Ask David Haugh

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A pair of shorts landed on Brian Urlacher's head.

Then teammate Alex Brown grabbed one of the half-dozen microphones surrounding Urlacher at his locker Thursday and shoved it into his cheek. Urlacher shot a look he usually reserves for fullbacks when he realized who the culprit was and laughed.

Before the conversation returned to Sunday's game against the Dolphins, Lance Briggs teased Urlacher by firing a question about his bowling score.

"It's about a 175 average,'' Urlacher answered.

He obviously knocks them down better in the running lanes than the bowling lanes. Somebody cracked that the Bears needed to loosen up with 1-6 Miami coming to Soldier Field.

"Yeah, we're pretty nervous right now,'' Urlacher said sarcastically.

Unquestionably, the face of the Bears has found it easy to smile often during what is shaping up to be his best of seven NFL seasons. Only two topics tend to wipe that smile away quickly: Mention of the front-page tabloid headlines about his custody battle designed to embarrass him or the idea that the Arizona Cardinals unveiled the blueprint to beat the Bears.

Urlacher still will not address his private life in public but has no problem debunking the notion that the Cardinals are passing trade secrets around the league about the Bears' weaknesses.

"Did they beat us? No, they didn't beat us,'' Urlacher snapped. "They almost beat us but they didn't. For some reason you play four quarters in the NFL. People keep thinking you play three and I don't understand it. If that's the blueprint, then do it.''

As San Francisco found out last Sunday, the answers to beating an NFL team as complete as the Bears cannot always be found on paper.

Here are some answers that can.

Do you anticipate the Bears finalizing any player contract extensions prior to the Nov. 6 deadline for counting the money toward this year's cap? On a similar note, why didn't the Bears take advantage of the bye week to create some more positive feelings in what could be a special year by giving Lovie a big contract extension? While they may have been previously burned by extending Dick Jauron, it seems obvious that was an entirely different situation than what Lovie has going on now in Chicago. --Joe B., Oxford, Conn.

The Nov. 6 deadline already produced big news Thursday. General manager Jerry Angelo made quite a statement about how much the organization values loyalty by announcing the three-year contract extension for . While the smart move all but assured Kreutz will finish his career in a Bears uniform, it also dropped yet another hint that linebacker Lance Briggs will not. The Bears were in more danger of losing Briggs than Kreutz in the future. But during this natural negotiating window the Bears focused their energies on working out a deal with a core player committed to staying in Chicago rather than one intent on testing the market. Maybe Briggs ultimately will do what Kreutz did four years ago and turn down an offer $3 million higher to remain a Bear, but agent Drew Rosenhaus probably would not be able to look at himself in the mirror if he allowed that.

Another strong possibility gaining steam might be that the Bears apply the franchise tag on Briggs to keep him in Chicago and pay him the average of the top five linebackers in the league.

Beyond Kreutz, the Bears also took care of hard-working fullback Jason McKie, whose contract was set to expire at the end of the season, and it would make sense to do the same with free-agent-to-be starting strong safety Todd Johnson.

As for Lovie Smith's contract, there is no ticking clock. Nobody questions how it makes the Bears look cheap to have the NFL's lowest-paid head coach in charge of the league's best team. But does anyone really think that Smith will feel so slighted that he will not sign an extension when the Bears approach him at the end of the season—a timetable both sides have deemed appropriate? Ted Phillips said last spring he wanted to see more from Smith and that seems like a reasonable expectation for the president of a team that hasn't won a playoff game in more than a decade.

Remember that it wasn't that long ago that Carolina's John Fox out-coached Smith in the NFC playoffs, so ripping up Smith's deal in the off-season for a new one frankly would have been an overreaction to a surprising 11-5 season. Negotiating now might risk upsetting the chemistry in a locker room that includes a few players (Briggs, Nathan Vasher, Thomas Jones) who could wonder why the organization can find money for Kreutz and their head coach's new contracts during the season but not theirs. It's just not a pressing issue in the context of a 7-0 season. If his team keeps winning as it should, Smith will sign a bigger deal at the end of the season than he would have in the middle or during training camp and the Bears might wish they would have saved millions by locking him up earlier.

Do you think the Bears' coaching staff is trying to do to Cedric Benson what the Chiefs' coaching staff did to Larry Johnson, who was also portrayed as a malcontent while sitting behind Priest Holmes? Johnson has run angry ever since the infamous Dick Vermeil diaper comment. Here's hoping Benson does likewise. --Michael Ghilarducci, State College, Penn.

First of all, comparing Benson to a guy who has emerged as one of the best running backs in the NFL seems premature to me based on Benson's brief time on the field. No, Johnson didn't play much either his first 2½ seasons behind Holmes but I'm not sure if his immaturity suddenly disappeared only because Vermeil publicly embarrassed him. It's fair to wonder whether the Bears limited Benson's carries last week after his comments critical of the coaching staff. Johnson's progression had almost as much to do with Holmes' injury problems as it did with any enlightenment. His production only makes him seem more professional, and likewise nothing will repair Benson's image quicker in Chicago than a few 100-yard games.

Like other Bears fans I have to wonder why Cedric Benson didn't get most of, if not all, the reps in the second half? What gives? Besides that I've got my shuffling shoes on. --Fish, Brooklyn, N.Y.

It's pretty simple. Presented an ideal opportunity to get their 2005 first-round draft pick enough carries to begin to form a conclusion, the Bears took a pass. Maybe it was because Thomas Jones ran so well, maybe it was because Benson had not earned the extended action. But can we end this debate? Because, after suggesting in print before last Sunday's game that Benson should get 20 carries against a bad team if the Bears are serious about discovering what he's got, they proved to me that learning more about Benson is not a priority this season. Nor should it be with Jones playing well and the team unbeaten.

