Chicago Bears general manager Phil Emery and his staff are putting in 15-16 hours days at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, but that's no different from any other week. Emery, a detailed and meticulous person by nature, is leaving no stone unturned heading into his second offseason as a GM.
Having overhauled the coaching staff the past month, replacing head coach Lovie Smith with Marc Trestman, Emery will be taking a big step this year in attempting to realize the vision he has for the organization.
To that end, many personnel issues must be resolved, including the future of Devin Hester, who said following last season he's considering retirement. Emery, speaking at the 2013 NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis today, said he expects Hester to return next year.
"I would say right now, Devin is our returner," Emery said. "We're looking forward to him working with us in OTAs and seeing how we come with that throughout the fall and through [training] camp. He'll go out there and compete to be our returner. What he does from beyond there will be based on how he performs in that first role as a returner."
That's not much of a vote of confidence regarding Hester's role as a receiver in Trestman's new offense. While Hester may be with the team next season, it's likely his contributions on offense will be limited. That, combined with the release of Johnny Knox, means Emery and the Bears will be in the market for a receiver with speed.
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"We'll look in all avenues for someone to add [at receiver]," said Emery.
A bigger issue is the future of Brian Urlacher, who is set to become a free agent in a little more than two weeks. Emery said Urlacher will be treated fairly this offseason.
"He will never be slighted as a Bear in any shape or matter," Emery said. "I have great respect for Brian as a person and as a player. Where this ends up, we'll work through Brian and his agents with that and that'll be a private matter."
Emery was also mum on the possibility of placing the franchise tag on defensive tackle Henry Melton, a Pro Bowler last year who will also be a free agent this offseason.
"We'll work through that situation, obviously," Emery said. "We'll be talking to Henry and when we come to a conclusion everybody will know.''
Jay Cutler will become a free agent next year, yet Emery wouldn't say if a contract extension will completed before the start of this season. Emery has stated on multiple occasions he sees Cutler as a franchise quarterback that can lead the Bears to Super Bowl titles. So far though, Trestman has yet to refer to Cutler in such terms.
"The No. 1 thing is that our team wins and that Jay improves, and all of our players improve," Emery said. "I know this: our coaches are excited to work with Jay. So whether it's a matter of semantics where I'm calling somebody a franchise [player] and [the coaches] haven't said that, I'm OK with that. I know in their heart they're here to work with Jay and help Jay become a better player, and the leader on our team that helps us wins football games and wins championships."
Much of the focus this week will be on finding the right first-round draft pick, the round from which franchise players are usually selected. Chicago's two most recent first rounders – Gabe Carimi in 2011 and Shea McClellin in 2012 – are still works in progress, with both struggling last year.
Carimi played both guard and tackle last season, neither particularly well. Emery would not commit to a position for Carimi next year, saying only that he has the flexibility to play at either spot. Beyond that, he'll leave it up to coaches to decide where Carimi plays.
Yet for McClellin, Emery was very specific about him playing defensive end, despite the fact many believe he's better suited as a linebacker.
"[Shea] is a defensive end. That's his position," said Emery. "His versatility, that's a plus for him. We're going to use his talents and we're excited about him as a pass rusher."
Emery must make sure that he lands a bona fide stud with the Bears' 20th overall selection in this year's draft, otherwise he'll again set the team behind.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Follow Bear Report on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Bear Report Web site or magazine, click here.