We all survived a very vibrant and wonderfully intense Chicago and Midwestern winter. Glad everybody made it safe and I am glad to be here. Before I take questions just want to congratulate a few people that certainly deserve it. It's been a long time since the end of the season when we got to talk to the media so I am going to start off congratulating Charles Tillman and his wife Jackie and their family on Charles winning the Walter Payton Man of the Year award, an award that is richly deserved. We all celebrate in the things that Charles has done and a much-deserved award for him.
Also want to congratulate our players that made the Pro Bowl. Brandon Marshall, the only person in NFL history to have seven straight 1,000-yard seasons, is quite an accomplishment and should be celebrated. Matt Forte, season-high rushing, catching and TDs, back in the Pro Bowl. Richly deserved. Tim Jennings, 13 picks in the last two years, back-to-back Pro Bowls, second only to Richard Sherman in the number of interceptions. Alshon Jeffery, Pro Football Writers Association most improved player of the year, should be congratulated on that and making the Pro Bowl. Did a great job getting his body and mind ready to demonstrate the skills that he had that got derailed a little bit his first year to injury. Very proud of Alshon and his efforts. Kyle Long has come a long ways from people throwing pencils against the wall in terms of his pick to be where he is at now and he is richly deserved of that spot, a lot of hard work and effort. He's come a long ways for a guy that had a very limited playing background. Very proud of him and I hope he is listening and if he is on his butt he gets off his butt and keeps working out there in California.
I want to say congratulations to them and also want to congratulate our new radio station in our market. We now have three full-time all sports radio stations. I believe it is called The Game. It is on 87.7 FM in our market. I am sure ESPN 1000 and 670 The Score are glad that they are there because competition makes us all better in all areas so congratulations to them. I don't know if David is here or not, but David Haugh is probably going to be picking up a lot of checks in Indy and Chicago for a while because he is rolling in new money with his new assignment and we're all proud of it. From there, glad to take questions.
THE EXHAUSTIVE COACHING SEARCH EMERY HAD 14 MONTHS AGO?
I don't know that mine was any more extensive than others. Obviously Rick Spielman is a friend and had an extensive search this year. Him and I did talk before he undertook his. It is about finding the right person. We found the right person. It's finding the right mesh that everyone in the building is able to work with in a productive way to reach our goals, which is to win championships. That is what we are in it for and that is why we took our time to find the right person for the job.
WHEN YOU EVALUATE PEPPERS, HOW MUCH DOES THE SALARY CAP COME INTO PLAY?
That would be a contract question and I think I have had a very demonstrated history of not answering those questions. I will say that Julius is part of our football team. He is under contract. We're all coming off an 8-8 season. We have a lot to improve upon and that is where our heads are at.
ROLES FOR BOSTIC AND SHEA CHANGING A LITTLE, HAVE YOU THOUGHT ABOUT IT MORE? WHERE DO YOU ENVISION THEM?
This is what we envision: Shea is going to move to linebacker but Shea will be used in multiple roles, wherever his skills will take him. He is a perfect candidate to be on the field all downs in some capacity, whether that is blitzing, rushing, playing against the run in run personnel but he is going to have to compete for his job. He's going to have to win that job. He could win that job at SAM. He could win that job at MIKE. Competition right now is Jon Bostic, Khaseem Greene and it's Shea. Obviously, we feel that Lance Briggs is our weak starter. If we add back a D.J. Williams or another player, that player will be involved in that competitive mix and it's best person wins those two spots. We're excited about the competition. That's what makes your team better. And we're excited that we have players that possess enough talent that whoever wins can help us win championships.
WHEN D.J. WILLIAMS WAS HEALTHY LAST YEAR, WHAT DID YOU SEE?
Saw a good football player. Saw a guy that has legitimately very good burst. Saw a player that has good instincts, gets around the ball and plays with a relentless style. We were not displeased with his effort. We were very pleased with where he was going and how he was progressing. Obviously, he had some injuries in camp, he had to get his feet back under him and once he did he started producing at a high level.
DO YOU DEFINITELY STILL WANT SHEA MCCLELLIN RUSHING OFF THE EDGE, TOO?
I think it would be to our advantage to use players who have skills to rush the passer. I'll go back: obviously disappointed on the sack production, in terms of that impact, but he was our most productive rusher on our team. So we want to get him involved in that role, whether it's from a linebacker alignment, from a two-point or a three-point [stance], or with games and moves and stunts. His athleticism allows him to pressure the quarterback. We want to put him in position where he can make more plays overall.
