NFL Nation: Phil Emery


Chicago Bears general manager Phil Emery spoke confidently Sunday during a pregame interview on WBBM, as if business would continue as usual at Halas Hall in the wake of the team's season-ending 13-9 loss to the Minnesota Vikings.

"Obviously, it's at the end of the season," Emery said. "So on Monday, we'll have a team meeting. Our coaches will hold that meeting. After that, they'll start evaluating players. We've already done that from a personnel perspective, and we'll move forward."

Perhaps Emery knows what the coaches don't at this point, which is unlikely, as multiple staffers believe they'll be fired as soon as Monday, according to sources. But regardless of whether Emery or the coaching staff is retained, several key issues need to be addressed, and it's unclear whether it can all be accomplished in one short offseason.

The new league year and the start of free agency fall on March 10. Then on April 30, the 2015 NFL draft kicks off in Chicago. A few months later, in July, the Bears begin training camp at Olivet Nazarene University.

Somewhere between now and July, the Bears need to make decisions and moves that push the franchise in the right direction. Coach Marc Trestman believes he has the answers and plans to present them soon at Halas Hall.

"I expect to be back. I couldn't look at it any other way," Trestman told reporters after the finale in Minneapolis. "My plan is to continue to finalize my notes now that this season is over and make sure that [when] the opportunity arises, I'll be able to explain how we fix this thing. All I know right now is we've got a meeting tomorrow at 11 o'clock with the team, and we're moving forward from there. Nobody understands the situation better than I do. I've lived it every day for the last two years and certainly the last six months. So I think I have some expertise in that area. In putting my thoughts down, I don't think there's anybody in a better position to assess it other than myself and Phil [Emery]."

In stumbling to a 5-11 record and five consecutive losses to close the season, the Bears fielded a roster in 2014 featuring an NFL-high 17 rookies, which would be a positive heading into the offseason, if the majority of the young players were promising. Some are, no doubt, but for the majority that's not the case.

Regardless of whether the organization drops the general manager or the coaching staff, once the preliminary decisions are made in the coming days, the Bears need to upgrade the personnel on both sides of the ball.

Offensively, the Bears possess several talented weapons at the skill positions and adequate blockers in the middle. But the club needs to add a legitimate deep threat in the slot to take some of the pressure off Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery on the outside, in addition to acquiring some depth at the position.

[+] EnlargeMarc Trestman
AP Photo/David GoldmanDespite a five-game losing streak to end the 2014 season, Bears coach Marc Trestman expects to return to the organization for 2015.
Most importantly on that side of the ball, the Bears need to figure out what to do with enigmatic quarterback Jay Cutler, who finished Sunday's game with a passer rating of 75.2 on 23-of-36 passes for 172 yards and no touchdowns. Cutler's 2015 salary of $15.5 million is already fully guaranteed, and if he remains on the roster on the third day of the new league year, a $10 million guarantee on his 2016 salary kicks in. Given the team's decision to bench Cutler after a horrid performance during a 31-15 loss to New Orleans on Dec. 15, his future appears to be murky, and there's no guarantee a new coaching staff or general manager would be on board with the quarterback leading the 2015 Bears.

Trestman said Sunday he believes Cutler can be part of the team's plans in 2015, but that's not set in stone, either. Given Cutler's immense arm talent, there's no doubt a market will exist for the quarterback's services this offseason. But the Bears need to make a move on that front sooner rather than later.

Cutler said he hasn't considered the possibility of having to play for a fifth offensive coordinator since 2009 if the team fires the current coaching staff.

"I don't think anyone knows what's going to happen," Cutler told reporters. "No one knows what direction we're going. I'm pretty confident we'll know soon. I don't think it's going to be something that's going to drag out. We won't consider anything until decisions are made, then we'll take it from there."

On defense, Chicago needs a severe talent makeover, mainly in the secondary at both safety positions, as Ryan Mundy was basically a career backup before joining the Bears, while Chris Conte isn't likely to be brought back, as his deal is set to expire. The Bears could also help themselves by acquiring at least one cornerback to pair with promising rookie Kyle Fuller, as veteran Tim Jennings has underperformed since signing a four-year deal last January worth $24 million. Perhaps he's better suited, at this point, to play nickel. Charles Tillman isn't likely to return either, considering he's finished on the injured reserve in each of the past two seasons, due to tearing the same triceps muscle, and the club also needs to upgrade at linebacker, as franchise stalwart Lance Briggs isn't expected back.

"It's an absolute necessity this offseason. You don't just sit around and talk about what happened last year," defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff told WBBM just hours before Sunday's game. "Get up and do something about it every day; weight room, running. Everyone individually knows what they need to get ready for next year. So don't dream about it. Go do it."

Same goes for this franchise's ownership.
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Aaron Kromer broke locker room code and breached the trust of quarterback Jay Cutler, but in the wake of this latest demonstration of dysfunction at Halas Hall, it’s worth pondering what the Chicago Bears brass would actually accomplish now by firing the offensive coordinator. Not that it's been discussed.

While Kromer likely brought about at least a small amount of distrust within the locker room by criticizing Cutler on background to an NFL Network reporter last week, on the flip side, there are players in that locker room who believe the offensive coordinator simply said what needed to be said. According to the Chicago Tribune, Kromer, during a meeting on Monday, made a tearful apology for criticizing Cutler, which led to a report by the network Sunday that the organization is feeling “buyer’s remorse” after signing the signal-caller to a seven-year, $126.7 million contract.

[+] EnlargeAaron Kromer
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsFiring Aaron Kromer for his criticism of QB Jay Cutler wouldn't solve the problems that continue to plague the Bears.
Kromer apologized again during a news conference Friday and Cutler said he respected that and the relationship is good.

Kromer's sentiment shouldn’t come as a surprise. If you buy a Ferrari and it handles like a bobsled, wouldn’t you have buyer’s remorse, too?

“It doesn’t always fall on (Cutler),” Bears receiver Brandon Marshall said Monday during “The Brandon Marshall Show” on ESPN 1000. “I guess that's why those guys are the highest paid players out there because when you win and everything is going good, they get all the glory. When it's bad, they take more than what they should take. But I can understand that. As far as a businessman, I would have buyer's remorse, too."

That’s only natural for a team coming into the season with high hopes hinging on a quarterback the organization believed had finally turned the corner and was poised to finally live up to the promise of his immense physical gifts.

The Bears acquired Cutler from the Denver Broncos in a 2009 trade, and since the quarterback's arrival in Chicago, the team has advanced to the postseason only once (2010). In five-plus seasons with the Bears, Cutler has played in four offensive systems for four coordinators, and it seemed possible the latest revelation could result in the club bringing in No. 5.

But what would that accomplish at this point?

