Welcome to the first Windy City Gridiron Reader Mailbag. There's a lot to go over, so let's just jump right into it!
From patcubsbears - Do any of you believe that Vic Fangio would devise a way to get McPhee, Houston, Young and Floyd on the field at the same time on 3rd and long situations? Would he stand everybody up or kick McPhee/Houston down inside in a traditional Nickel look?
Lester Wiltfong, Jr.: I think it's certainly possible, especially since McPhee has the power and also experience rushing from the inside when he was in Baltimore and Houston is similarly built, but like you said, he hasn't done stuff like this in the past much. We've seen other 3-4 teams employ 4 stand up rushers in an "amoeba" like defense, but until we see how Fangio uses all his chess pieces, it's hard to say what the plan is. I also think Floyd may be dropped off in some zone blitz looks, just because he's solid in coverage.
Kev H: I don't think so, mainly because those guys are most successful when they've got someone to eat up those original blocks. That said, that'd be a hell of a lot of speed. If you were going to do that, I think you'd probably try to get a Houston up. I feel like that'd start to look like a Madden play.
From Marquess de Sade - What is Bobby Massie's potential at RT?
Lester Wiltfong, Jr.: I think it was Hub Arkush that compared Massie to former Bear James "Big Cat" Williams, and that's a very good comp in my opinion. Massie hasn't shown himself to be the fleetest of foot as a pass protector, but he is still young enough (26) that some honing of his technique can get him plenty serviceable in that department. As we've show this offseaosn here at WCG, he's been working hard with right guard Kyle Long and that will be a huge advantage for these two during the season. I think Massie will kick some ass in the running game, but need some occasional help in the passing game.
From LostInSTL - What does this team do well? What will be their identity?
Lester Wiltfong, Jr.: I think this team hopes to be able to run the ball and stop the run. If they can do both of those things well, the Bears will get back to a smash mouth identity. If the running game clicks, the play action game will be strong, which will allow them to take the occasional big shot down field. If they are able to thwart the run with their revamped front seven, that will get them in more obvious passing situations, which will allow them to attack the quarterback. Fox and Fangio will find away to keep games close, and it'll be up to Loggains and the O to find a killer instinct.
Sam Householder: I think it is one of an old-school grind-it-out team. They are going to want to win the war in the trenches, go on long, ball-control methodical drives on offense and make you feel pain on defense. They want to run it down your throats any time any where and be an imposing and hard-hitting defense. They want the QB to be looking like a deer in the headlights. Can they do it? John Fox better hope so, he's been able to build this roster with Ryan Pace for two offseasons. That is the blueprint they've laid out since Day 1 and we need to start seeing it week in and week out.
From abynum - What is the quality of the current status of drug testing at the NFL, how can it be better, and do you have the impression that the NFL and/or NFLPA are genuinely interested in financing a substantive testing mechanism that is as comprehensive as Goodell claims?
Lester Wiltfong, Jr.: I think all the major sports are doing what ever they can to keep their games clean. Even though the NFL is as popular as ever, when their players get caught up in a PED or drug sting, it gives them a PR hit. I'm sure Goodell would like to stop all the cheaters if he could, but there's only so much science can do. I also think we'll see a time in the near future where marijuana use isn't a problem at all.
Ken Mitchell: I have a huge fan of cycling, which has been plagued by doping and has been exposed as one of the dirtiest sports around. Having said that, comparing the testing that goes on in cycling (and has been for the last 20 years) to that of the NFL is much more lax. Cyclists are liable to be tested by an independent international authority 24/7/365, and they must report where they are to that authority at all times so that if a random test is called for, the authority knows where to find them. For example, in the off season if they take their family to Hawai'i for a week of vacation, they have to report the movement BEFORE they leave or face a suspension or ban from the sport. Additionally, all riders in a race are tested from one to as many as 15 times over a 24 day period. Winners and leaders are tested DAILY, no exceptions. Testing positive is a mandatory 2 year ban. Compare that to the NFL, where it costs a player caught 2-6 games, depending on what it was. Additionally, NFL players are tested ONCE a year at a predefined time during the off season for recreational drugs... if they pass, they will not be tested again, the NFL does not test for recreational drugs during the season, at all. For PED's? How many random tests per year do players face? Good luck finding that information, I've been searching for a while now...
From TJGOBIG - I'm curious about WCG's popularity vs some other SB Nation websites. Do you guys get ranked amongst your peers? How is our little community compared to some others?
