What's up with the change to Leon Johnson on passing downs? Can Thomas not pass block, or is there something else going on? --Brad Marsh, Santa Rosa, Calif.
As I outline in my Tuesday story, a lot is going on, even though the Bears aren't calling Thomas' situation a demotion. The reality is that the Bears have a case of "Creeping Leon," with Leon Johnson slowly outplaying Thomas in certain areas and coaches rightly going with the better play in those situations. Johnson is a better goal-line runner; he scored about once every five carries last year. He is a better short-yardage back in general, in the coaches' minds, because he keeps his pads low, runs with more drive if not speed, and has a knack for twisting to pick up an extra foot or two. He's a better pass blocker, which is becoming key. Thomas did little of that at Michigan, has some badly missed assignments this year, and that is part of why Johnson is all of a sudden the nickel back on offense, as he was in the three scoring drive to finish Sunday vs. Detroit. Johnson is a usually sure-handed back, which is why he's used as a returner despite lacking classic speed. All of which just isn't leaving a whole lot for Anthony Thomas, especially the way he has slumped this season.
John, despite the bad record, I think this coaching staff has done a solid job. Keep in mind the Bears are three first downs away from a 5-5 record. They've had the most injuries in the NFL, have not played a home game, are playing one of the more difficult schedules, and some of the younger guys (Boone, Robertson) are not quite ready yet. All that said, I think Jauron has done a better job than last year. I know I'm probably the only Bear fan to believe that, so please tell me how crazy I am. --Bob Griliot, Noblesville, Ind.
The story of this season is injuries. Period. The Green Bay Packers had as many injuries, but they have Brett Favre and that is the difference in the team's seasons. There were simply too many early for this team to absorb, especially when it was to one starter after another to the defense on a team that starts with its defense's ability to stop people cold. And the hurts have been to leaders; Jim Miller is the leader of the offense and Ted Washington is the emotional center of the defense, at least for now. When those two guys, along with Phillip Daniels and R.W. McQuarters, went down, so did the swagger quotient of a team that needs that. The Kansas City Chiefs thought LB Warrick Holdman was better than Brian Urlacher, which is why they offered him the contract they did. And then he went down for the season. You're also quite right about the schedule. With the exception of the Detroit Lions twice, the Bears have faced teams or players who were in Pro Bowls, Super Bowls or both every week since the New Orleans game. That's a tough schedule, especially when you lose as many starters as they did.
With Chandler hurt again, and Miller stumbling over his own feet, it looks like the Bears may have to go to both Burris and Sauter (who nobody's ever heard of). If they are in the NFL, shouldn't they be able to play? --Mike Sherman, Springfield, Ill.
They can, just not as well as either Chandler or Miller. Both are works in progress and it's really not certain how good either can be. Right now there is an enormous drop-off from 1-2 to 3-4, and you might take a look at the fact that Green Bay had Burris last year, and Indianapolis and others had Sauter. There are not a lot of really, really good quarterbacks and teams hope they can find the next Kurt Warner somewhere on the scrap heap. But it takes time for quarterbacks to emerge in the NFL, with few exceptions.
After a season of unimaginative play-calling, I thought John Shoop did a great job of play-calling against the Lions. He was very aggressive and unpredictable. Do you agree? If you do, let's give him credit for a good performance so there will be a chance he will remain as aggressive as he was on Sunday. For once the Bear coaches played to win, rather than not to lose. --Jim Smith, Fayetteville, Ark.
Winning makes everybody look smart; losing makes everybody look like Marty Mornhinweg. Players and plays make coaches look like geniuses, and you could argue that some plays Sunday were conservative. But others like the Jim Miller throws to Dez White down the stretch were that good mix of correct play-calling and guys simply executing. If Miller isn't able to get up and hit White down the stretch, Shoop's a dummy again.
With all of the injuries on the offensive line, will we see our third-round pick Terrence Metcalf this year? Can you tell us how he's developing? --Ryan O'Connor, Kenosha, Wis.
Metcalf is being activated and it is likely that you'll see a little of him before the season is over. But he is a rookie, with all that entails, and the guys ahead of him are clearly better. As far as how he's developing, watch the preseason games in 2003 or in spot duty when and if the Bears are officially out of playoff hope. Players don't get a lot of reps this time of year, so there are limits to how much they can develop.