After all, Kromer doesn’t call plays or make important personnel decisions. That’s all on head coach Marc Trestman. Kromer is this team’s offensive coordinator in title only.

Cutler, 31, leads the league in turnovers (a league-high 15 interceptions and six fumbles), but currently owns the highest passer rating (91.7) of his nine-year NFL career.

Trestman on Monday remained committed to Cutler as the club's starting quarterback.

Perhaps he should, considering Cutler was actually involved in the interview process that brought Trestman to Chicago. Let’s also remember the Bears chose Trestman over current Arizona head coach Bruce Arians.

Was it because Cutler preferred the subdued Trestman over the demonstrative, take-charge Arians?

Regardless of what the answer to that question is, the fact is Cutler has been coddled for way too long in Chicago. Some players in the locker room know that. They also probably know that firing Kromer won’t change anything as the man who calls the plays, makes the decisions, and seems to struggle to hold Cutler accountable will still be in place.

Make no mistake, what Kromer said wasn’t wrong. It was just the manner in which he did it.

Ultimately though, while firing Kromer now might restore a little of the trust in the locker room, the truth is such a move would only do what the organization has done all along, and that’s to bend over backwards for a quarterback who isn’t providing real return on investment.

Midseason report: Chicago Bears

November, 5, 2014
11/05/14
11:00
AM ET
» AFC Report: East | West | North | South » NFC: East | West | North | South | HOME

Fresh off a 51-23 throttling at the hands of the New England Patriots, Chicago Bears coach Marc Trestman and general manager Phil Emery conducted a dual press conference at Halas Hall, where they expressed disappointment over the team’s inconsistent performances through the first half of the season, while stressing the need to remain unified.

“We’re a 3-5 football team, and that’s what our record states,” Emery said. “The NFL’s about winning games, and we deserve the criticism we have and should have from that record. I’m extremely disappointed in where we’re at as a football team right now, and that disappointment starts with being extremely disappointed for our fans. They, like us, held high optimism for the start of our season and where we would be at that midpoint, and we’ve let them down in that regard. We understand and share their frustrations and clearly understand our failures at this point.”

But what will the Bears do to turn things around for the second half? Trestman believes a long, hard critical self-evaluation is in order.

“We’ve got a chance to look back and really take a systematic look at the issues that we’ve had and come up with some bona fide solutions at this present time because that’s the best we can do,” he said. “We weren’t able to get it done the way we wanted to get it done over the first eight weeks of the season. There’s no doubt about it. There’s no consistency there. There’s moments of very good play, of solid play across the board, and there’s moments of very, very poor play, like we’ve seen over the last couple weeks.”

Midseason MVP: Running back Matt Forte is certainly worthy, given his consistency over the first eight games (1,052 all-purpose yards). But defensive end Willie Young receives the nod here. A reserve behind high-priced free-agent acquisitions Jared Allen and Lamarr Houston, Young outperformed his counterparts at the position through the first half of the season and is tied for eighth in the NFL with a team-high seven sacks. Young ranks third on the team in tackles (32), a testament to his high-motor style which allows the fifth-year veteran to make plays from sideline to sideline on a consistent basis.

Biggest disappointment: After a surprisingly productive 2013 campaign which seemed to quiet many doubters, quarterback Jay Cutler received a seven-year deal worth $126.7 million and the high expectations that accompany such an investment. Cutler produced respectable numbers (67.2 completion percentage, 95.8 passer rating) through the first half of the season, but continues to display his penchant for making game-changing mistakes. Cutler turned the ball over on multiple occasions in each of the team’s five losses, leading to 44 points by opponents despite the expectation he would finally soar in Year 2 playing in Trestman’s offense. The staff and front office continue to show unwavering support for Cutler. If Emery is second-guessing the team’s investment in Cutler, he certainly hasn’t shown it.

Best moment: Uncertainty permeated the atmosphere in the 90 minutes prior to the Week 2 opening of Levi’s Stadium against the San Francisco 49ers with questions regarding the availability of receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery as both were questionable due to ankle and hamstring injuries. After putting the receivers through strenuous pregame workouts, the Bears made the late decision to start Jeffery and Marshall. The move paid huge dividends as Marshall caught three touchdown passes to lead the Bears -- who trailed 20-7 going into the fourth quarter -- to a 28-20 upset of the 49ers. Rookie Kyle Fuller helped in Chicago outscoring the 49ers 21-0 in the final 15 minutes as he picked off a pair of passes to provide the Bears' offense with short fields.

Worst moment: Marshall’s impassioned speech -- which could be heard by reporters outside the locker room prior to team officials opening the doors -- and scathing postgame comments following Chicago’s 27-14 loss at home to the Miami Dolphins caused mixed reactions among the team. Marshall called the team’s performances and 3-4 record at the time “unacceptable.” And while some players agreed with the receiver’s comments, others reacted indifferently. Ultimately, Marshall’s locker room speech and comments could have galvanized the Bears, but appear to have done more harm than good considering the beatdown the club took the following game at New England.

Key to the second half: Offensively, the problems run deep as Cutler needs to significantly reduce the turnovers while the staff needs to help out as much as possible on the play-calling end. Trestman talked about the offense’s need to strike a better balance with the pass/run ratio, which obviously would expose Cutler to fewer chances to commit turnovers, while keeping teams guessing. In the passing game, the Bears need to incorporate more weapons instead of relying so heavily on Marshall and Jeffery. Given Martellus Bennett's skill set, there’s no doubt the Bears could use him similar to the way the Patriots attacked the club’s defense with Rob Gronkowski. Defensively, the Bears need to find a way to maintain a level of consistency despite utilizing inexperienced players due to injuries. Injuries were a legitimate excuse for the defense last year, but won’t fly any more given all the depth the team obtained in the offseason, not to mention its stated goal prior to the season of developing every defender on the roster, regardless of stature.
BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- Lovie Smith finished 10-6 in his final season with the Chicago Bears before being fired. Marc Trestman comes in and leads the Bears to an 8-8 record in 2013. Yet expectations soar here on the campus of Olivet Nazarene University, where crowds for training camp practices routinely swell to 10,000.

It’s easy to see why. For a fan base accustomed to hard-nosed defense and shaky-at-best offense, Trestman flipped the script in 2013, taking Chicago’s attack to new heights with a major assist from general manager Phil Emery’s shrewd personnel moves.

The Bears broke record after record on offense last season, and the defense stumbled to historic lows.

If Trestman and Emery could basically work a miracle on offense in just one season, why can’t they do it on the other side of the ball in 2014?

“[I] feel very good about the competitive depth and the fights for positions that we're going to have,” Emery said. “Out of the three camps, I would say this camp has the best competitive level among the roster from 1 to 90.”

