LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Attention to detail set apart Phil Emery from the other candidates when the Chicago Bears started the search for a new general manager to replace Jerry Angelo.
That same trait impressed the fans when Emery took the podium during his first news conference of the 2012 offseason when he outlined the plan moving forward for the club. And nothing’s changed. Emery made that apparent Monday during somewhat of a State of the Union address regarding the Bears.
Although longwinded at times, Emery laid out reasoning for all the club's recent roster activities, and the plans for the team as it moves into the future. Here’s a sampling from Emery’s opening remarks at Halas Hall:
“Want to talk a little about our roster composition and how it got to where it’s at today, restate our goals for our roster when I came in, how we’re working toward attaining those goals that were outlined for our team. No. 1 is we want to develop or have more offensive weapons for the quarterback. No. 2 is, in developing those weapons for a quarterback, we were going to become a quarterback-centered team, and we were going to need to develop the protection of the quarterback and those weapons that he had in terms of helping him with the protection, always having an outlet in the center of the field that he could see while he was undergoing pressure.
“We also wanted to address our defensive needs in terms of moving forward as we start to replenish our defense moving forward through our years is that we do it with sudden, dynamic players; high-level athletes that can make plays, just like the offensive weapons, guys that can hit home runs, guys on defense that can run down great athletes, and that’s what we set out to accomplish.
“Part of when you look at a roster is knowing what needs to improve or be fixed, and also know what isn’t broke(n) and doesn’t need to be tampered with. On our roster this year from 2012, the last two years moving forward, there’s 31 of the 53 (playerS) on the roster (who) are new people. So there’s been a 55 percent turnover. On offense that’s 18 of our 24. So that’s a 75 percent turnover on the offensive roster since January of 2012. Only 42 percent of those, 10 of the 24, are original Bears. On defense, little bit different story. Thirteen out of 25 or 52 percent turnover vs. the 75 percent; 68 percent, 17 out of 25 are original Bears. So we’re moving in the direction to improve the offense and slowly moving in the direction to add youth to the defense. I think our roster numbers speak to that. It speaks of the consistency of trying to work toward our goals to improve the weapons on our team, to improve the protection for our quarterback, to be quarterback centered and to slowly add youth and dynamic athleticism to our defense as our needs arise.”
What needs to improve, Emery said, is the team’s approach to building the roster with original talent, whether through draft picks or undrafted free agents. Emery came to that conclusion, in part, by studying Chicago’s roster in comparison with those of the rest of the NFC North.
Despite Green Bay's standing as a division rival, clearly Emery respects what the Packers have done.
“I was curious to in terms of retention of original players on the rosters, not only for our team but for teams in our division. I went through it and what I saw was we're 29 out of the 53 players that we have or roughly 55 percent are original Bears. They were on this team originally. The Green Bay Packers are 43 of 53. The Minnesota Vikings are 39 of 53, and the Detroit Lions are 27 of 53.
“I firmly believe the best way to build a team is your own original talent: your draft picks, your college free agents. It helps you in several ways. It helps you manage the cap, so that it gives you flexibility that when you do need a dynamic player to help you fill in, you are able to go and get them. You have the cap flexibility to go get that player, which can add to the consistency of your team winning year in, year out. It also gives your team a home-grown flavor for your fans and allows those players to be together longer to improve together, and to play together as a team for a longer period with more consistency. Now, that's not the only way to build a team.
“When I came in here, I've already stated what our philosophy toward building is. What I'm saying is what we need to do in terms of continuing to improve our roster and our chances to gain and be in a position to win championships consistently is we need to retain more of our own players. We need to have more years like we had this year in terms of having a high number of picks and college free agents on the roster relative to what we brought in. We need to have that consistently. I need to do a better job of finding ways to gain more picks on draft day, and we need to do a better job as a college staff in our recruitment and retention of high-quality college free agents. That's how you produce rosters at these types of numbers: where the Packers are at, where the Vikings are at. How have they gone about it? They've had consistency in the front office. They've had consistency of coaching. They've had consistency of a philosophy moving forward. We've undergone a change. Change brings a different dynamic, obviously. But whether it's players that were on the roster when I was here, or the roster moving forward, what we want to do is consistently hit on our college picks. Now, the last two years we have a total of 14, five (picks) from last year and nine from this year. We need to have more years like this year to continue to build this roster to be consistent and be consistently in a spot where we can win championships.”
Emery said quite a mouthful here, but his remarks give you an idea of the plan of attack with the roster, and how the personnel department has gone about accomplishing the GM’s goals. The task seems arduous. But for Bears fans, Emery’s dogged effort to stick to his originally-stated goals, and the detail-oriented approach he’s used toward working the plan should provide some optimism.
Offensively, turnover has been high while on defense, the Bears have added youth in select spots to gradually replenish the unit.
Emery’s plans seem like they could take time to fully develop, but the 2013 season should provide at least a small indication of whether things are working.
We'll be checking back in with Emery this offseason for sure.