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Even everybody at Halas Hall can agree that whoever plays quarterback probably wouldn't matter much Sunday against the Seahawks without the Bears defense re-emerging to give up an average of 13 points the past three games. And that's no lie.
Three defensive players in particular have stepped forward recently to make a difference:
1. Adewale Ogunleye. The defensive end subtly switched to more of a power rush move against Oakland and came up with three sacks.
2. Hunter Hillenmeyer. The forgotten third linebacker made more tackles than his more famous sidekicks against the Raiders by staying on the field for all three downs, a dangerous position to put him in against a much better passing team in the Seahawks.
3. Danieal Manning. Now settled at the free safety position he should have stayed at all season, Manning looks to have improved the tackling bugaboo that was his weakness.
Three veterans the Bears defense needs to get more mileage out in the final seven games, beginning Sunday, include Mark Anderson, Darwin Walker and Ricky Manning Jr. Their play has raised questions of late.
Speaking of raising questions . . .
Has Cedric Benson gotten wider since he got drafted? I know college defenses aren't NFL defenses, but he just physically looks like a different athlete with the Bears. Do you think they convinced Cedric to put on unnecessary weight to change the type of runner he is? --Jason Novak, Chicago
If Benson truly wants to preserve a career that is slipping away from him a little more each week, he needs to do what he didn't do last off-season: Commit to Bears strength coach Rusty Jones' diet and conditioning program to recondition his body to resemble an elite NFL running back's. He indeed looks like a guy who added bad weight and that would explain the lack of a burst and reduced balance that makes Benson appear to stumble in the open field. At Texas, Benson never looked as bulky and slow as he looks now and it only has a little to do with quicker NFL defenses. He was quicker too -- quicker, leaner and more of a breakaway threat.
I'm sorry, but where does the love affair with Rex come from? Why do I keep reading about how much ''criticism he's taken,'' and how that makes him some kind of underdog. He earned that criticism. Why does the coach and support him as if he's some kind of unfairly ridiculed saint? Am I missing something? --Jacob, from Kankakee but now living overseas
Talent can be seductive to coaches of every sport, and Grossman has it. He has physical limitations (height) and mental breakdowns (decision-making) that have gotten in the way and contributed to his benching in Week 3. But besides a big right arm that can forgive many a quarterback's sins when it's accurate, Grossman possesses an intangible "it'' factor that invigorates teammates. He did earn the criticism this season and took it like a pro. Now he gets what many other athletes often receive: a second chance.
Putting you on the spot - if Grossman finishes out these last seven games with more TDs than INTs and we win four of those games, is he back under center next year? --Fred Venturini, Carlyle, Ill.
If the Bears only win four games under Grossman, that would mean they finish 8-8 and likely out of the playoffs. Grossman probably needs to lead the team into the postseason and post efficient numbers in doing so for the Bears to reconsider offering him a long-term deal. But 48 hours after reclaiming a job Lovie Smith said could be evaluated week-to-week, realistically is too early to speculate that Grossman will start for the Bears in 2008. Even he understands that.
What do the Bears know about Kyle Orton that the rest of us don't? Why is he not getting a chance at QB? --Mike, Duluth, Minn.
The Bears have seen Orton every day since 2005 so clearly they believe his talent level falls short of either Grossman or Griese. He likely will get the next chance at quarterback, however, because if Grossman fails it will mean the end of the Bears' playoff run. Orton gets a lot of credit for that 2005 run when the Bears defense and running game dominated much more than either unit has this season, and that cannot be ignored when considering Orton's readiness for the call.
What are the chances of Ricky Manning Jr. being let go after the season, and what would it do to the cap? At $21 million, that's a lot for a guy who's losing reps to a seventh-round rookie and the third linebacker. Does Manning have one of those injuries no one at Halas Hall likes to talk about? --Mark Early, Arlington, Va.
A team that values defense as much as the Bears can't have too many valuable cornerbacks. Manning still is one. If Manning were injured, he wouldn't be so baffled about his limited use. It's a mystery. He has proven to have a knack for getting the turnovers the Bears defense hasn't produced this season yet finds himself used solely as a nickel back when Nathan Vasher's injury opened the door for him to slide outside to the right cornerback slot. How the Bears have handled both Mannings in the first half of the season -- Ricky and Danieal -- created more doubt than confidence in the coaching staff.
With the quality of the Bears' tight ends, why don't they run two-tight end formations more often? --Chris Leonido, Ann Arbor, Mich.
Given the lack of production out of the Bears' slot receivers - Rashied Davis has four catches for 23 yards in his last six games - the offense would be better off sticking with two tight ends and moving Olsen around the formation. Besides Bernard Berrian, Olsen represents the team's biggest game-breaking threat - an indictment of the skill positions but the reality.
Was it just me or did Cedric Benson completely fail to pick up the linebacker blitz [by Kirk Morrison of the Raiders] that knocked Brian Griese out of the Oakland game? He was off to the right checking on a defensive end. --John, Alqonquin
Good eyes. Asked about the missed block, offensive coordinator Ron Turner provided Benson more protection than the running back has provided Bears quarterbacks on passing downs. "We had a missed assignment there and turned the guy loose [but] I don't want to start pointing fingers at who's supposed to do it," Turner said. "We just didn't pick him up. He should have been blocked, and we didn't block him." The play did nothing to inspire confidence that Benson can stay on the field on third downs to make the Bears less predictable.
Why do the Bears continue to hurt themselves by playing Fred Miller? I'm sorry but the guy literally got beat every snap. --Leon, Patterson, N.J.
There are at least 3 million reasons why the Bears keep lining up Miller as the starting right tackle. He is paid well to protect the quarterback, a part of the job Miller hasn't done consistently. But Benson's effectiveness running right as opposed to left suggests that Miller has had better luck making holes. Maybe he's hurt -- always a possibility given the Bears' history of covering injuries. John St. Clair backs up Miller but doesn't represent a clear enough of an upgrade to switch. One of Miller's potential long-term replacements, Mark LeVoir, was scooped off the Bears' practice squad this week and signed to the Rams' 53-man roster.
If the Bears end up having to draft a quarterback in April, who do you think they should take? I like Matt Ryan, Andre Woodson, and Brian Brohm, but who is best suited for the Bears? Also, do you think they will draft one in the first round? --Antrel Bryant, Frankfort
By April, the Bears will know where Grossman will spend next season, where Donovan McNabb will take snaps and who won the Derek Anderson lottery. All three factors will determine how high they will have to draft a quarterback. By the time the Bears go on the clock, Ryan, Woodson and Brohm all could be gone given the impressions they have made this season.
Now that Ricky Williams has been reinstated, can the Bears please try to pick him up from Miami? --Richard Korczyk, Evergreen Park, Ill.
Why, do the Bears owe the Dolphins a favor?