Lester Wiltfong, Jr.: We're usually somewhere in the bottom half of page views in relation to the other SB Nation NFL sites. This obviously fluctuates all year long and a big story will occasionally push us up the list. For example, as of 11:45 am on Wednesday, June 29, WCG is 19th in page views. All the other NFC North sites are in front of us... So all you loyal readers be sure to share our stuff when ever you can! Thanks for reading!
Kev H: Yeah, sorta. We do alright. There are sites with bigger communities, but I've reconciled that to the fact that meatball Bears fans can't figure out how the internet works.
From BearDownSouth - What is the floor/ ceiling of our current o-line starters?
Jeff Berckes: We'll let Lester answer this one but some interesting stats: Chicago was 5th in rushing DVOA according to Football Outsiders in 2015 along with the 5th best run blocking rank from Pro Football Focus. With Kyle Long moving back inside to guard and the addition of the mauler Bobbie Massie, this team could be fierce on the right side. (Ken's Note: Watch for Lester's articles that will address this question in full, coming up here at Windy City Gridiron)
Josh Sunderbruch: I'd like to defer to Lester, but it's hard to say. The Bears had an okay O-line last year in terms of preventing stuffs and adjusted sack percentage. However, a lot of that was because the play design limited the offense in order to make do with what they had. I would be surprised if they fell below midpoint in either category. The ceiling I think will come not from how many sacks they allow or such but rather from how many more options the offense has.
Kev H: I have no idea what measure you want me to use, so I'm not going to answer it.
From BearDownSouth - What would Fox have to do to get fired/ get coach of the year?
Jeff Berckes: - To get fired, Fox would have to lose control of the team, which seems unfathomable. I think he could survive a bad season of 3 to 4 wins based on his well-earned reputation and Pace's vision for the future. To win the Coach of the Year honors, the Bears would need to win 12 or 13 games and get a top 2 seed in the playoffs. A big gain in the rankings for defense would help solidify his legacy as a supremely gifted defensive coach.
Josh Sunderbruch: I really think that Pace understands the need for stability in order to build a team, so I think that in order for Fox to be fired, the team would have to a) have a significant setback in terms of win-loss record and b) the team would have to have at least one other glitch, like a major defection of talent, a pair of blowout losses, or the like. So, if the team went 4-12 and there was talk of a broken locker room, it could be a possibility. In order for Fox even to have a chance of getting coach of the year, I think the team would need to either make it to the NFC Championship Game or would need to make the playoffs after some notable setback (e.g. losing Cutler for the season in the second game).
Kev H: Fired: 3-13 or below this season. Coach of the year: deep run to the playoffs, overcome some adversity.
From BearDownSouth - What stat line would Cutler need to be shipped out/ earn MVP?
Jeff Berckes: For the Bears to go in another direction at quarterback next season, Cutler would need to be responsible for losing enough games to put us in a position to draft a quality, NFL-ready quarterback in the 2017 NFL Draft. The bar for earning an MVP would need to be a transcendent season, something like 14 wins, 4,500 yards, 40 TDs, and less than 10 INTs.
Josh Sunderbruch: I think that if the team loses more than 9 games and/or Cutler has a sub-85 passer rating (his average in Chicago is 85.5), there's a chance the team moves on from him. I'm not saying that's what they should do, but coaches and front offices fire quarterbacks way more often than quarterbacks get their front offices fired. Cutler would almost need to heal lepers and walk across Lake Michigan to get the league MVP. Unless he had legendary stats (call it a passer rating of 125+), I don't see it happening. Even if the team went 14-2 and he had a 3:1 TD to Int ratio with 5000 yards, he'd have a shot at offensive player of the year and J.J. Watt would get MVP.
Kev H: Cutler shipped out: High turnover/TD ratio - (think 3:1 or more) Cutler MVP: Playoff run based off of his passing attack
From BearDownSouth - Who gets more yards and TDs, Miller or White?
Jeff Berckes: That's a good question. My money would be on Kevin White just based on the explosive nature that he can provide. It's not out of the question for White and Alshon Jeffery to go over 1,000 each if they stay healthy and a TE simply does not approach those yardage numbers. TD's might be closer, but I'll still take White's home run ability over Miller, who isn't the best red zone threat on the field (Jeffery).
Josh Sunderbruch: Miller. Jay likes using his tight ends a lot, and I am not sold on White yet. A lot of analytics suggest that he'll be fine but not exceptional. I hope they're wrong, but right now I see Jeffery eating up the ‘wide receiver' touchdowns and Miller playing the secondary role for Jay. That leaves White to get yards in the middle of the field and to try to develop as a route runner.
