By Adam Hoge-
HALAS HALL (CBS) Phil Emery wasn’t sure what he was seeing.
The Bears’ general manager was sitting in the team control booth watching warmups before last Thursday’s preseason finale against the Browns and saw something he had never seen before.
“I turned and looked, and I really wasn’t sure what I was looking at, so I identified each face out there,” Emery said. “It was our entire first unit minus Brandon (Marshall), who was excused, and Earl (Bennett), who was out there at the time, going through full-speed reps on their own without pads, and the offensive linemen sprinting 15 yards downfield after every rep.”
Considering Emery knew none of those players were going to play that night, it wasn’t something he was expecting to see before the game.
“In the back of my mind, the question I had: Was that Marc’s idea or was that Jay’s?,” Emery said. “So I asked Marc and he said, ‘No, that’s Jay. Jay came to me and told me that he thought we needed to do that.’ So that tells me a lot about Marc and his staff.”
It says even more about Jay Cutler’s relationship with Marc Trestman and the staff.
You certainly can’t be blamed if you don’t believe it, but there’s a different vibe this year with the quarterback who seemingly has had problems with every offensive coordinator he’s had in Chicago. Maybe it’s the contract year, which has given Cutler no other choice, but he seems fully engaged with this coaching staff and a system that is built to help him succeed.
So why should you believe that this year, this system, this play-caller, is different from the rest?
For one, Cutler surprised his own general manager by calling for practice right before the most meaningless game of the season.
Sure, it could all fall apart the moment Geno Atkins drops Cutler into the Soldier Field turf Sunday, but it also might not. It seems that the quarterback might actually be realizing that it probably won’t get much better anywhere else than it is right now in Chicago.
When Cutler was first traded to the Bears in 2009, Phil Emery was in his first year as college scouting director for the Kansas City Chiefs and certainly didn’t have his eye on the shortcoming of weapons the quarterback inherited in Chicago. But three years later, when Emery became the general manager of the Bears, he knew exactly what he needed to address first.
“No. 1 is we want to develop or have more offensive weapons for the quarterback,” Emery reiterated Monday at Halas Hall.
Within months of taking the job, Emery traded for Brandon Marshall and drafted Alshon Jeffery, who are now the Bears’ No. 1 and No. 2 receivers, respectively.
“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,” Emery said.
Thus, in Year 2, Emery signed left tackle Jermon Bushrod and tight end Martellus Bennett and drafted two offensive linemen in Kyle Long and Jordan Mills. All four of those players will start Sunday against the Bengals when the regular season begins.
But the biggest acquisition Emery made for Jay Cutler was hiring Marc Trestman, an offensive minded head coach who completed the philosophy switch of becoming “a quarterback-centered team,” as Emery put it.
Short of a new contract, which Emery wouldn’t address in the offseason, the Bears general manager has given his quarterback seemingly all he could in a year in a half. Now it’s up to Cutler to prove he deserves to be in the center.
But Emery hasn’t sacrificed the rest of his roster — specifically the defense — either. His first draft pick was defensive end Shea McClellin, and while it’s still unclear whether or not McClellin is an NFL-starter talent, Emery has stayed true to what he wants.
“As we start to replenish our defense moving forward through our years is that we do it with again sudden, dynamic players,” Emery said. “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.”
That led to the drafting of linebackers Jon Bostic and Khaseem Greene, both of whom will contribute immediately this season. Bostic will most likely start at middle linebacker against the Bengals, while Greene will contribute on special teams as the Bears continue to groom him to be the team’s next weak side linebacker.
But Emery knows that ultimately he is judged on whether or not his acquisitions produce positively on the field. As he pointed out Monday, 18 of the 24 players on offense are new since he took over as general manager. By the end of the day, that number increased to 19 with the trade for tight end Dante Rosario. Emery correctly identified that the offense was an area that needed improvement, but now 79 percent of that unit consists of his acquisitions and thus, the success or failure falls on him.
To upgrade the offense, Emery had to look outside of the organization, so as a result, only 10 current offensive players originally began their NFL career with the Bears. Now the general manager wants to see that number increase through better drafting. Overall, 28 players on the current 53-man roster began their career with the Bears. By comparison, the Packers have 43 players on their roster who began their career in Green Bay, according to Emery.
“They’ve had consistency in the front office,” Emery said. “They’ve had consistency of coaching. They’ve had consistency of a philosophy moving forward. OK, 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.”
And the general manager is putting that on himself and the college scouting staff. The Bears have five players remaining from Emery’s first rookie class and he wants to do better than that.
“The last two years we have a total of 14, five from last year and nine from this year,” he said. “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.”
If you can’t tell, “consistency” is what Phil Emery preaches and his actions reflect. All along, the goal he’s repeatedly stated is “to win championships.” More often than not, that doesn’t happen in Year 2, but in his vision of becoming a “quarterback-centered team”, that process has been creatively expedited with the quarterback’s contract coming to an end.
So what would make 2013 a successful season?
“Be in the mix at the end, be in position to get in the playoffs and win championships. Progress towards our goals.”
The message hasn’t changed. Neither has the plan.
Adam Hoge covers the Bears for CBSChicago.com and is a frequent contributor to 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter at @AdamHoge.