Terry Bannon on the Bears

SportsFootballChicago BearsCedric BensonRuben BrownFred MillerKevin Hardy

With Kevin Hardy available, would cutting Paul Edinger and restructuring R.W. McQuarters' contract open up some cap room and be a smart move by the Bears to fill the outside linebacker position? --Patrick D., Raleigh, N.C.

Patrick, the Bears have issues with Edinger and McQuarters, of course, but they aren't necessarily linked to finding another strong-side linebacker. With big money committed to Brian Urlacher, and Lance Briggs next in line for a new deal possibly as early as next year, the linebacker budget is filling up. They're keeping an eye out for a quick, mobile, linebacker. Kevin Hardy, the former Illinois star on the wrong side of 30, doesn't fit the bill. They may add a veteran in June, but it will probably be one who is willing to play for the minimum salary.

Edinger and McQuarters are overpaid compared to their current production, but replacements are needed first. The Bears didn't draft a cornerback, and Jerry Azumah is in the final year of his contract. If McQuarters leaves and the Bears suffer an injury like they did with Charles Tillman last year, a strength could suddenly become a weakness. They need to tread warily.

Hey, Terry, I love the selection of Cedric Benson, but one thing worries me: Doesn't he look awfully familiar to Curtis Enis with his power running between the tackles? Please help me by saying he's better than that. --Shalin Patel, DeKalb, Ill.

I understand your frustration, Shalin, given the failure of some recent Bears' first-round picks. To some degree, he looks similar, but he has the quickness to get outside and is comfortable in the passing game. Benson also comes to the Bears with a clean record as far as injury goes. Remember, part of Enis' problem with the Bears was a knee injury. It's interesting how things have changed. It seems nowadays Bears fans are more concerned about winding up with the next Salaam or Enis instead of the next Sayers, Payton or Anderson.

What is the reason behind Jerry Angelo letting Anthony Thomas leave to be a free agent, when the kid did nothing but do what the team asked of him, rushed for 100 yards each game he started last year, and he had been a very productive back in his previous seasons? What didn't Angelo like about A-Train? I know I don't get paid to make these decisions, but this one has always baffled me, especially now that the Bears will be more of a between-the-tackles, run-oriented team with Ron Turner's offense. --Dennis Bonner, Eagen, Minn.

Dennis, Jerry Angelo went on the record long ago as saying Anthony Thomas was not a "special" back. A good one, but not a special one. He wasn't a big factor in the passing game. He isn't as comfortable catching the ball coming out of the backfield as Thomas Jones is, but he could have been used more in that area. By the time Jones was signed last season to fit that new offense, that decision had been made. Thomas was at his best when the interior of the Bears' offensive line was healthy and playing well. He's less likely to do damage to defenses on his own than some other backs. Actions often speak for themselves, and Angelo is basically saying that a first-round pick like Cedric Benson is better than a fifth-year guy who was a second-round pick.

Why is Angelo getting a pass for drafting Cedric Benson just one year after signing Thomas Jones to a lucrative free-agent deal? If it's because the offensive scheme has changed, doesn't this reflect a lack of leadership or at least the absence of a plan? --Al Bloom, Holiday, Fla.

Al, I don't think Angelo has gotten a pass. It's clear last year's plan for the offense, which needed a back like Jones, didn't work, though Jones' production was not the issue. So this year, there's a new plan. Benson, they believe, can get them tough yards near the goal line, and then some. They need help scoring points, obviously. Jones has talents they can still exploit.

Terry, I'm worried about the Bears' offensive line. I think John Tait is overrated; I saw him get thrown around a lot and now he'll be protecting the quarterback's blindside. Fred Miller, while with the Titans, got whipped by Adewale Ogunleye last year, too. And who is going to play guard opposite Ruben Brown? Last year we were sacked an awful lot. Can you talk me down off the ledge? --John Santucci, Schaumburg, Ill.

John, first, calm down. Get out your old "Blues Brothers" poster of the '85 offensive line and remember the good old days...for a while...

The line will have a new look this season and they have a chance to be good if injuries don't get in the way (they started 10 linemen last year). Tait represents an improvement at left tackle, and Fred Miller should give the Bears steady play at right tackle. Last year, Miller played hurt much of the season, including when the Bears played the Titans (and the Bears are paying Ogunleye to beat up on whoever he plays, but that's another story). Ruben Brown is coming back from a neck injury, and he was playing very well when he went down.

Olin Kreutz remains a Pro Bowl force at center. The other guard spot is up for grabs, with Terrence Metcalf and Robert Garza, who started for Atlanta because of injuries last year, the leaders for the job. All of those 66 sacks weren't the line's fault. The Bears are counting on better decision making at quarterback and receiver to take pressure off the line.

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