Bears aiming high going into camp
BOURBONNAIS, Ill. (AP) -- There was one change that jumped out at Chicago Bears general manager Phil Emery, and it had nothing to do with trades or signings.
It was the furniture.
"I have a couch and an easy chair, which I did not get to enjoy as an area scout," Emery said Tuesday. "That's a nice change right off the bat."
Along with a better dorm room, Emery now has a team eyeing a Super Bowl run.
The Bears made some big changes on the heels of an 8-8 finish, starting right at the top. They fired Jerry Angelo after missing the playoffs for the fourth time in five years and brought in Emery, Kansas City's college scouting director from 2009-11 and an area scout for Chicago from 1998-2004.
He immediately went to work, landing Pro Bowl receiver Brandon Marshall in a trade with Miami to give Jay Cutler a go-to target, and added depth throughout the roster.
He also renegotiated Pro Bowl linebacker Lance Briggs' contract and agreed to a four-year, $32 million deal with Pro Bowl running back Matt Forte just before last week's deadline, settling the biggest issue hovering over the team.
Had Forte not signed, he would have had to play next season for $7.74 million after being hit with the franchise-player tag. Or, he could have held out.
Now, the Bears believe they're in position to make a run in the NFC.
"I think we've made progress, but to say a Super Bowl contender, it has to be earned on the field," Emery said. "Do we have good, talented players that can contribute toward a winning team moving toward our goals of winning a championship? We do. Are we there? We're not. We've got to earn that every day on the field."
Can they move toward that goal without making the playoffs? Emery said it's possible, depending on the team's health and what happens around the league.
"A lot of that falls on me," Emery said. "Do we have the right people in place to provide these coaches the opportunity to put that team together? I'll start with myself and ask that question."
He's about to find out.
Players started arriving Tuesday, with conditioning tests on Wednesday and the first practice on Thursday.
Everyone is expected to be available, except receiver Johnny Knox. He suffered a gruesome back injury against Seattle last season and needed surgery to stabilize a vertebra.
Emery said Knox is able to run and lift weights but might be placed on the active/physically unable to perform list.
"Johnny's certainly worked hard and deserves every consideration that we can give him to get healthy and get back on the field," Emery said.
Otherwise, the Bears are healthy. There still are some question marks on both lines, and age could be an issue on defense.
There are still some contract issues looming, with Cutler and coach Lovie Smith signed through 2013 and Brian Urlacher's contract up after this season.
For now, though, the Bears appear to be in a good spot.
"Look at our additions - just look at the receiver that we brought in - we brought in a 1 receiver, so just starting with him, you add a lot," Smith said. "We brought in another running back (Michael Bush) who was a starting running back in the NFL. I think as you look across our board at our skill positions, we have improved quite a bit, and that should put points on the board, which we're trying to do. We talk a lot about the skill in receivers, but just think, we're in a position to have the best balance offensively that we've had in a long time."
A big part of that is Forte, who is coming off his best season.
He made the Pro Bowl for the first time, finishing with 1,487 yards from scrimmage and 997 rushing, even though he missed the last four games with a sprained medial collateral ligament in his right knee. The negotiations, at times, were contentious. But Forte finally got the multiyear deal he'd been seeking.
The Bears, meanwhile, locked in one of their best players and don't have to worry about a contract sideshow playing out during camp.
"If you have an issue with your contract, you do that in the offseason," Smith said. "But once training camp comes around, it's time to go to work. Matt negotiated, and when it's time to go to work, he'll be here just like the rest of his teammates. He's a team player, and that's what we have on our football team, a bunch of team guys that know their role and know that the guy next to them is banking on them being here doing their job."
Emery called the deal a "win-win" for both sides. He also praised Smith, insisting that he had no problem with the Bears making it clear he had to retain the coach at least for this season.
"I felt that was a positive coming in as a first-time general manager that Lovie Smith was our head coach," Emery said. "I think he's a very fine coach and even a better person. ... He's a guy that unifies people, doesn't create cliques. He creates unity. I feel very good about that."
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)