Recently, I was approached by Michael Praser, a FanSided Staff Writer for BearGogglesOn.com. Michael covers the Chicago Bears, and we exchanged questionnaires on a few things regarding the upcoming season. Since the two teams will meet again for third time in four years, we found it fitting to share our questions and answers with you.
You can find Michael on Twitter, @bearseveryday.
Michael: What did you like and/or dislike about what the New Orleans Saints did in free agency and the draft?
John: Let’s start with the draft. I graded the Saints overall draft with a B. I loved the first round selection of Brandin Cooks, and it was a sign that the Saints weren’t going to change their attack scheme on offense, something that was rumored to change after success against the Eagles and Seahawks in the playoffs. In my eyes, the only head scratcher was the selection of Alabama’s Vinnie Sunseri. However, we’re being shown why Sunseri is on the team, as he has taken a lot of the team’s 2nd string snaps.
As for free agency, that is a no brainer. The addition of former Buffalo Bills safety, Jairus Byrd, was easily the best add in free agency for the Saints, and possibly the best offseason move in the NFL. The team only added a few other players in free agency. I think we’re familiar with that guy Champ Bailey. However, the team also added fullback Erik Lorig of the Buccaneers, and added another former Canadian Football League player, Marcus Ball, to the team. Ball could easily be the younger and re-mastered version of Roman Harper. The losses of a host of long-standing Saints players did hurt in terms of emotions, but most of us look at it for the ‘greater good’.
Michael: Which rookie are you most looking forward to seeing this season?
John: The obvious answer is Brandin Cooks. However, I’m going to actually go with Stanley Jean-Baptiste. He draws an extreme amount of comparison to Seahawks corner Richard Sherman. He has some of the best teaching in the business with veteran Champ Bailey, defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, and secondary coach Wesley McGriff. We’ve seen the effects of converting a former basketball player to tight end, maybe we’re witnessing the next wave of converted receivers to cornerback.
Michael: What do you feel the New Orleans Saints weakest link is going into Training Camp?
John: This has nothing to do with bias, but there are few weak links on the Saints. If I had to choose something, it would be the kicker and return specialist position. The team has not had a consistent answer at kicker for quite some time, and there’s uncertainty with who will win the kicking battle. Both Shayne Graham and Derek Dimke are impressing in camp, but the issue with Graham would be his long-range, but with Dimke we aren’t completely sure what we’d get if he becomes the favorite.
Michael: Can you tell us about a player on the roster who hasn’t reached the spotlight but you feel will be a difference maker in 2014?
John: I have two choices, and they are both on defense: Defensive tackle Akiem Hicks and nose tackle John Jenkins. They are both underrated players when you scan over the Rob Ryan defense. Hicks has made more noise each season, and is poised for a breakout year. Most of the attention shifts to the opposite side with Cam Jordan and Junior Galette, so Hicks is in a prime position to be a quarterback’s worst nightmare. As for Jenkins, he did have to have some offseason surgery, but as a rookie, Jenkins was able to unseat veteran Brodrick Bunkley as the team’s starting nose tackle. I believe he was one of the most important reasons for the Saints improved rush defense.
Michael: I know it’s ridiculously early, but I know everyone looks at the schedule in the offseason trying to predict wins and losses. How do you feel about the matchup(s) against the Bears?
I actually previewed this matchup when I ranked the New Orleans Saints 2014 Games. I have this game ranked as my #8 most anticipated matchup. For my quick ‘cliff notes’ version:
This game could be a huge question mark for the Saints, but the bigger question mark in my eyes is, what type of team do the Bears field this year? Jay Cutler is now ‘the man’ in Chicago, and a sluggish start could have him face a good bit of pressure in the Windy City. I’ll go with this being a highly entertaining matchup (as usual), but I’ll take my Saints again.
In turn, I had my questions for Michael surrounding the Bears upcoming season.
John: What do you think of the loss of Josh McCown? Is Jay Cutler really the guy to carry the Bears?
Michael: I am a true believer when it comes to Jay Cutler. I have believed in Cutler since the first day the Bears traded for him. Josh McCown was awesome last year, but I believe that it was because of Marc Trestman’s quarterback friendly system. He also had an awesome supporting cast around him. Matt Forte, Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery and Martellus Bennett are every defensive coordinator’s nightmare to prepare for. Just look at what Alshon Jeffery did last year against the Saints. I know the Bears lost that game, but 218 receiving yards is not an easy task to accomplish. I think that losing Josh McCown was inevitable, and I am really happy for him. He deserves to be a starter somewhere based on last years performance, and what better team to do it for than Lovie Smith’s Buccaneers. If I was a Bucs fan, I wouldn’t count on McCown repeating last year’s performance. That is good news for Saints fans at least. It would have been a nice luxury to still have him on the Bears, but Jay Cutler is the man in Chicago.