Please clear up the status of Rex Grossman's contract. I've read both that he signed a four-year deal when drafted in 2003 which would be up after the current season and have also read that his initial deal was for five years, which would carry him through next season. Which is it? Also, have extension talks begun? --Sam Athens, Irving, Texas

Grossman's contract runs through next season. The 22nd pick of the 2003 NFL draft signed a five-year, $6.9 million deal with $4.03 million in bonuses. The Bears originally wanted a six-year deal and Grossman sought voidable years, but the two sides eventually met in the middle with the five-year contract without those voidable years.

Incentives could have inflated the overall package to $18 million but injuries in his first three seasons made most of those unattainable. That injury history also has made the Bears reluctant to seriously address a contract extension to this point but, rest assured, the MVP of the offense has gained his best leverage for a long-term deal on the field. If he stays there through the second half of this terrific season, a lucrative extension seems like it would be a foregone conclusion. That's what good organizations do with franchise quarterbacks.

Todd Johnson stepped up against the 49ers by forcing two fumbles. And he's stout against the run. But he's still a liability against the pass. Either Chris Harris or Brandon McGowan will be the No. 1 strong safety by season's end. Agreed? --John Krupa, Fayetteville, Ark.

No, I don't agree. Harris and McGowan, who still wasn't on the 53-man roster as of Thursday, give the Bears quality depth but neither possesses the savvy or experience Johnson does. When Johnson replaced Mike Brown two years ago in a similar situation, he was inserted into the free-safety slot that exposed him at times and did not take full advantage of his aggressiveness against the run. He has tremendous instincts and has improved since that '04 cameo. If the Bears lose Ricky Manning Jr. to a suspension for a game or two, Johnson will find himself playing the slot receiver on many third downs—a sign how much his coverage skills have improved. Watch him play the run Sunday against the Dolphins, and then see the way he reacts to quarterback Joey Harrington. He's a smart player and, while he is no Brown, he also doesn't seem to be in any danger of losing his job.

Regarding all this "overrated" talk, it seems like the guys playing with Brian Urlacher seem to benefit greatly as well. Rosevelt Colvin, Warrick Holdman, and soon Lance Briggs will all have pretty big wallets after spending time next to 54. Is that a coincidence? --Adam Johnson, Austin, Texas

Holdman and Briggs probably benefited more from playing alongside Urlacher than Colvin, who carved his niche as a speed rusher coveted around the league. He earned his money by putting his hand on the ground and beating tackles out of his 3-point stance. Holdman and Briggs were both weak-side linebackers who would be the first to admit made more tackles because of all the game plans built around avoiding Urlacher. Barring an unexpected change in the off-season, the two will have another thing in common about their Bears career: Urlacher's $57 million contract made it hard to justify doling out similar money under the salary cap to keep another player at the same position.

I hear a lot about the Aikman Ratings. I've never seen the actual ratings, however. Where could I find them and how are they calculated? --Mike Potvin, Forest Park, Ill.

The Aikman Efficiency Ratings, a system developed by former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman that measures offensive and defensive performance based on seven statistics, can be found weekly on NFL.com. The numbers are compared against league norms and trends established over the last 10 years.

The categories are: Total Points Scored or Allowed minus Points on Returns and Safeties, Turnovers, Red Zone Efficiency, Yards Per Rush, Yards Per Pass, First-Down Achievement and Third-Down Conversion Rate.

Incidentally, the Bears are first in this week's ratings with 177 points, ahead of New England and Baltimore.

David, what ever happened to more than one running back in the backfield to show different looks and the old famous T-formation? Could the Bears use both Thomas Jones and Cedric Benson in the same formation? --Mike Humphrey, Griffith, Ind.

When the Bears use two backs in the backfield, and they still typically start games that way, fullback Jason McKie lines up in front of Thomas Jones. Using Benson and Jones together at the same time serves no practical purpose. If it's a split-back formation, then it likely would suggest a passing down and the Bears would be better with receiver Rashied Davis in the game. If it were to run the ball, which of those two is the lead blocker? Benson? The two-running back idea didn't really take off when Anthony Thomas was Jones' backup and it's not really ready to take flight now with Benson in the No. 2 role.

My friend and I were wondering who the Bears would draft next year. He says they'll probably pick an outside linebacker in the first round, but I think they'll take a safety. Who do you think they'll take? --Matt, Naperville, Ill.

They likely will be picking near the end of the first round but still could find a player ready to contribute immediately, as second-round starter Danieal Manning is proving this year. If the Bears lose Lance Briggs, a very real possibility given his expected asking price, then targeting the best outside linebacker on the board might make sense. Remember that Briggs was still there in the third round of the 2003 draft so good linebackers can be found later too. They took a safety first last April—Manning—so less of a need exists there. At some point, the Bears really have to worry about stocking their roster with young offensive linemen so that position would be a smart choice. As good as the current line is, it's not getting any younger and the Bears have only drafted one offensive linemen since Lovie Smith arrived.

David, you've probably answered this question before but, why don't the Bears wear their orange jerseys more often? I think they look great and the Bears have great "mojo" while wearing them. I'm probably not the only fan who really likes these jerseys. Is there anyone in the Bears front office whom we can contact to try and persuade them to wear these shirts more often? --Phil, Maryland

Part of the reason the Bears play so well in their orange jerseys lately is the fact that the 49ers were the opponent in each of the past two seasons. It has more to do with the foe than the fashion. Personally, I think they're gaudy and little more than a transparent attempt to put another product on the shelves to market before the Christmas shopping season. Stay in the traditional navy blues and whites and, if the Bears must flip the laundry once a season, do the throwback jersey thing like the Sox did because that might create a more classic look.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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