Emery achieved that by loading up on defenders: acquiring a mix of players poised to hit the sweet spot of their careers in Lamarr Houston and Willie YoungJared Allen, and drafting potential stars such as first-round pick Kyle Fuller. The Bears bolstered those moves with an overhaul of the scheme and additions to the defensive coaching staff.

“We started [with], ‘What could we do to get this team better?’” Trestman said. “I sat down with Phil [Emery], and we began to lay out a road map together on how we were going to rebuild this football team, and here we are at a stage where I don’t think there’s a player in our meeting room who doesn’t feel like there’s hope and high expectations. Now, it’s time to go to work.”

[+] EnlargeJay Cutler
AP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastJay Cutler is more comfortable in coach Marc Trestman's system, and all of his offensive weapons are healthy and ready to go.
THREE REASONS FOR OPTIMISM

1. Jay Cutler’s grasp of the offense is firmer in Year 2 of Trestman’s system, and his performance this year at camp is significantly different from in 2013. Offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer said Cutler is his own problem solver and is making on-field adjustments so instinctively that he doesn’t need guidance from the staff. In his first camp under Trestman, Cutler misfired routinely, and there were concerns about whether he’d be effective in the regular season. After one particularly bad session in 2013, Trestman gathered Cutler and the other quarterbacks in the middle of the field in what could be described as a turning point. That’s not happening this year at camp as Cutler has become a bona fide field general.

2. Brandon Marshall is Brandon Marshall. He wasn’t at camp in 2013. He was coming off hip surgery that hindered his season preparation. Fully healthy now with an offseason to condition, Marshall is ready to go -- and with full comprehension of the offensive system. Throw in Alshon Jeffery’s ascension and you have the makings of something lethal on offense. The duo has certainly looked that way at camp as both routinely make so many eye-popping plays that Cutler could almost throw it up blindly and one of them would come down with the ball.

3. There’s a nastiness on defense and intense focus reminiscent of the units put on the field in Smith’s heyday. Practicing against one of the best offenses in the league, the defense should be losing more than it does at training camp. But this group routinely bests the offense, with dominating play by the front seven as a hallmark. Chalk it up to a combination of personnel additions and a culture shift brought about by an overhaul of the scheme and the acquisition of no-nonsense, get-in-your-face coaches such as Paul Pasqualoni, Reggie Herring and Clint Hurtt.

[+] EnlargeRyan Mundy
AP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastThe Bears brought Ryan Mundy in to compete at safety, but the position, at least in camp, continues to look shaky.
THREE REASONS FOR PESSIMISM

1. The defensive line makes plays at training camp. The corners and linebackers make plays. But you rarely see the safeties making an impact. That could be a result of a lack of chemistry because, with both spots up for grabs, the Bears are using several combinations at the position involving players such as Ryan Mundy, rookie Brock Vereen, Danny McCray, Adrian Wilson and M.D. Jennings. Horrid play at this position in 2013 contributed significantly to the defense’s demise, and we haven’t seen many indications at camp that the Bears will turn that around in 2014.

2. Protecting Cutler could become an issue if some of the injuries suffered by the team's offensive linemen linger. Guard Kyle Long (ankle) and tackle Jordan Mills (foot) missed the preseason opener, and the latter was seen wearing a walking boot when the club returned to training camp after that game. Reserve center Brian de la Puente is expected to miss time to a knee injury, and reserve guard/tackle Eben Britton still hasn’t returned from a strained hamstring suffered earlier at camp.

3. Cutler hasn’t played an entire 16-game season since 2009. So naturally, you’d think at some point in 2014 the Bears will have to turn to the backup quarterback. The problem is the candidates vying for the No. 2 job -- Jordan Palmer and Jimmy Clausen -- have done little to inspire confidence the way Josh McCown did last year at training camp. For the most part, Palmer and Clausen have been merely average at camp, misfiring on occasion and making mistakes typical of players acclimating themselves to a scheme. The duo needs to pick it up or the Bears could wind up looking outside the current roster for a suitable No. 2.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • Chris Conte says he’s the best athlete in Chicago’s secondary. He needs to prove it, which he'll finally have a chance to do now that he's off the physically unable to perform list. Conte certainly possesses the athleticism to be a playmaker on the back end, provided he regains his confidence. But time is running out for Conte to make a real push for one of the two open jobs at safety. What Conte has going for him right now is that none of the safeties vying for the starting jobs is making plays at camp.
  • The Bears hired martial arts expert Joe Kim to teach the defensive linemen hand fighting techniques as part of the scheme overhaul that requires the front four players to be technicians with their hands. It’ll be interesting to see how the results manifest themselves on the field. Every day after practice at camp, several defensive linemen -- and even some defensive backs -- work intricate hand fighting moves with Kim for several minutes. The players say the moves become almost natural once routinely put into practice on the field. We’ll see whether Kim’s assistance plays a role in the front four anchoring a run defense that finished last in 2013.
  • Zach Miller and Matthew Mulligan are pushing Dante Rosario hard for the No. 2 job at tight end. Miller is more of a move tight end, and Mulligan is a classic in-line blocker who shows some impressive skills as a receiver. The two have received extra reps because of Martellus Bennett's suspension.
Jared AllenAP Photo/Nam Y. HuhJared Allen was acquired to bring additional toughness to the Chicago defense.
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- At the newly renovated Halas Hall, which now teems with security, coach Marc Trestman often invites visitors to speak to his players about what they should already know.

Mike Singletary told them. Mike Ditka did, too. Otis Wilson and Gale Sayers also spoke to Trestman’s club about what it means to be a Chicago Bear.

“The one thing we’ve done this year, we’ve tried to bring, tried to do a little bit more -- because we’ve got so many new faces -- [is to bring in former players to explain] what being a Bear is all about, you know?” Trestman said. “Being a Bear starts on the defensive side of the ball, and with the mentality of what a Bears defense plays like. We just want to reinforce that. We’ve got a lot of new guys and understanding what it is to play for the Bears means play[ing] tough defense.”

For a variety reasons during Trestman’s first year with the club, the Bears drifted away from that. During former coach Lovie Smith’s tenure (2004-2012), the Bears ranked in the top three in 10 -- yes, 10 -- statistical categories. First in takeaways (310), second in interceptions (181), first in fumble recoveries (129), three-and-outs forced (485), third-down conversion percentage (34.1) and opponent red zone scoring efficiency (79.3 percent).

It all vanished when the organization ushered Smith out the door and hired Trestman.

In Trestman’s first season, the Bears allowed the most points (478) in franchise history, the most total yards (6,313) and rushing yards. But injuries did cost the defense a total of 55 games last season, and that’s not taking into account losing defensive lineman Turk McBride to a ruptured Achilles and Sedrick Ellis, who retired on the eve of training camp.