Kev H: More yards: White More TDs: Miller
From BearDownSouth - What current players could be added to our team to make us Super Bowl contenders?
Kev H: Watt, Miller, Joe Thomas, Gronkowski, Brady
From Marquess De Sade - Which of the Bears' 2016 opponents improved the most this off season?
Jeff Berckes: I'm really interested in Jacksonville in Week 6. They added Malik Jackson in free agency, will get 2015 1st round pick Dante Fowler back this season, and drafted Jalen Ramsey and Miles Jack this year. Now, they still might not be a very good team, but they seem to have improved on paper the most of anyone on the schedule.
Sam Householder: I think that the opponent who has improved the most is the Vikings.I liked their draft and free agency a lot and not in a good way for the Bears. Their defense was strong last year and now they have Laquon Treadwell, Michael Griffin and Alex Boone. They solidified their OL, added to their already good secondary and added a big WR. I'm still not sure that Teddy Bridgewater has what it takes to be "the guy" at QB but if he takes a huge leap this year and AP had another AP season, watch out. With the additions the Bears made this offseason they better be improved in run defense. So if they do that then they should match up better against those Vikings, as well as the Titans and 49ers. Ideally they've gotten faster in their front seven so hopefully they will also be better against the mobile QBs such as Mariota, Rodgers and Gabbert. I think they are still at a disadvantage against big-fast WRs such as Jordy Nelson, DeAndre Hopkins, Dez Bryant, the Jaguars duo and Mike Evans until their secondary can prove otherwise. TEs scare me too because we've seen them get torched by those big TEs too so Eric Ebron, Delanie Walker to some extent Jared Cook now that he has a real QB and Jordan Reed. On offense I think they can match up well against Dallas in the trenches, as well as the Colts.
From Marquess De Sade - Are there any match-ups in the schedule that particularly favor or disfavor the Bears based on what we know right now about other teams strengths and weaknesses?
Jeff Berckes: The Texans defensive line with JJ Watt will be a particularly difficult draw for the first week of the season against our newly formed offensive line. The big receivers in Tampa Bay could be trouble against our secondary. On the other hand, the Bears should be able to run on Tampa Bay, San Francisco, and the New York Giants. I fully expect our improvements in rush defense to be able to shut down the Lions and the entire AFC South on the ground.
Ken Mitchell: The team that we may have the most difficulty with this year is Minnesota, depending on the development of their wide receiver corps and Teddy Bridgewater. Their D is one of the best in the league, and we (and a lot of other teams) are going to struggle to put up points against them. They key will be turnovers, but then again, isn't that usually the key in most games? On the other hand, I think Bears fans are going to get to throw the #WeOwnTheBears nonsense that Lions fans have been trying to make "A Thing" back into their faces. You don't replace a Megatron, you just don't. Detroit has had a bad off season, their running game is anemic (to match up against an ascending Bears run D), and the "security blanket" that is Megatron has left the building.
From Ravenous - Is Jay Cutler the quarterback to take the Bears where they want to be taken?
Josh Sunderbruch: Yes, within limits. Jay Cutler can get hot for a few games and can mind the store for other games and get the Bears into the playoffs. After that, he can take the Bears to an Eli Manning/Giants-style Super Bowl where everything comes together and he plays gutsy enough football and makes enough big plays to win it all. However, he is not the quarterback to make a team into perennial contenders the way the top quarterbacks do (like Rodgers and Brady).
Kev H: I think he could yes. Let's all be honest with ourselves here - nobody's saying he's the greatest quarterback of all time. He has shown, though, that he's got enough talent to do it. He just can't get them there alone. He's made an NFCCG. He's put together strong runs. Stars align and yes, he could lead the team to a Super Bowl and have a decent chance to win. It's really, really tough though.
Sam Householder: As the roster is currently constructed, no I don't think so. I think the defense would need to develop a bit more (and they could prove they are there this year) and Cutler would need a proven running attack. That said I think he can be the guy. There are plenty of QBs in recent years that have gotten there with a strong supporting cast. The Joe Flacco Ravens are a good example. Flacco had a spectacular postseason run, which has proven it self to be somewhat flukey when looking at his body of work and I think it's certainly possible for Cutty to do something like that. I think that Cutler can be the guy, but I'm not sold on him being the catalyst, barring some month-long hot streak at the exact right time.
From BearDownSouth - What current players could be added to our team to make us Super Bowl contenders?