John: What’s the mood like in Chicago with Marc Trestman being ‘the guy’? Do you believe that he’s on the hot seat already?
Michael: The mood is great. Marc Trestman has completely changed the locker room for the Chicago Bears. He came in and mixed the offensive players with the defensive players to create a complete team atmosphere and so far it has been working great. He is far from being on the hot seat as head coach. The only coach on the hot seat is defensive coordinator Mel Tucker who took over a top 10 defense and turned it into one of the worst defenses in Bears history. There are too many question marks on Tucker right now. The Bears were using Lovie Smith’s system last year instead of Tuckers. There were major injuries on defense last year, essentially the complete interior of the defensive line was lost for the whole season. Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman both got injured, and Julius Peppers was non-existent on the stat sheet. Was it because of Tucker that the defense was so bad, or was it the loss of key players during the season? There are way too many variables to look at in deciding if it was Mel Tucker, players, scheme or position coaches. The Bears decided it was players and position coaches because they did a major overhaul at the end of the season in both Free Agency and the Draft.
John: Bears fans (and a lot of other team’s fans) have hated Jared Allen for a while. What’s it going to be like to actually have to root for him now? Also, what’s it going to be like to have to boo Julius Peppers?
Michael: I have never hated Jared Allen. He was actually one of those players I loved to watch when he wasn’t playing the Bears. I kept joking with myself this offseason that the Bears sure could use a pass rusher like Jared Allen after letting Julius Peppers go. Then, poof! Jared Allen is on the Bears. I loved the move and have been contemplating purchasing a Jared Allen jersey. You see, I have a problem. I am a recovering jersey-holic. I don’t know why, but I love buying Bears jerseys. At least I used to. Jared Allen might put me on the dark path again. I was real close to getting a Brandon Marshall jersey. My wife talked me down. I almost bought her one, but decided it wouldn’t be the same as me buying one. Anyway, I decided to quit after getting my Jay Cutler jersey. I’ve been happy so far.
As for Julius Peppers, it will be easy rooting against him since he is on the Packers. I don’t like those guys. I respect them, but I don’t like them. At all. Stupid Packers. Grrrrr….
John: How would you rank the Chicago Bears Draft and Free Agency? What moves were you most proud of/hated the most?
Michael: I was a little upset when the Bears passed on Ha Ha Clinton-Dix in the first round, and I was even more upset when the Green Bay Packers drafted him. But then, I started looking at Kyle Fuller, and realized that Emery made the right move. We need a big corner who can match up against tight ends, especially now that the Lions took Eric Ebron in the first round of the draft. Then, Emery drafted not one, but two defensive tackles in the next two rounds. That made me very happy, especially after picking up big boy Ego Ferguson. The Bears needed a run stuffer in the middle, and he should be stuffing some runs. Emery drafted for the specific needs of the Bears, and we will probably be looking back at this draft as the one that fixed the defense for years to come. I understand why he drafted a punter, but he still drafted a punter. Who drafts a punter? When you have a chance, make sure you look up Pat O’Donnell. He is a special kind of punter. Let’s just say he doesn’t worry about getting hurt when he tackles a punt returner.
As for free agency, I am very happy with what Phil Emery did. He focused on the defensive line and picked up Jared Allen, Willie Young, Lamarr Houston and Israel Idonije. They also signed safeties Ryan Mundy and M.D. Jennings to battle for starting roles. Everyone that Phil Emery signed who isn’t a day one starter is a decent special teams player. Emery doesn’t ignore special teams when signing players from both free agency and the draft. I did wish that the Bears focused on the safety position, but I think they feel that if they fix their defensive line that the safety play will improve dramatically. The Bears defensive line was just awful last year, and so were the safeties.
John: New Orleans comes to town in December. It’s going to be cold and on Monday Night Football. Let’s hear what you think about the matchup.
Michael: I think that the Saints create a tough matchup no matter what. They have an explosive offense and a defense that knows how to put pressure on the quarterback. With their recent signings in the offseason, they only got better. That being said, I have witnessed many games in person at Soldier Field in December including a few vs. the Saints, and I will give a slight edge to the Bears. If the game was in New Orleans, I would probably pick the Saints to win, but it is extremely difficult to win at Soldier Field with that cold air blowing in from Lake Michigan. I love watching the Saints play and this should be a great matchup if both teams are going in 90% healthy.