No Bears opponent scored less than 20 points last season. But injuries, inexperienced backups and ineffective coaching at some positions played a role, as did other factors such as limited practice repetitions for the defense. According to multiple sources, Chicago’s defensive players over the course of a week of preparation for an opponent typically received approximately half the practice repetitions they had normally taken under Smith’s staff as offensive preparation had become a premium with the new regime.

After last year’s 8-8 season, general manager Phil Emery, Trestman and defensive coordinator Mel Tucker huddled to look at possible solutions. By March at the NFL combine, Trestman and Emery -- in discussing the team’s plans for free agency and the draft -- were already starting to use the word “tough” to describe the types of players they wanted to add on defense. In fact, for some in the organization, toughness trumped star power.

“We weren’t the tough team we wanted to be for a lot of different reasons,” Trestman said. “We want to accentuate it this year.”

To do that, the Bears brought in reputed tough guys such as Jared Allen and Lamarr Houston to add to the defensive line, in addition to re-signing Jeremiah Ratliff. They fired three defensive coaches and brought in another trio with reputations for being hard-nosed personalities with the ability to teach.

“We’re a team that wants to play -- even offensively -- with a defensive mentality,” Trestman said. “There’s a way to play football in Chicago, and that’s to be tough and physical, set a vertical edge, violent shed and run to the football. We’ve got to practice that way every day to be that team we want to be. We’re not there yet. We know that. We’re trying to get there because that’s the way every team plays in the National Football League. The best defenses play tough and physical. There’s a lot of different ways to win, but you seldom win a game [in which] you don’t win the line of scrimmage. There’s seldom a game you win where you can’t at least somewhat run the ball effectively and stop the run.”

Trestman pointed out that the whole “toughness” storyline can be overblown, correctly stating that the attribute is a prerequisite for any player or team in the NFL. “So to start writing stories, I think is just over-exaggerating,” Trestman said.

It is. But breaking down the importance of knowing what it takes to play Chicago’s brand of football is not. Of Chicago’s league-high 27 Hall of Famers, nine of them played defense. Since the first Bears players started earning Pro Bowl recognition in 1951, 119 of the club’s 226 selections have been defenders.

The Monsters of the Midway nickname came about due to dominant teams from the ’40s, which featured rough and tumble defenses. In Chicago, its defenses have always maintained a certain identity.

So while it’s certainly refreshing to see Chicago’s offense finally blossom under Trestman, the coach is correct in his attempt to make sure the club doesn’t stray from its roots.

“We need to be tough in our front, in our front seven and throughout our football team, throughout our defense,” Tucker said. “We preach that every day and they seem to want to be like that.”

Whether they will be, we’ll soon know.
video
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- As Chicago Bears general manager Phil Emery finished up a 17-minute news conference Thursday night at Halas Hall, the muted TV to his right showed the Green Bay Packers taking Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix with the 21st pick in the draft.

Emery passed on Clinton-Dix, a mock draft favorite, when he took Virginia Tech cornerback Kyle Fuller with the 14th pick in the first round of Thursday’s made-for-TV draft.

[+] EnlargeKyle Fuller
Lee Coleman/Icon SMIBears first-round draft pick Kyle Fuller was a four-year starter at Virginia Tech.
If Fuller struggles and we see Clinton-Dix picking off Jay Cutler next year, we’ll have a good laugh (ha ha) about it, right, Bears fans?

Don't answer that.

You'll be surprised to know Fuller was the player the Bears wanted all along. Emery played coy about Pitt defensive lineman Aaron Donald, who ended up going a pick before the Bears’ turn, but he couldn’t help but effuse over Fuller, a tough, versatile cornerback who should excel playing Chicago Bears defense in Chicago Bears weather on Chicago Bears chewed-up turf.

He can hit and he can cover. Basically, he's the perfect football player, according to Emery's news conference.

"He's even a great person," Emery said.

No kidding.

Emery's a wild card around draft time, but we all figured he would go defense, given the glaring needs up front and, well, all over. But you shouldn't be surprised he wasn’t monomaniacally focused on safety. It’s a long draft. I think it’s over in July. So there will be more chances to draft a young safety this season.

This wasn’t a best-player-available situation, either. The Bears have a need, a hybrid defensive back, and Fuller filled it. ESPN guru Mel Kiper Jr. even picked this one.

“We decided on Kyle Fuller, the player,” Emery said. “That’s the important thing. He’s a good player with a lot of versatility in his coverage.”

Versatility is a word thrown around a lot around this time, and Fuller said, as draft picks are wont to do on draft night, that he’s open to playing anywhere.

“I feel like they know I can play corner, nickel and possibly safety,” Fuller said in a conference call with reporters. “I’m a versatile player.”

Versatility is nice. The Bears just need more bodies. Let’s go back to how last season ended, with safety Chris Conte blowing coverage, however it happened, and Packers receiver Randall Cobb going 48 yards for a division-clinching touchdown. At that time, the call was for a complete demolition of the defense, starting at safety.

Conte’s still around, but his partner, Major Wright, is gone. The Bears re-signed Charles “Peanut” Tillman and corner Tim Jennings, and brought in a handful of free agents at safety.

This isn't a leap. Fuller makes perfect sense. Emery just wants someone to cover the wide variety of receivers and tight ends in the modern NFL offense. The Bears need to match up with Green Bay and Detroit, not to mention the various offenses they see around the league.

Emery mentioned how Fuller covered tight ends like Eric Ebron, who was taken 10th by Detroit.

“His versatility of coverage was a big attraction,” Emery said.

We already know the Bears are going to go more “hybrid” this season under coordinator Mel Tucker. That’s the new rage, and of course, the old one. Disguising coverages is nothing new.

Fuller, who will line up inside and eventually supplant Tillman or Jennings on the outside, is expected to play right away, wherever.

“We see him as a corner with a lot of versatility in terms of coverage, in terms of covering different sorts of athletes,” Emery said. “That’s where his length comes in.”

Ah, length, another favorite buzzword come draft time. Fuller’s no giant, he’s a shade under 6-foot and 190 pounds, but Emery fell in love with him when he live-scouted Virginia Tech-Georgia Tech. Fuller forced a fumble and made two tackles for loss in that game.

“I knew that day that’s the type of player that I wanted to represent the Chicago Bears,” Emery said.

Let Emery explain.

“He was playing Georgia Tech, and they lined him up at inverted safety and ran him through the A gap against an option team to crash the mesh point between the quarterback and the fullback,” Emery said in plain English. “And he repetitively did that. This is one tough football player.”

