I was lucky enough to be able to tag along with my season ticket holding friend to the "Bears Insider" radio broadcast held at Halas Hall last night. For the price of years of waiting, season ticket holders got to walk around the indoor practice field, try on Bears' game-day equipment, and be a part of the live radio audience for Jeff Joniak's weekly radio show "Bears Insider." To kick off the regular season, he had GM Phil Emery and CEO Ted Phillips join his usual guest, Lovie Smith, and the four talked about both the off-season and their expectations for the season. Flip below the fold to get the word on the Bears fresh from the three men who put the 2012 team together.In a word, the mood among management is optimistic. Ted Phillips is very pleased with Emery's management throughout his first off-season. Phillips noted that Emery has delivered exactly what he said he would - a team that can win games now - and that he was happy overall with the direction the team is moving in. Emery himself was equally as happy with the roster he has assembled and with the changes he has made to the scouting department (adding on more staff, changing the evaluation system). Lovie was his usual jovial self throughout, even taking the time to make a joke during one commercial break. Here are some of the topics the three touched on both on and off the air:
Brandon Marshall came up during two different question sessions. The first was in regards to his acquisition by the Bears. Phillips said that he was initially excited by the prospect of adding Marshall when Emery approached him with the idea, but was also somewhat cautious given the legal troubles swirling around #15. Emery gave full credit to his staff for "getting to the bottom" of the story and otherwise doing their homework on Marshall and finding no reason not to go and get him. Later during a commercial break, Lovie also praised Marshall's work ethic and leadership in team and position meetings. Lovie says the Bears are a team that can "score a lot of points," and if Marshall maintains his current good behavior, Lovie will probably be proven right.
They took their sweet time about it, but of course J'Marcus Webb was going to come up in the conversation. Joniak was upfront with his questioning, simply asking the three if they were comfortable with their front five as is stands today. Of course, the three of them expressed their full support for the offensive line. Lovie emphasized that J'Marcus "won" his job this year and that the team did have competition at most positions along the line. Emery was somewhat more muted in his praise. He noted that Webb has the perfect build to be a left tackle, and his hope is that by cementing Webb and Chris Spencer together on the left side of the line, the two linesmen can develop the type of team chemistry required for a zone blocking scheme like Mike Tice's to work successfully. Joniak had to rain on the optimism parade by mentioning that only one team had the same offensive line on the field every week last season, but Emery and Lovie were consistent in their support and also made vague references to making sure that "everyone on offense" is required to make sure the line can hold up. In short: trust us now, because it was Martz' fault!
Alshon Jeffery was a source of better-placed expectations. Emery talked about how Lovie and he both agreed before the draft that he was the best red-zone and sideline receiver available in this draft, and he was very pleased that Jeffery fell far enough to where the Bears could go get him without having to reach. Emery also excused Jeffery's somewhat weak performance against the Giants two weeks ago, saying that has great practices and a strong camp and was simply a bit nervous under the big lights in the Big Apple.
Other players who came up in conversation were fan "favorite" Dane Sanzenbacher and Matt Blanchard, both of whom were praised for having the extra motivation that comes with being born and raised as Bears fans. Shea McClellin got some love as well, although Lovie was quick to note that he has not won the starting job from Israel Idonije and that Shea will be used almost exclusively as a pass-rush specialist for now. McClellin has, to quote Lovie, "done everything we have asked of him," but Idonije has simply "been playing really good football lately."
As every sports media outlet reported yesterday, Brian Urlacher was a participant at the Bears' first regular-season practice Monday. Lovie Smith took a moment to chide all the doubters who didn't believe it when he said that Urlacher would be back in time to face the Colts, and said that other than being a little out of shape versus the camp participants that Brian is as good as ever. Smith was equally pleased that both Chris Conte and Stephen Paea also returned to practice and will be ready to go Week 1.
Speaking of the Colts, Lovie and Phil weren't giving their Week 1 opponents anything to clip on the wall. The two had nothing but praise for #1 draft pick Andrew Luck, saying that he already looked like an NFL veteran in his pre-season work. Ted Phillips, however, was a bit more transparent in his expectations, recalling a 1983 game the Bears played against another very hyped rookie QB, John Elway. Phillips wanted to see the new guy scraping himself off the turf courtesy of the Bears just like what Dent and company did to Elway. Lovie was optimistic about our chances against the Colts' new 3-4 defense, saying that having both Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis move into two-point stances will probably translate into less pressure on Jay Cutler this Sunday.
The surprising moment of the night came when Lovie Smith told a joke of sorts. One kid lucky enough not to remember the halcyon days of the Ron Turner Wildcat told Smith that he should run a Wildcat "like the one with Tim Tebow." Lovie quite correctly pointed out that he doesn't like the idea of taking Jay Cutler off the field at any point on offense, as he's simply too good to want to replace. Lovie then talked more generally about the plays and advice he is constantly getting from his three sons, his wife, and (of course) Bears fans everywhere. He said in a true Lovie Smith formulation, "We'll listen to your ideas. We probably won't use them." Laughs all around...
Despite Lovie's refusal to take my play suggestions, he's more than happy to listen to us fans as long as we stick to cheering. Smith, Emery, Phillips, and host Jeff Joniak all said that they're very excited about the team that they're fielding this year and are glad to hear the same enthusiasm echoed by fans. Joniak also mentioned that whenever he travels for games, even opposing radio announcers will tell him that he is lucky to work with such a fired-up fan base every year. So come Sunday, be prepared to get loud, and I'll see you at the tailgate!