It's good to come down to the combine to kind of kick start the next year as far as evaluating prospects and really getting ready for the next season. Looking back at last year, I feel like we made progress, got some things accomplished. We came up a little short at the end but we had players come back from disappointing seasons, whether it's an injury with a player like Brian Urlacher, but for our football team, we just didn't feel like we had performed the way we're capable, and I'm talking coaches and players.
But I like the mindset of the team this past year, going through adversity, going through a lull in the middle of the season, losing a couple of games, but just giving it all we had right up until the end. We realize we have the Super Bowl champs in our division and we're looking up to them. We're looking forward to this next year of trying to get ourselves in position where we can hold up the Lombardi Trophy.
This is about evaluating the prospects. We have our full allotment of draft picks this year, which is a little different for us and hopefully we can add a couple more good football players and make that run.
On his recent contract extension.
Of course I feel great about the extension, like I have every day I've been on the job as the head coach of the Chicago Bears. Great organization. We have great players that come to work every day. We have an excellent coaching staff. I'm in position to be here, and to get that extension, based on what the players and our staff has done. They've all done a great job. We're excited about this next step. Jerry [Angelo] and I work together well, not just our time here in Chicago, but in Tampa also. We feel like we have a good combination going and we're looking forward to taking that next step.
His thoughts on the current CBA negotiations.
There is a lot of potentials to talk about. I don't really have a lot to say about it. I know the CBA is going on right now and what we're going to do with our season. We have a simple approach to all of that. Right now we have a 16 game season and we're getting ready for it. If we're told otherwise, we'll start making adjustments from there.
Does the Bears' draft strategy change now that they have 1st and 2nd round picks?
Not really. We're not going to change a lot. We have an excellent scouting department also. We come down here just trying to get familiar with the players. I haven't done a whole lot with the college players yet. I've been spending a lot of time on free agency, with veteran players. But we like our process that we go through as far as evaluating players and the combine.
Does he question Jay Cutler's toughness?
Just to kind of hit Jay one last time. No, there's no question about Jay's toughness or anything like that. For guys to even challenge that or question that, they don't know what they're talking about and don't know him. He's as tough any QB in the league and I've really kind of said enough about him.
On the team's strategy for free agency this off-season.
Every year when we go into free agency we're trying to bring in impact players to help our team, after you've gone through the evaluation process, and that's what we've been doing. I haven't been spending a lot of time with our players. I encourage them to all go off and do their thing, get away from football for a while. But we always go in trying to get those types of football players. Last year we were able to hit it big time with them. We'll try to do the same thing this year.
His thoughts on this year's draft class.
To be truthful, I can't talk a lot on the draft picks. I'm a fan of college football and i've gotten a chance to watch a lot of the players, just like all of us as fans, but no more than that. The evaluation of the college prospects, as far as i'm concerned, is just really kind of picking up now.
Are the Bears looking to make upgrades along the offensive line?
It is one of the areas we'd like to improve. We're trying to improve our entire ball club, and we feel like if there is a player out there who can help us we'll of course look at him. But that was an area that that we looked to improve during the course of the season, and i feel like we did. We had a lot of different combinations that we used. At the end I felt like we at least got the guys in a position to give us the best chance to win. But we're evaluating our offensive line like we are other positions.
Will the Bears be as active in free agency this off-season as they were last year?
There's a good free agent class available out there, so as far as being active, we're looking at them. There are some players out there that could help our team, but a lot of things have to happen before you can get in that position. As far as whether we're going to be as active as last year, you just have to wait to see how that plays out.
Is this a must-win season for him after having just signed a two-year deal?
I have three years left on my contract. So is this a must win season? No, not really. Every day I've been on the job, the goal has been to do the best possible job i could, and I can live with the results. With three years on my contract, i feel pretty good about that.
Has there been any progress with the Bears signing its own free agents?
It's hard to say. Until you actually sign players, you don't know exactly how much progress you're making. Some of the players that are free agents have had a long history with us, Olin Kreutz, Anthony Adams, on down the line. I think most of you guys know our feelings about them. There's a reason why they've been with us so long. I felt like we had a good combination going last year. I like what the players did and we'd like to bring as many of the players back as possible but of course finances and things like that will have a lot to say about that.
Has he gotten over losing the NFC Championship game?
We're long past that right now. We were beaten by the better team that day. There's only one team in the end that really feels good about what they've done. We know that we're close. We played the Super Bowl champions as well as anyone during the course of the year. And we needed to; they're in our division. I feel like we'll make ground on them next year.
Regarding Mike Tice not being allowed to interview with the Titans.
A lot of things come into play. As a general rule, I would like to see our guys advance any time they can. But there's a deadline there. It's a little late in the game. Mike was okay. It's not like we were keeping any secrets or anything. Mike is excited about being on our staff right now. The timing wasn't right for it then. I felt like it was a little late in the season, and that was the staff that we felt we needed to go with looking at what's best for the Chicago Bears.
His thoughts on Rod Marinelli.
You know the history that Rod and I have together. There is no coach out there that I respect more for his expertise as a defensive coordinator, defensive line coach, just a leader of men. Guys bought into him completely right away. Rod is one of the reasons we're able to get a special free agent like Julius Peppers, to come here and want to be under Rod. Rod did wonders with him. Rod did a super job for us. The evaluation process, just looking at what we're going to do defensively next year, we've had a chance to go over just about all of our cut-ups already, and he's excited about taking the defense to the next step.
His thoughts on Mike Martz.
Mike is a great offensive coach. We did some good things this past year offensively. We won 12 games. We ended up in the championship game. But Mike and the rest of our staff would say that we can take another step. I'm excited about getting back out there, working with our players. Our offensive guys, to be in the system for the second year, just like from the first game to the second game of the season, normally you see a lot of improvement. We expect to see the same thing and there's no reason not to.
There is a couple of areas that we need to improve, but i think the core is in place, starting with our quarterback, Jay Cutler leading us. I wouldn't ask for any other quarterback except for Jay. I'm excited about him going into the second year with Mike and seeing those improvements on the offensive side.
Does he feel the need to improve at the wide receiver position?
We're going to try to improve the receiving core like we are all of our positions, but our receivers did some good things last year. Johnny Knox had games where he really played well. Devin Hester. Earl Bennett coming back. All played well. A guy like Rasheid Davis being a special teams core player and then contributing. I can't say enough about what Greg Olsen did. Just the improvement at the tight end position that he made. So we're going to look to improve but we have a solid core in place now.
Where does he feel Chris Williams will play this year?
We have a few directions we can go. Chris has played both tackle positions, he's played guard. We don't have to make that decision right now. We know Chris is a part of our future and once we lock him into a position, and it may be the one he's in now. Mike Tice did a super job of molding an offensive line this past year. I'm anxious to see, as we continue to talk, where he'll end up playing.