On Thursday, Emery marveled at Fuller’s physicality, including 129 solo tackles as a four-year starter (with some injury history, that is of course, no concern whatsoever). In 2011, as a hybrid “whip linebacker/nickelback,” he led all college defensive backs with 14 1/2 tackles for loss. He’s also a highly-regarded special-teams player, blocking two punts in his career with the Hokies’ always dangerous unit. He's got a good pedigree, with two older brothers who have played in the NFL. His brother Corey is a practice squad receiver with Detroit.

Emery, of course, raved about Shea McClellin when he drafted him as a versatile pass-rusher. Two failed years later, McClellin is being moved to linebacker this year as a last-ditch effort to save his Bears career.

The Bears GM has made bold moves to renovate this defense for 2014, most notably signing defensive end Jared Allen. But Chicago will need Fuller to be more like Kyle Long, an instant starter.

A confident Emery left the press room Thursday sure the Bears have hit on this pick. Fuller was the best player on their board and is the start of a new defensive generation.

After all, he was the guy they wanted all along, and maybe the guy you wanted all along, too. Even if you didn't know it.
IRVING, Texas -- Because Tony Romo is 34 and because he is coming off his second back surgery in less than a year, just about everybody believes it is time for the Dallas Cowboys to find his replacement.

ESPN NFL draft Insider Todd McShay said it. Mike Mayock of the NFL Network said it. A lot of fans have said it. A lot of others have said it.

If the Cowboys draft a quarterback, then it must be early in the draft. At least, that’s the general philosophy of Chicago Bears general manager Phil Emery when it comes to taking quarterbacks.

"I just did a little study. It's very interesting," Emery said in this ESPNChicago story. "That developmental theory doesn't hold a whole lot of water. There's entire classes of quarterbacks, since '06, I went back and looked at from Jay [Cutler's] on -- when people say developmental quarterbacks, OK, so who has gotten developed? There isn't a single quarterback after the third round since 2006 that has been a long-term starter. So you're either developing thirds, and most of them have been wiped out of the league. So to get a quality quarterback, you've got to draft them high. That 2012 class is a blip on the radar that's unusual, highly unusual.

"Most of the starters in this league come from the first and second round. So that's where you need to take a quarterback. So when you talk about quarterback every year, they have to be somebody that you truly believe will beat out the second and third quarterback that you perceive on your roster. And if not, history shows that you shouldn't make that pick."

From 2006 to 2013, there were 59 quarterbacks drafted in Rounds 3-7. Only two are top-end starters: Russell Wilson (third round, 2012, Seattle Seahawks) and Nick Foles(third round, 2012, Philadelphia Eagles). And Foles might have more to prove, but he was Pro Bowl-worthy in 2013.

The best of the rest: Bruce Gradkowski (sixth round, 2006); Matt Flynn (seventh round, 2008); Curtis Painter (sixth round, 2009); Ryan Mallett (third round, 2011); Kirk Cousins (fourth round, 2012). Other considerations: Colt McCoy (third round, 2010); T.J. Yates (fifth round, 2011); Tyrod Taylor (sixth round, 2011).

The odds are stacked against a team looking to develop a quarterback. Teams are not a lock to carry a third quarterback on the 53-man roster these days. The Cowboys have not done it since 2011, when they had Stephen McGee (fourth round, 2009). There just aren’t enough snaps to go around in a season for a quarterback to develop. The pressure on coaches to win means they want guys who can help carry games if a starter goes down, part of the reason why the Cowboys have gone with Brad Johnson, Jon Kitna and Kyle Orton as Romo's backups.

Maybe the Cowboys will draft a quarterback in the middle to late rounds this week. The odds of him turning into Wilson, Foles or Tom Brady (sixth round, 2000) are remote. He’s more likely to be Andre Woodson (sixth round, 2008), Mike Teel (sixth round, 2009), Jonathan Crompton (fifth round, 2010) or Nate Enderle (fifth round, 2011).
Charles TillmanGrant Halverson/Getty ImagesCharles Tillman and the Bears' defense should benefit from some key additions in 2014.
The Chicago Bears' front office grunted through one of the league's busiest offseason of signings to put the team in position to draft the best player available in May while also minimizing the burden of the potential first-round pick to carry the savior label.

So while the workload won't lighten as the Bears prepare for the NFL draft and the April 22 start of the offseason program, they've unwittingly utilized a core motto of former NFL coach Dennis Green: Plan your work and work your plan. That has led to the Bears signing 30 players since the final week of December, a group that includes 17 returners, 10 unrestricted free agents and three street free agents to drastically improve -- at least on paper -- one of the NFL's worst defenses of 2013.

"I think we'll slow down a tad," Bears general manager Phil Emery said on March 31. "But we have a lot of work to do. We have some positions we want to make more competitive. The draft's around the corner."

Not to diminish the work to be done over the next few weeks, but Chicago's activity up to this point should make things easier moving forward. Headed into the offseason, the Bears needed to address a defensive line that played a major role in 2013 in the defense allowing 5.34 yards per rushing attempt (the league average was 4.10), and did so by signing Jared Allen, Lamarr Houston, Willie Young, and Israel Idonije, in addition to bringing back Jeremiah Ratliff and Nate Collins.

The club also re-signed starting corners Tim Jennings and Charles Tillman, while adding to the safety position by acquiring M.D. Jennings, Danny McCray and Ryan Mundy.

So is the defense better now than it was in 2013?

"The obvious answer to that would be we're healthier [than in 2013] because nobody's hurt," Emery said. "Also, I think we've added some guys at key points in their career. Jared adds experience, production, leadership. Somebody like Lamarr and Willie add some youth, speed and [physicality]. Really excited about Jeremiah Ratliff this year. He's excited about playing. He wants to finish here. He added so much the last few weeks [of 2013] in terms of leadership; unbelievably mentally tough player. So yeah, I think the collective group, we've gotten stronger and we're headed in the right direction as far as we want to establish as a defensive football team."

Given the financial commitments to Houston, Allen and Young -- all defensive ends -- it'll be interesting to see how defensive coordinator Mel Tucker finds ways to get them on the field at the same time. Allen is the bona fide starter at right end, and Houston will play on the left side. But it's likely the Bears will take advantage of Houston's versatility and kick him inside to defensive tackle on passing downs while playing Young opposite Allen at end.

Even without the benefit of the upcoming draft, Chicago's defensive line appears to be a more dynamic group than it was in 2013.

"It's up to our coaches to find ways to get them all on the field at the same time or at different times or different personnel groupings or groupings against personnel," Emery said.

Depending on the direction the Bears take in May in the draft, that task could become more difficult for Tucker. Despite the Bears adding Jennings, McCray and Mundy in free agency, the club could stand to acquire another safety in the draft capable of competing for a starting job; especially with the possibility Chris Conte might miss time at camp after undergoing shoulder surgery.

