By Adam Hoge-
HALAS HALL (CBS) — The Bears may be 4-3 and on pace to allow the most yards they ever have in franchise history, but general manager Phil Emery isn’t giving up on them.
“I like this football team. We have struggled in every game to gain traction, but we’ve always battled back,” he said Monday. “We’ve always found a way to be in the mix of the win or the loss at the end of the game. I’m proud of them for it. They stick together. This is a team built with good character and leadership. They play together. They’re accountable for one another. As our coaches are. And I’m proud of them for that reason.”
Emery also said they have earned their 4-3 record and have plenty of areas where they can improve, but he’s still happy with the overall makeup of the locker room.
That was just the beginning of what Emery had to say in a long bye week press conference Monday afternoon. Here’s everything you need to know from the rest of it:
Improvements On Offense And Defense
Emery is sticking with what most within in the organization have said about the need to play better team defense. No one is admitting that there is a lack of talent despite the injuries, and everyone from Emery to the coaching staff to the players believes they just need to play better.
“Defensively, we have to improve in terms of our assignments, our discipline and our fundamentals,” Emery said. “If we do those things, we’ll play better defense, well rush the passer better. We’ll have more stops. More transition or 3rd-and-long-type stops.”
Meanwhile, offensively, the Bears have taken off, but Emery still thinks the unit has failed to put together a full four-quarter game.
“We want our offense to play a complete game. We’ve had several slow starts. We’ve had some fast starts. We’ve had some middle sections that were good and some middle sections of the game that weren’t as good. We’ve had some great finishes. We want to play four quarters and be consistent in our ability to produce points and win the battle of the day.”
Emery admitted he has looked into the trade market, but has not been offered good enough value to pull the trigger. He would not say what positions he has explored, but the Bears do need more depth on the defensive line.
“The most limiting factor is getting equal value,” the GM said. “We’ll make trades as long as they are of equal value that both teams share in terms of the give and take. When you don’t get equal value, you can put the team in a position, short and long term, of not being where you want to be roster-wise. So until we find one of equal value that works for both teams, we won’t make a trade. If we find one that does and it works to our benefit at positions of needs that I think are obvious in terms of the attrition that we’ve had, we would make that trade.”
He added that the salary cap is not something holding the Bears back from making a trade and he also believes most of the big trades around the league are over.
“There’s a lot of behind-the-scenes activity that goes on with phone calls and people kind of throwing out bait and seeing how you’re going to respond. When it all comes down to it everybody wants a little more than they want to give. That’s typical of life, right?”
Emery said Cutler’s groin injury will have no impact on his contract status. There still won’t be any in-season contract talks. That said, he does seem improvements in the quarterback’s game this season.
“I thought he’s had a good year. I thought he’s improved as a player. I’ve said it in the past, I’m a Jay Cutler fan. I continue to be. I think he’s improved as a player. I think his overall demeanor and his calmness has improved. I think he’s certainly gotten the ball out faster. I think he’s hitting more targets. I think he’s been a key part in our leadership in leading us to victory.”
Emery added that he doesn’t think Cutler is more injury prone than any other NFL player.
Despite McClellin’s struggles this season, Emery is still supporting his first-ever draft pick as GM of the Bears.
“I’ve seen improvement in Shea, particularly in his strength against the run. The primary thing to remember about our defense, as opposed to how some others are structured, is we’re a one-gap fit defense. Generally our ends are C gap players. In our defense, the most important thing is gap discipline, is doing your job first. I’ve seen drastic differences between him from a year ago in being able to maintain that leverage on that gap, to be able to drop his hips, extend his arms and hold his ground so that the ball is turned into another gap. So in terms of playing team defense, Shea is doing a great job at that.”
Because McClellin appears to be a better fit as an outside linebacker in a 3-4, there continues to be speculation that the Bears may eventually switch to a 30-front, but Emery wasn’t biting on that Monday.
“We’re not in a state of flux. We’re a 4-3 team. We were a 4-3 last year and we’re a 4-3 team this year.”
Optimistic About McCown
Emery made the decision in the offseason to stick with Josh McCown as his backup quarterback, so it’s no surprise that he was raving about him after McCown’s big game Sunday.
When asked why he’s so optimistic about McCown, Emery said:
“His ability to play the position, number one, which he clearly demonstrated this past Sunday. And probably foremost, just in terms of Josh the person and the leader he is, the buy-in he has from his team in terms of being able to be a positive part of winning football on Sundays. You know, I didn’t notice it, because I don’t always watch the huddles, but Josh McCown is in every special teams break before they go out on the field. That, to me, signals to everybody what type of person this guy is. He could be content staying over on the sidelines with the headset and a clipboard, literally, but he’s not. He’s a big part of this team. He’s a big part of the leadership group of this team.”
Decline Of The Defense
While injuries have accelerated the decline of the Bears’ defense, age appears to be a factor too. Here’s what Emery said when asked about preparing for that decline ahead of time:
“You prepare for it in terms of having the best depth that you can. Sometimes that doesn’t always work out. Sedrick Ellis we signed to be a backup. That didn’t work out. He retired before the season. You move on. You bring in the next best available player. Sometimes that’s a young player. Right now those are young players and they have to grow as players. We brought in Cohen. Cohen has added positively. He made several plays yesterday. Zach (Minter) got better from one week to the next week. David Bass made an impact play on a tackle for loss. We have to grow our own players and right now the players that we see on our squad are better than the players that we can bring in in terms of either street free agency, other practice squad and/or trades that don’t make sense for the Bears.”
So the question is, can the Bears grow their players and compete for the playoffs at the same time?
“Yeah I do (think we can). I do believe that. I think we’ve seen that in a number of NFL clubs. All sides of the team are not always equal. Every team has positives and areas that need to get better. We’re one of those teams and we’re committed towards getting better and getting ready for our next opponent.”
Say No To Urlacher
Just in case you don’t believe it, Brian Urlacher is not coming back to the Bears.
“Brian’s retirement papers came in about three or four weeks before the season started and he received termination pay so I would say that’s nil,” Emery said.
Greene Ready To Fill In For Briggs?
With Lance Briggs expected to miss “around” six weeks, rookie Khaseem Greene, who has spent the majority of the year as Briggs’ primary backup in practice, could take over as the weak side linebacker. Blake Costanzo took those reps in Sunday’s game when Briggs went out and the Bears will likely sign another veteran, but Greene will be in the mix.
“In terms of who will be out on the field against the Green Bay Packers, it’ll be whoever practices the best and presents the best option for the Chicago Bears to win football games. But (Greene’s) a guy with a good future. He’s worked extremely hard. If you remember when he came into camp, he was just a little bit heavy. And he’s taken all that off of him. He studies, he works hard at the game. There’s been only positives with Khaseem and when he’s ready to play, he’ll be out on the field.”
No Practice During The Bye Week
Considering all the issues the Bears have right now, Emery admitted he thought about having the team work out once or twice during the bye week.
“That’s a really good question and something I thought through on the plane,” he said. “But ultimately what this team needs is to heal up. It needs that rest and it needs to assess. And our coaches need that time to assess how to make our team better.”
Head coach Marc Trestman said the coaching staff will have part of the week off and can complete any responsibilities from home instead of coming into the office.
Adam Hoge covers the Bears for CBSChicago.com and is a frequent contributor to 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter at @AdamHoge.