smith acknowledges the intriguing potential of adding a larger target to quarterback Jay Cutler's arsenal. But the coach is also realistic in recognizing that for a big receiver to pan out in Mike Martz's offense, he's got to be somewhat of a best-of-both-worlds type of player.
What do I mean here?
Well, Burress' size (6-5, 232 pounds) would definitely be an asset. But in Martz's precision and timing-based offense, the Bears need a sharp route-runner capable of reading coverages on the run and adjusting accordingly, which isn't a skill set Burress, 33, has displayed over nine seasons (his last was 2008). Burress has averaged 15.8 yards per reception throughout his career, utilizing his size and reach to outmuscle defenders for balls.
That type of skill set could actually work in Martz's offense, similar to the way the coach utilized former Bears receiver Ricky Proehl in St. Louis, but Burress would be limited in the system's route tree, lending to predictability. While not as gifted a route runner as Proehl, Burress possesses better size and athleticism.
But considering his past as more of a featured receiver, would he consider taking an auxiliary role with the Bears, especially if competition for his services heats up around the league once the lockout comes to conclusion?
That's just one of several concerns the Bears would have to consider in potentially adding Burress, who is sure to be rusty coming off a 20-month prison sentence, not to mention his penchant for minor mischief with regards to missing meetings and other infractions.
Sources have said the club would like to add a veteran player at receiver capable of aiding in the development of its young players at the position. Is Burress that guy? I'm not so sure.
In pondering all this I'm reminded of what two of Burress' best friends -- both NFL players -- told me back in 2009, when he was first sentenced to prison. Both repeatedly talked about Burress' skills on the field and immaturity off it, with one saying "he's just hard-headed."
Well, my pops always told me a hard head makes a soft behind. So similar to the Michael Vick situation, perhaps prison changes Burress into a better man. My gut tells me, though, that Burress won't receive a chance at redemption from the drama-phobic Bears.
Q: I see cornerback as a huge position of need for the Bears. The Packers usually eek out wins against the Bears through the air by attacking the cornerbacks. The Bears should build to defeat the Packers. Charles Tillman is getting old and unreliable. Tim Jennings isn't as good as he played. Zack Bowman has lost confidence and D.J. Moore has too much of it considering his size/skill. Your thoughts? -- Johnny (Phoenix, Ariz.)
A: Johnny, I agree that since the Packers are the world champions and a division foe, the Bears should build to defeat them. But I'm not totally in agreement with your assessment of the cornerback position. Just on principal, I think it's time the Bears start looking to replenish at cornerback. But by no means is Tillman over the hill. Lovie Smith told me a couple of months ago that in 2010 Tillman played the most disciplined football he'd seen the cornerback produce in quite a while, and the coach doesn't see any reason for that not to continue into 2011. I tend to agree with Smith, especially if Tillman can stay injury free again.
As for Jennings, I do think he overachieved in 2010. But he'll be in competition for a starting job once training camp rolls around with Bowman and rising second-year man Joshua Moore, who I wouldn't count out as a strong candidate to start. I think Bowman will come out of camp as the starting cornerback opposite Tillman. Despite Bowman coming off a bad season, Smith remains totally confident in the cornerback and actually thinks he has the potential to be a star in the league.
But Johnny, I've got to ask: how could you NOT love D.J. Moore's confidence? He totally backed up the bravado on the field in 2010, winning an extremely high percentage of his matchups in nickel situations.
Q: Harvey Unga: does he have a chance to work his way onto the field? Did he part ways with the Bears? I haven't heard anything about him since early last season. Some other fans and I are hoping for a "hidden gem"; a one-two punch with Matt Forte and another young formidable back. Shore up the O-line and keep defenses honest. -- John, (Clinton, La.)
A: Well, a pulled hamstring in the preseason landed Unga on the injured reserve (the Bears effectively hid him there). So that's why you haven't heard much about him. But I'll tell you that the Bears are extremely excited about Unga's potential in terms of his power and versatility. Running backs coach Tim Spencer said that Unga will have to earn his way into the backfield rotation by showing his stuff on special teams. So Unga appears to be in line to become the team's No. 3 running back, and I wouldn't count him out as a potential short-yardage option that might push Chester Taylor for that role.
Q: Do you see the Bears turning to free agency (assuming it happens) for their starting strong-side linebacker, or do you think the job is Roach's to lose with free agency being used more for special teamers and depth? Personally, I think Nick Roach deserves a shot. -- Kenny, (Springfield, Mo.)
A: Kenny, the fact is the Bears need depth at linebacker, period. The team drafted only one player (J.T. Thomas) at the position, and Lovie Smith told me the plan was to add at linebacker. Naturally, through the additions, there will be competition for that starting spot. I don't envision the Bears -- regardless of their confidence level in him -- simply handing Roach the starting job. Besides that, Brian Iwuh -- assuming he returns once his free-agent status is cleared up post lockout -- will also be a strong candidate for that starting spot on the strong side. There's also a possibility the Bears could bring back Pisa Tinoisamoa to compete with Roach for that job.
Q: Hey guys, I was hoping to know how the players on injured reserve are faring? Thanks for your time. -- Logan, (Antioch, Ill.)
A: Logan, only two players -- linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer and Unga -- finished last season on the injured reserve. The Bears released Hillenmeyer. Unga, meanwhile, was probably healthy enough to return at some point last season from the pulled hamstring he suffered in training camp. Basically, the team kept Unga off the practice squad and just hid him on the IR , since he wouldn't have been able to contribute on the active roster.
Q: I love Olin Kruetz and he has been a loyal soldier for many years, but could you see moving Roberto Garza over to center to get bigger on the offensive line? Just a thought, thanks. -- Tom (Nelson, Wis.)
A: Good question, Tom. And yes, I could definitely see it, but I don't think it will happen. Bears general manager Jerry Angelo mentioned Garza during the NFL Combine as a potential replacement for Kreutz at center. But considering Kreutz is an unrestricted free agent, and the nature of contract negotiations (which aren't taking place because of the lockout) I think Angelo's words were more about posturing than actually having a strong conviction about playing Garza at center. Lovie Smith has stated his desire to bring back Kreutz for 2011, and at some point, I expect the sides to get the deal done. Garza is versatile enough to play center in a pinch, but the team is better served with him at guard.
Q: I've heard rumors about Nnamdi Asomugha possibly coming to the Bears. Is this even possible, and if so could you see Nnamdi in a Bears uniform whenever the lockout ends? -- Henry (Chicago)
A: It's possible, Henry. Everything is possible. But let's look at reality. The Bears have approximately $21 million in cap space (their actual base salaries are less) devoted to just three starters (Julius Peppers, Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs) on defense. You've got to remember that the salary cap returns once the lockout comes to an end and a new collective bargaining agreement in place. Asomugha's salary would likely add another $14 million or so to the $21 million the team has already devoted to Peppers, Urlacher and Briggs. Do the math. I'd say Asomugha in a Bears uniform is highly unlikely.