But the club might see more value in using its first-round pick on one of the talented interior defensive line prospects such as Pittsburgh's Aaron Donald or Florida State's Timmy Jernigan, as picking a safety at No. 14 might be a little too high for the team's tastes. Surely, the Bears will address safety in the first three rounds, in addition to adding depth at some point at corner and at linebacker.

Emery declined to say whether the signing of Allen or all the work done to revamp the defensive line will change the club's draft plans -- only that "it's always been about getting the best players possible to continue to build our team towards winning championships. To do that, you have to have high-quality players and players that can make plays. We talked at the end of the season about having more playmakers on our team."

The Bears certainly added some. In the process, they made the possibility of a defensive renaissance similar to what was experienced on the other side of the ball in 2013 a potentially easier undertaking.

They've planned their work and are working their plan.
Despite general manager Phil Emery and head coach Marc Trestman expressing a desire to bring back Henry Melton for 2014, the defensive tackle obviously didn’t feel such a vibe.

Melton
Having signed a deal with the Dallas Cowboys in which he can earn up to $5 million in 2014, Melton was asked Wednesday whether it was difficult to leave the Chicago Bears, where he spent the first five years of his career after the club drafted him in 2009 with a fourth-round pick. Melton didn't seem especially pleased about how the Bears dealt with him in free agency.

“We gave them a chance to make an offer, and they said they would wait to see what the market was and we don’t do business like that,” Melton said. “They dropped out early.”

According to a source familiar with the situation, the Bears never really ever entered the derby because they didn’t make an offer.

Asked about Melton at the start of free agency, Emery said he “pretty much left it with [agent] Jordan [Woy] that [Melton] was gonna go through [the free-agent] process, and when he got through it, and he had a pretty good idea of what his market is, we could talk at that time.”

Upon learning of those remarks, the source said, “If you want to sign someone badly enough, you make offers and don’t wait.”

So that’s where we stand regarding Melton, who will attempt to regain his Pro Bowl form after undergoing left ACL surgery in 2013. The Bears paid Melton $8.45 million last season as the franchise player, and received just three games as a return on the investment.

So Chicago probably made the right move in not overpaying for Melton.

The club will certainly find out in 2014 when it hosts Melton and Dallas at Soldier Field.
Henry Melton and Rod MarinelliGetty Images, Icon SMIDallas signed Henry Melton, left, and believes Rod Marinelli can bring the best out of the pass-rusher.
IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys needed to do something -- anything -- to help their defensive line in free agency.

After releasing DeMarcus Ware and losing Jason Hatcher, the Cowboys found their answer in Henry Melton, who agreed to a one-year deal with an option for three more on Tuesday night.

Melton has 15.5 sacks for his career and went to the Pro Bowl in 2012 as a member of the Chicago Bears, but he played in only three games in 2013 because of a torn anterior cruciate ligament.

ESPN.com Chicago Bears reporter Michael C. Wright and Cowboys reporter Todd Archer take a look at what the move means for both teams.

Todd Archer: What are the Cowboys getting in Melton?

Michael C. Wright: If Melton plays like he did in 2011 and 2012 (13 combined sacks), the Cowboys are getting a heck of a player who probably still hasn’t reached his potential, because you have to remember the Bears drafted him to play defensive end in 2009 and he didn’t become a defensive tackle full time until 2011. In Melton’s first season as a full-time interior defensive lineman, he led all NFC defensive tackles with seven sacks. My only gripe with Melton is he’s probably not as stout as you’d like against the run. As an under tackle, obviously Melton is more of a penetrator than a run-stuffer. But as you know, the No. 1 objective of any defense is to stop the run, and I don’t think Melton does that as well as he rushes the passer. Just watch next season, you’ll see several times when Melton will slash into the backfield only to have the running back run right past him. As good as Melton is at running down plays from the backside, he’ll struggle somewhat when teams run right at him. Another thing you’ll notice about Melton is he has a tendency to run hot and cold. I know in his first season as a full-time starter, Melton admitted that increased playing time wore on him down the stretch. But the bottom line is if Dallas gets a committed Melton, who shows up to camp in shape and playing with a passion, he’ll be worth every dollar the Cowboys spent.

Did the Cowboys get desperate? I know there’s an escape hatch in the deal, but it seems like the Cowboys paid quite a bit.

Archer: I don’t know if they were desperate, but they had to do something after losing Ware and Hatcher. The first-year value is a maximum of $5 million, so the Cowboys won’t be hamstrung by the salary cap in the first year. The big money happens in 2015, and if he has a terrific season, the Cowboys would be more than willing to gamble on a 28-year-old going forward. Without seeing the deal in its entirety, I think the Cowboys have a deal that allows them to pay as they go. I think the desperate move would have been to give him a four-year deal with no escape clause, and a more desperate move would have been to give in on Jared Allen's contract demands. So far this offseason, the Cowboys have been disciplined financially. Maybe it’s a new way of doing business.

Can you talk about the relationship he forged with Rod Marinelli?

[+] EnlargeDallas' Rod Marinelli
Casey Sapio/USA TODAY SportsRod Marinelli helped make Henry Melton a star in Chicago.
Wright: Todd, I don’t know what it is about Marinelli, but he has a way of getting through to people and helping them play their best. He did it with Warren Sapp, Julius Peppers, Melton and a host of others. I think in Melton, Marinelli saw early on a player who could develop into a star if he could put on some weight and refine his game, and I think the coach relayed those thoughts to the defensive tackle; sort of one of those “if you just listen to me,” type of deals. Prior to the 2011 season when the Bears made the decision to make Melton a defensive tackle full time, Marinelli, former coach Lovie Smith and former general manager Jerry Angelo constantly told everyone Melton was about to have a breakout year. Of course, nobody believed them because the year before, Melton didn’t play much, and when he did he was splitting time between defensive tackle and end. Anyway in Melton’s first year as a starting defensive tackle (2011), he became a beast under Marinelli’s tutelage. Then with more guidance from Marinelli, Melton turned it up a notch in 2012. Melton was certainly missing Marinelli last season with the coach having left for Dallas. Ultimately, Melton believes in Marinelli -- known as an expert motivator and stickler for strict adherence to fundamentals and accountability -- and the coach believes in the player. Marinelli has said Melton is one of the most natural pass-rushers he’s ever coached.

What caused negotiations to take so long? He visited another team after leaving Dallas, and wasn’t there something Tuesday night holding up the deal even though Melton was tweeting he was about to be a Cowboy?

Archer: I think it was just the structure of the deal. You just don’t see very many of these kinds of deals, and the team and his agent, Jordan Woy, wanted to make sure everything was just right so the contract would be approved by the NFL. I think by letting Melton leave to visit the St. Louis Rams, the Cowboys showed they were willing to move on without him and they were able to get him more at their price than at his price. To me, if a free agent is visiting a bunch of teams, he’s not getting what he wants and he’s looking for that great offer. That is what happened with Hatcher and the Redskins. He received $27.5 million and $10 million guaranteed without even visiting. For a lot of years the Cowboys have forked over big money to free agents and they have not received the payoff on the field. This is a risk, but it’s mitigated some by the structure of the contract.

