I think you can stop worrying about Marshall not being available for the season opener because of a suspension. I have been told it is unlikely Marshall will face league discipline if, as expected, he is not charged with a crime. But yes, the league could punish Marshall if it saw fit. There is precedent for a player being suspended without being arrested or charged with a crime. It happened to Ben Roethlisberger, who was suspended six games (it later was reduced to four games) for violating the personal conduct policy. The policy clearly gives NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell the right to impose discipline if he believes the player has violated the policy.
I would be stunned if Jeffrey were a day-one starter. Most rookie wide receivers take a little time. Don't forget he came out of school early. He is not a finished product and my suspicion is it will take him a while to get up to snuff. There were 28 wide receivers drafted last year. Only two of them were listed as opening-day starters, and those players were taken with the fourth overall selection (A.J. Green by the Bengals) and sixth overall selection (Julio Jones by the Falcons). Only five rookies made more than four starts: first-rounders Green (15 starts) and Jones (15), second-rounders Titus Young (nine) and Greg Little (12), and fifth-rounder Denarius Moore (10). As of now, Devin Hester is the starting flanker on the Bears.
With all the talk about the Bears building a deep receiving squad, I've noticed the press overlooking Earl Bennett. How far will Cutler's former favorite Vandy target get pushed down the depth chart? Is this a make-or-break year for him? Will he need to find a niche on special teams to stay relevant? Mike, Atlanta
Doesn't everyone overlook Earl Bennett every year? And isn't it usually a mistake? It will be interesting to see what kind of role Bennett carves out for himself. I wouldn't be surprised to see him as an opening-day starter. If Jeffery does not do enough to start and Johnny Knox is not healthy, the Bears coaches may be forced to move Bennett to flanker. He is the most versatile receiver on the roster and can play anywhere. If the Bears want to use Hester as a "package" player on offense, I'll bet Bennett will be the best option to replace Hester in the starting lineup.
How come every offseason the talk is how Hester is going to be a big part of the offense? Haven't they figured out he's a Hall of Fame returner and a mediocre receiver? Why did they bring in several receivers who can also return if Hester is supposed to be Mr. Do It All? Niel Magsombol
Hester is a unique talent. He makes big plays. But he is not a traditional wide receiver in a lot of ways. You can't use him like you use every other wide receiver. It makes sense for a coaching staff to continually try to find ways to get the most out of Hester. The Bears brought in Eric Weems and Devin Thomas because they need more than one return man, and because both also are very good at chasing down other teams' returners.
A old friend emailed me some recent pictures of Jay Cutler from The Chicagoist. However, I couldn't help but notice he looks a little soft around the belly. I know that Type-1 diabetics struggle with their body-fat percentage as a result of their disease, but aside from our fearless leader promenading a little dog, is his shape a cause for concern? Jeff Lopatka, Chicago
I noticed the same thing you did, Jeff. In those pictures, if you look beyond his middle finger, he looks more like the Cutler of 2009 and 2010 than 2011. He didn't look as pudgy at a press conference in Chicago earlier this week, though, so I'm not really sure what kind of shape he's in. Is it a cause for concern? Not yet. It's May. And I'm not even certain when those pictures were taken. It used to be the purpose of training camp was to get in top shape. Now, players are expected to report to training camp in top shape. If Cutler looks pudgy in July, it will send up a red flag. While this is not a big deal, I will say the most professional and serious of athletes never get out of shape. They use this time of year to get in better shape than they were in the past.
Lost in the elevation of Mike Tice to offensive coordinator from line coach has been much discussion of his play-calling ability -- arguably the most important game-time contribution from a coaching standpoint. How would you evaluate Tice in this role for the Bears, and how did he rate in the past as a signal caller? Steve L., Koloa, Hawaii
Tice is a complete unknown as a play caller. He has been very involved in every aspect of shaping an offensive philosophy and putting together playbooks and game plans, but he never has called plays or been an offensive coordinator. He is qualified and capable of doing it, but this will be a first for him, so we have nothing to judge him on.
