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SportsMondayTuesday: Chris Conte Lurks

I have no clue. Surely you're not claiming you have one either. And yes, I'll stop calling you Shirley.

I have no clue how good the 2014-15 Bears defense can be. Nor am I aware of the existence of any sort of comprehensive metric convincingly breaking down how bad they will be. I'm trying to say that in a "the glass is half full and half empty" sort of way. This defense could be good, certainly. It could also be very, very bad. And no one knows how it will play out - no one.

That makes predicting a record for the Bears a fool's errand at this point. But I won't let that sort of trivial detail get in the way of a fearlessly bold and in-the-end entirely inconsequential prognostication!

On the plus side, the defensive line obviously has all sorts of potential. And there is reason to believe the Bears have three above-average cornerbacks (at least they do as long as Charles Tillman can stay healthy - which becomes significantly less likely each year in the twilight of his great career). But then there are the other position groups.

We hope Reggie Herring is such a good linebackers coach that he brings third-year man Shea McClellin and especially year-two Jon Bostic along quickly. Herring is in his first year with the Bears, but he has plenty of experience coaching NFL linebackers; he had two stints doing so with the Texans and one with the Cowboys in the last decade.

Bostic was a real good linebacker in college at a big-time program (Florida). If the Bears can't develop him into at least an above-average NFL linebacker, one has to fear whether their overall program on that side of the ball is good enough. Either he will get the most snaps at the third linebacker position this Sunday against the Bills or . . .

McClellin, who played college ball at a slightly less proficient football factory (Idaho State) is more of a long shot - which makes his story especially compelling heading into the season. He has to be the primary reason the Bears, and specifically general manager Phil Emery, brought in Herring.

McClellin was Emery's first draft pick after he took the job in 2012 and by now let's hope the GM has at least acknowledged to himself that he botched it. He saw McClellin's raw speed and size and projected him as a potentially perfect pass-rushing defensive end. McClellin did show flashes at that position last year. And we will always remember that glorious day last fall when he smashed into Aaron Rodgers and ended up breaking Rodgers' collarbone as he pounded him down to the turf.

But the third-year man wasn't ever strong enough to set anything approaching an assertive edge along the line of scrimmage, and was easily overwhelmed by strong offensive linemen when the opposing team ran the ball. So the Bears decided to move him to linebacker this year. Hopefully when Emery acknowledged the aforementioned mistake to himself, he also concluded that he needs to avoid overthinking and overreaching at the draft in the future. A successful team does not waste first-rounders on projects who switch positions immediately upon arrival in the NFL unless they are spectacularly athletic. McClellin is definitely not that.

A fan will always suspect that McClellin would be best as a linebacker in a 3-4 scheme (that's what he played in college). And if he fails this year, perhaps he will get a shot at a spot on a defense that runs that scheme - after the Bears release him.

Veterans Lance Briggs (who if anything is even less likely to stay healthy than Tillman) and D.J. Williams return as the starters at weak side and middle. They both joined their teammates in looking terrible against the Seahawks in the second-to-last preseason game. There is more reason to believe that that didn't matter for veterans than it would be for younger players, but who the heck really knows.

At this writing, the Bears' starting safeties appear to be free agent signees Ryan Mundy and Dan McCray. They also sucked against the Seahawks. Chris Conte lurks, and while he was awful at safety last year, I think the Bears know that when he fully recovers from what appears to be a less-than-catastrophic concussion suffered in his only bit of preseason action, he is still their best bet on the roster to come through with above average play at the position this season. It is hard to see that as a positive sign in any way shape or form.

I'm going with the Bears finishing 11-5 and making the playoffs as a wild card behind the Packers. I am doing that in part because I'm a sap who allows what I hope will happen to leak into my analysis of what I predict will happen.

And heck, at this point no one can say that 11-5 is less likely than 5-11. That's as good a reason as any to go with 11 victories

Manny Time
Attention Chicago sports media! There was a big story in the notes in the sports section I read Saturday morning. But I fear it will not receive proper attention. And that is because it is a big story that puts Cubs management in a bad light and somehow those stories just keep getting underplayed.

The Cubs acknowledged that the 2014 Manny Ramirez minor league player/hitting coach desperation move ended atrociously. Manny apparently hurt his knee last week and couldn't hit anymore. So rather than finish the season as a coach, which would have required that he work all of four more days until the last Triple-A game scheduled for today, Manny instead insisted on leaving immediately on Friday.

That apparently was fine with the Cubs. That's pathetic.

Remember that this is the organization that still refuses to get over the fact that in his last season with the club, Sammy Sosa was removed from his final game and then left the clubhouse before the game ended. So Sosa leaving a last game in which he was no longer playing was a sin punishable by open-ended banishment. Manny bailing four games before season's end is A-OK.

No matter how many prospects they pile up by trading the assets left to them by the previous general manager or by tanking season after season to ensure great first-round draft pick after great first-round draft pick, the Cubs are still the laughingstock of the National League. Way to go Theo!

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Jim "Coach" Coffman is our man on Mondays, and Tuesdays after holiday weekends. He welcomes your comments.

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