It seems like the Bears had some concerns with his maturity, what’s the deal?

Wright: Bears general manager Phil Emery mentioned Melton's “passion” for the game and commitment to rehabbing from the torn ACL as potential concerns right after the season, but I’m not sure there’s quite enough evidence to suggest he’ll have issues in the future. In fact, at the time, I thought Emery was sort of laying the seeds to give Melton a low-ball offer in free agency. "Henry, in particular, he has got to fully dedicate himself to rehab. He has to fully dedicate his mind and his focus to football, which is extremely important," Emery said back on Jan. 2. But maybe Emery’s concerns about Melton’s commitment to rehab stemmed, in part, from his arrest back in December for that incident out in Grapevine, Texas. The night Melton was arrested, the Bears were out in Philadelphia getting ready to play for a spot in the postseason. And although Melton wasn’t obligated to be with the team or at its facilities rehabbing at the time, you know the perception a situation like that puts out: instead of working out and rehabilitating, Melton is back home getting into a bar fight. Sure, Melton is known to go out and have a good time, just like many of his peers around the NFL, and he’s still a very young player. But the only concern I’d have regarding Melton’s maturity is the fact he’s now back in his hometown playing for the home team, and he’s likely to be surrounded by a lot of old friends and family that might distract from his focus on the craft. At the same time, I think being back with Marinelli might alleviate some of that.

Melton is coming off a torn ACL. What are the team’s realistic expectations for him in 2014?

Archer: They expect him to be the guy in 2011-12 who had 13.5 sacks. I don’t think this move takes the Cowboys out of the market for a defensive tackle in the first round of the draft, because the only guarantee is that Melton will be here in 2014. If the right player fell to them, I think they would still take the guy. But they really want this deal to work out. They’re getting a player in his prime -- granted coming off an injury -- and can have him at a relatively good price through his prime. Too often the Cowboys have had to pay guys past their primes. They are also banking on Marinelli. Since he arrived last year he’s become their pass-rush whisperer. What he says goes with management. They passed on Sharrif Floyd in the first round last year because of Marinelli. He was able to take a bunch of guys off the street and make the line competent. With a talent like Melton, whose knee should be fine for at least part of training camp, they think Marinelli can make it work.
The Chicago Bears talked after a disastrous 2013 season about wanting to revamp the defense and infuse it with youth, but the club's brass would've been failed miserably at the rebuilding effort had it elected to let cornerback Charles Tillman bolt via free agency.

Tillman
In laying out the team's vision for the offense moving forward, multiple sources talked about the Bears not necessarily wanting to pursue big names in free agency because the club wanted to gain toughness, and put a defensive unit full of athletic, physical players out on the field; dogs so to speak.

So although Tillman is a big name in Chicago, he certainly fits the above description. That's why the Bears benefitted greatly Friday by agreeing to terms with Tillman, who embodies all the traits Chicago’s front office constantly raves about.

“Charles is one of the NFL’s great players and a true leader on and off the field, and we’re happy he will be staying in Chicago,” Bears general manager Phil Emery said. “He remains the best in our game at forcing turnovers, and always has brought a tough, physical presence to our secondary. Charles also has a special connection to the people and community across Chicago and we’re excited for that to continue.”

A two-time Pro Bowler and the 2013 Walter Payton Man of the Year, Tillman ranks No. 3 in team history with 36 interceptions and leads the franchise in defensive return touchdowns (nine), INT return TDs (eight) and interception return yards (675).

Since Tillman came into the league in 2003, he’s tied for fifth in INTs, fifth in INT return yardage, and he’s tied for second in INT return TDs, all accomplished while starting in 150 of 154 games.

Tillman’s 42 forced fumbles rank as second in the league since 2003, and is the most among active cornerbacks. Tillman ranks as the only player since 2003 to pick off 30 or more passes and force 30-plus fumbles. In six of the last nine seasons, Tillman has ranked in the top 10 in forced fumbles.

Tillman currently ranks No. 5 in franchise history in tackles, and he’s broken up 132 passes which is good for fifth in the NFL since 2003.

At the NFL combine back in February, Emery said that defensive coordinator Mel Tucker told him a team’s cornerbacks are usually indicative of a defense’s toughness. Emery agreed, and with Tillman now in the fold paired with Tim Jennings, the stage is set for the Bears to build the defense exactly the way the front office envisioned.

“We need tough, physical players,” Emery said at the combine. “That’s what we want: tough, physical athletes. Mel [Tucker] has said it several times to me and I believe it. I know our players believe it: that, generally, the toughness of the team shows up at corner.”

Well, they don’t get much tougher than Tillman.
MINNEAPOLIS -- Henry Melton's time visiting the Vikings has come and gone without a contract, as evidenced by the team's confirmation of his free agent visit this morning. The Vikings have begun the practice of confirming unrestricted free agent visits once the players have left the building, so at least for now, a good rule of thumb is this: If the team announces the visit, the player's time at the team facility has concluded.

Melton
With Melton, though, that shouldn't necessarily be tantamount to the Vikings being out of the running for him. The former Chicago Bears defensive tackle is scheduled to visit the Seattle Seahawks today, according to ESPN's Josina Anderson, and could return to his hometown to visit the Dallas Cowboys after that. But based on what Bears GM Phil Emery said on Thursday, Melton plans to take a number of visits before making a decision.

"I think he's still got some teams to visit," Emery told reporters on Thursday. "We pretty much left it with [agent] Jordan [Woy] that he was gonna go through this process, and when he got through it and he had a pretty good idea of what his market is, we could talk at that time. Of course, the clock is ticking. So our resources or what we have at that time may have changed. But we'll see where we're at when that's all finished."

It remains to be seen what the Vikings would have to offer Melton, both in terms of a contract and a role for 2014. Melton is coming off a torn ACL, but received a franchise tag and a salary of $8.45 million in 2013 after making the Pro Bowl in 2012. Still, the Vikings have second-year man Sharrif Floyd at the three-technique tackle, so it's difficult to envision Melton getting anything more than a decent chunk of the playing time. On the other hand, maybe a situation where Melton could ease back into the wear and tear of the position and the Vikings could avoid putting the majority of the work on Floyd would benefit both parties.

Melton might not have an answer until he's done making the rounds with a few more teams. We'll see how things play out, and whether the Vikings turn out to be a viable option for him.
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- There are few people who can describe free agency as “wild” and “fun” (not counting the guys getting multimillion-dollar offers thrown at them) and be as believable as Chicago Bears general manager Phil Emery was Wednesday.