Will Chris Williams only be considered the third tackle, or will he get the chance to start at left tackle? Michael
Williams will get the chance to start. He very well could be one of the Bears' five best offensive linemen, and Tice wants to start his best five. Whether Williams will have a better chance of starting at guard remains to be seen. But the Bears need him at tackle. If he is better than J'Marcus Webb at left tackle in camp and preseason, that's where he will stay.
The Brandon Hardin pick was interesting. Is there any chance he could be moved to linebacker if he put on 15-20 pounds? Craig Wachs, LaSalle, Ill.
I guess you never say never, but Hardin was not drafted with a move to linebacker in mind. He has enough height and probably has the frame to hold more weight, but he would have a lot to learn before he could play linebacker. Don't forget, he's being projected to play safety. Hardin was a cornerback in college. Going from cornerback to linebacker would be like going from playing point guard to playing power forward. Let's see if he can play safety before we talk about moving him to another position. And by the way, the only reason to move him to linebacker would be if he can't play safety.
I like Corey Wootton, since he has the distinction of being the last guy to sack Brett Favre. It seems like he is constantly injured. Do you see him being a difference-maker if healthy or just another average defensive end? Bill Mueller
It's hard to say Wootton can be a difference-maker when he has not come close to making a difference in two years. His famous sack of Favre is the only sack of his career so far, and he has made all of six solo tackles. I was high on Wootton coming out of Northwestern, but the truth is he hasn't come close to playing the way he did in 2008, before he blew out his knee. The Bears can't count on Wootton being a difference-maker. They can hope he somehow finds himself in camp this year, however. There still is a chance he can realize some of his potential.
Is there any way the Bears add free agent another starter between now and opening day? Bill Brannigan Clifton Park, N.Y.
It is doubtful the Bears would add another free-agent starter at this point. If the Bears find a free agent who is available in May or June who is better than what they have, it doesn't say much about the player already under contract. It is possible the Bears can find a decent backup, however.
While I am looking forward to seeing how Shea McClellin goes this year, I was a bit surprised they didn't take Whitney Mercilus from Illinois. It got me thinking: Is Dick Butkus really the last player drafted by the Bears from the University of Illinois? If so, do the Bears have something against the powers at U of I? Warren Seip, Australia
Considering all the great players that have come out of Champaign, the Bears have done a poor job in mining talent from this school in their own state. The Bears don't have anything against the U of I, but maybe they haven't paid enough attention to their prospects. In their history the Bears have chosen 19 players from the University of Illinois, but they have not picked one since 1986, when they took receiver David Williams in the third round. Williams was the highest drafted player for the Bears from Illinois since they chose Butkus with the third overall pick in 1965. Since the selection of Butkus, the Bears have picked only six Illini. One of them was Butkus' nephew Mark Butkus, an 11th-round pick in 1984. Other notable Illini who have been drafted by the Bears: guard Revie Sorey (1975 fifth-round pick), linebacker Tom Hicks (1975 sixth-round pick), defensive end Ed O'Bradovich (1962 seventh-round pick), running back Bill Brown (1961 second-round pick) and defensive back J.C. Caroline (1956 seventh-round pick).
Are the Bears going to retire Mike Singletary's number 50? I don't think any player has worn that number since Singletary retired in 1992. So what's holding this up? I think of all the Bear greats who don't have their number retired, "Samurai Mike" is the most deserving. After all, No. 50 was the heart and soul of the greatest defense in NFL history. Richard George, Santa Fe, N.M.
There are no plans to retire Singletary's number, but a possibility still remains that Singletary's number could be retired. No player has been assigned No. 50 since Singletary wore it, which tells you how the organization feels about him. The Bears have given out Dan Hampton's 99, Richard Dent's 95, Mike Ditka's 89, but not Singletary's 50. They even gave Dick Butkus' 51 to six players before they finally retired the number in 1994. The Bears already have 13 retired numbers, most in the NFL. They are reluctant to retire more because they sometimes have more players than numbers.