Josh Sunderbruch: Obviously there are lots of great players out there, but some of them will never be available (i.e. Watt will be a Texan until he retires or until they let go of him for a reason, a team with Rodgers or Brady automatically has a chance to win it all, and so on). I'd like to see the Bears get either Dontari Poe or Eric Berry next year in free agency. Both will be coming on the market, and either one could help the Bears out; plus, I can actually see a scenario where the Kansas City has to let one or the other go. Pick a top cornerback who is under 27 and add him to the team and they get better. However, I think that it's not about playmakers but depth. I think that this team with another solid draft and another solid free agency can be a contender.
From BearDownSouth - What running back starts game 17?
Josh Sunderbruch: Howard. I think it will come down to Howard or Langford, and Langford was really bad at making yards after contact last year (1.8, worst among a 100-back sample, and .4 yac worse than Forte), and that's not the style of offense Fox likes. Additionally, Langford didn't show enough as a receiving weapon to earn the spot.
From x160630 - What do you wear - on Sunday to exact - you are responsible for a win?
Ken Mitchell: Clothing that matches what I am doing at the time. I lead an active lifestyle on weekends, and frankly I miss a lot of the Bears games on live TV. I am as big of a fan as anybody, and I watch each games MULTIPLE times (I've seen each 2015 game at least 5 times, several of them probably 10 times... I wear out GamePass/Rewind) but often I am diving or on a bike trail 10 miles from the nearest town in the fall. I work M-F and I shoot local sports for TV Friday nights for HS and many times college football on Saturdays, so Sunday is my only day really "off". I do listen to every game (assuming I am not underwater) live on the radio though... there's only SO far I am willing to go :) My one tradition to help the Bears win is that I drink an Old Style the night before every game. I started that tradition in 1985, and I missed ONE game that year. You guessed it, Miami. THAT one was MY fault. Kev H: This is really an excellent question. I start off with a layer of boxer briefs, often Fruit of the Loom. I put socks on. Then I tend to go with probably jeans because it's the winter. Above the beltline I'll wear a white undershirt (usually a Hanes X-Temp), followed by usually a t-shirt or a hoodie, again, depending on the temperature.
From DanShoemaker - Who is the player that at the end of the season is going to have fans really excited about the future at his position?
Ken Mitchell: Bryce Callahan. I've gone back and looked at the games last year and paid attention to his development in the nickel, and his rate of improvement was huge. He's got quick feet, he gets his fluid hips around well which is super important to the nickel. His backpedal is excellent, and he transitions quickly. Callahan probably will always be best at a nickel position as opposed to outside because of his size, but I think he's going to make the position his own this year.
Kev H: Kyle Long, b/c he's back at his position. Besides that, I think Bears fans are going to really like watching this set of linebackers play.
Sam Householder: Obviously the expectations are on Leonard Floyd, that's what comes with being the first rounder that the team traded up for. I don't know if he can or can't yet, but he doesn't fit your question because he HAS that expectation. Honestly the guy I am picking is Cody Whitehair. Everyone kind of has penciled him in as a starter at LG because of the competition but I'm not sure anyone is sold on him, as far as the fanbase goes. However, after reading everything that the scouts have said I've bought in to the notion that this guy might have a Kyle Long-type on-field impact by the end of the year. If we're going with veteran players, I feel like Eddie Goldman might really blossom in year two and really make fans take notice. Especially now that he has some players surrounding him.
From chicagocity - Will WCG be doing a podcast this season?
Kev H: Maybe. It's false started several times over the years, mostly because of how spread over the nation we are. It's something we'd love to get started, so if there's interest, everyone should let us know! The more we hear from people, the more we will be inspired.
From JustDave - What are you wearing?
Kev H: Sweatpants in the colors of the Cleveland Browns, and a White t-shirt.
From LostInSTL - What does this team do well? What will be their identity?
Kev H: This team will be fundamentally better on offense and defense this season. Prolonged ground attacks with effective passing will be the highlight of the offense, and the defense will attack without over extending. Be prepared, though. Special teams will still be kinda weaksauce.
From seven11 - This November, Bear's opponents, media and fans will be complaining once again about Soldier Field turf conditions.
Kev H: A subject near and dear to my heart. The city is responsible for it, in conjunction with the Bears. That's why you can have a big rock show and then a few days later play on a patch field, or a newly sodded field that has visible seams.
Ken Mitchell: Guns N Roses are playing Soldier Field this weekend (July 1 - 3). Let's see how the field survives a multi-day helping of 2016 Axl Rose. It could get ugly.