[+] EnlargePhil Emery
AP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastBears general manager Phil Emery has been active early in the free-agent signing period.
When Emery spoke to the media about the Bears’ latest free-agent acquisitions -- defensive end Lamarr Houston and safeties Ryan Mundy and M.D. Jennings -- it was with the same passion he brought to his first offensive-minded signing period last year.

“You can’t be timid during the UFA process,” said Emery, who also signed linebacker D.J. Williams and special-teams linebacker Jordan Senn this week. “There’s a lot of moving parts. You have to stay in it, you have to swing hard and be willing to reload and swing again.”

Sure, it is fair to question whether Emery was being a bit impulsive when he grabbed Houston, who has never had more than six sacks in a season, and signed him to a five-year contract that averages $7 million per season, after cutting Julius Peppers, who had seven sacks in a bad year.

But in Houston, Emery gets a 26-year-old who can consistently tackle people, no small feat here lately and the Bears’ biggest problem last season, in case anyone forgot. Teams generally do not risk getting the ball intercepted and their quarterback stomped when they can run at will. In fact, opponents ran against the Bears nearly 50 percent of the time (over the league average of 42 percent), which also no doubt slanted the sack numbers for Peppers & Co.

(Read full post)

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- As free agency moves along, more and more teams will continue to release starting-caliber players, which is why the Chicago Bears are keeping a close eye on what is transpiring for the precise moment at which they could pounce.

General manager Phil Emery believes the Bears could still find another starter in the coming days. Entering free agency, the belief among many was that several bargains could be found if teams were willing to wait. That scenario now seems to be playing out around the league.

Tillman
Melton
“We may [sign a starter],” Emery said. “It depends on how the market settles out. We could have a signing today. We could have a signing three weeks from now that we would consider a starter. It continues to be fluid.

Why? Because the landscape continues to change daily as teams decide to release players in order to create cap room to bring aboard other players. As the first wave of free agency wanes, the high dollars commanded by some of the players hitting the market will gradually decrease.

“This thing goes in waves,” Emery explained. “There is a first wave; that goes with signing your own players, which we did. Now comes the next wave where players maybe felt they were going to get a higher amount, then just found out that maybe their market wasn’t there and they’re a little more willing to listen.”

That could take place with players such as cornerback Charles Tillman and defensive tackle Henry Melton. Tillman is visiting with Tampa Bay, but the Bears remain committed to re-signing him, as Emery on Wednesday said that “with Charles, it’s an ongoing conversation.” Melton, meanwhile, is to visit to the Minnesota Vikings, according to a source, which added the defensive tackle is set to take numerous other undisclosed visits.

If their free-agent trips fail to yield anything fruitful, the Bears could re-sign them to cap-friendly deals.

Should the Bears wait out free agency even a little longer, they could still possibly find potential starters like they did last offseason with linebackers D.J. Williams and James Anderson. Williams signed last season near the end of March, and the team signed Anderson just two days later.

“There’s a third wave [of free agency] where players know they’re either going for the veteran minimum or a little bit above that and they’re just looking for an opportunity,” Emery said. “It’s kind of what happens after the college draft [of undrafted players], where players are just looking for the right opportunity.”

Could recently the released Julius Peppers return to Chicago in such a fashion? It’s a hypothetical question, but Emery won’t rule it out if it could take place at the right price.

“That could occur for a number of players in terms of coming to the Bears depending on what their market is once that’s been determined,” Emery said. “So we’re open. We’re always open to getting better at every level of our team and our roster. So any player, including Julius, if they want to have an opportunity to come back, and we can provide that opportunity -- meaning we have the cap space -- we're always open to it.”
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Boldly promising the "Monsters of the Midway are back," while evoking the names and nicknames of Bears legends Walter Payton, Gayle Sayers and Dick Butkus, Lamarr Houston welcomed himself to Chicago on Wednesday in a big way.

[+] EnlargeLamarr Houston
AP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastNew Bears defensive end Lamarr Houston will wear No. 99 which previously belonged to Shea McClellin, who will now wear No. 50.
Now Bears fans are just hoping for a big impact from the 6-foot-3, 300-pound defensive end signed to a five-year, $35 million contract after spending the first four years of his pro career with the Oakland Raiders.

With the release of Julius Peppers and the Bears' last-place league standing in sacks last season, general manager Phil Emery addressed that concern quickly when talking about Houston, who had a career-high six sacks last season.

"He's a good pass-rusher," Emery said. "When I looked at him versus the players that we have on our team, his two-year combined total disruptions is higher than anybody on our team. And I know I've used that word disruption and there are a lot of variations of what that means ...

"The research from 2008 on [shows] when a pass play is performed without pressure, without a knockdown, hit or sack, the percentage of completion is about 64 percent. When there's a sack, obviously it goes to 0. But with a hit or a pressure, it goes to 38.5. So those are significant when you talk about disruptions of a passer. And he certainly has had those."

And Houston, Emery emphasized, was targeted by the Bears because of his versatility, his tackle totals (tops in the NFL for defensive ends playing in the 4-3 over the past two seasons combined) and his ability to play against the run or the pass, both standing up or with his hand on the ground.

"I think that's very important," Houston said of being an all-around end. "Sack totals are important in this league and mine haven't been the highest, but I know that I will prove to everybody that there's a reason I'm here and in the future, it will tell you how good of a player I can be with this group of men and how good of a group we can be together."

What does it say that the Bears put such faith in the 26-year-old former second-round draft choice out of Texas?

"That they believe in me," Houston said. "They believe in what I can do, they have a use for my skill set, and I think doing that is only going to help me get better and improve my game."

Also introduced to the media Wednesday, safety Ryan Mundy vowed to compete for a starting spot with a physical approach to the game.

"That's been my M.O. for as long as I can remember, since I started playing football," said Mundy, who signed a two-year deal. "I'm not a guy who's going to shy away from contact. I like to get down there, mix it up with tight ends, running backs, might even run into a few linemen here and there.

"I think that's the No. 1 attribute I bring to the game. I like to use my size and strength and combine that with my athletic ability to get guys on the ground and get some third-down stops for our defense."

The 6-1, 209-pounder started just 14 of 80 games over five seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers and the New York Giants, but appeared in all of them, and started one of four postseason games he played, finishing with four tackles and two forced fumbles.

Emery said the Bears will continue to "look at safety extensively" in free agency, the draft and post-draft.

"I feel like I'm coming in here to compete for a starting opportunity, and that's all I can ask for," Mundy said. "I don't shy away from competition. I look forward to getting started with workouts and practices and everything like that. Nothing's set in stone, and I don't take anything for granted, I'm just excited about the opportunity and I'm ready to get to work."

SPONSORED HEADLINES