AND SHEA IS READY FOR THAT?
I think he's very excited. Obviously at Boise, he played MIKE, he played SAM, he played with his hand on the ground. So his versatility is his strength. I'll say this. Generally, we'll take calculated risks, which we did with Shea. When we swing, we're going to swing on the high side of athleticism. And that's why we're still excited about him being able to contribute at a high level.
WHERE DID JON STRUGGLE IN THE MIDDLE?
I'll just go back to his athleticism and speed. You want that weak-side linebacker to be your cleanup hitter. He's usually on the weak side of the formation, which means offenses run to their strengths, that he's running to the backside filling or chasing down players. And his speed and his athleticism allows him to do that. That's what I'm talking about. At some point that may be his spot. Right now his spot is to compete to start at MIKE or SAM. Right now it's a three-way competition. If we sign another player into that mix, it'll be a four-way competition.
WHAT DID THE SHEA MCCLELLIN EXPERIENCE TEACH YOU ABOUT THE LB QUANDRY?
It taught me to keep picking guys that have versatility, because none of us are going to be perfect. If you swing and miss on a player, you hope that they have the skill set, that they're still competing and contributing on your team in a positive way, which Shea did. In terms of pure defensive ends, probably make sure they're a little bit longer and a little bit heavier.
Devin Hester'S SEASON?
He was productive. He was a productive kick returner. He did a good job.
UPDATE ON Jordan Mills' HEALTH?
Saw him in the training room yesterday. He's working his tail off, like he always does, and he's making good solid progress. He's on schedule.
MOTIVATION TO HIRE CLINT HURTT? DIDN'T YOU GUYS TELL US YOU WERE DONE MAKING MOVES WITH ASSISTANTS?
Yeah, we were. We went and interviewed about seven or eight people total, with the idea, going into, of who's the best mix at d-line and linebacker? We interviewed Clinton down at the Senior Bowl. Extremely impressive. Obviously they had a lot of success at Louisville. They were No. 1 in the nation in sacks and disruptions on the quarterback. Collegiately, he's signed 26 of the 36 players that they got from [the state of] Florida, a big reason why their team is having so much success. So he has an outstanding ability to communicate, a great presence. He's very skilled as a coach. So we looked at that, once we interviewed him, as, ‘how do we get him on the staff with the right mix of veteran coaches?' We didn't want to pass him up. So we found a way. And Clint decided he wanted to be in the NFL and get started, so we were fortunate enough to hire him. It helped us make the mix — defensive line, linebacker — come together. So we decided to move forward with Paul as the D-line coach and hire Reggie. Very excited about their combination; very excited about the combination of Paul, Clinton and Joe Kim.
DOES HURTT'S NCAA SHOW-CAUSE PENALTY MATTER TO YOU?
Obviously we asked him about it. Very satisfied on the answers. We all do our homework. I did my homework. It's very positive moving forward.
WHY DID Josh McCown CONNECT IN THAT LOCKER ROOM?
Because of the person he is. He's an outstanding person. It's always about the team. He's always there to help others. He's always there to try to pull people together. Unrelenting work ethic. If you're around him five minutes, you know why.
WILL BETTER PLAYERS MAKE Chris Conte BETTER?
I think the No. 1 thing for Chris making improvements is Chris himself. I'm not counting on other guys getting better to help another player improve. It's on them each individually and obviously collectively. If we improve individually we'll improve as a group. Chris knows he has to come in and compete to start. My vision for him is that he does compete and win it. I'd love to be talking to him about an extension. So let's see what he does.
LOOKING FOR IN A CORNERBACK?
Players that have demonstrated ability ... to make a difference. We need tough, physical players. Mel has said it several times to me and I believe it. I know our players believe it that generally the toughness of the team shows up at corner. That's what we want — tough, physical athletes.
WILL THERE BE A DIFFERENT STANDARD AT SAFETY IN 2014?
Well, we want to improve like we do in all areas, so yeah, the standard is we want to win championships. We need to improve back there.
Seattle'S LENGTH AT CORNERBACK? TIM IS NOT THE LONGEST GUY.
The asset's valuable. What's more valuable is can they play. Obviously, Tim's shown that he can play and that's why he was extended. Very competitive. tough guy. Physical guy. Gets his hands on the ball. Improved his hands dramatically. I've always been a big fan of Tim's. I told him that when I walked in the door. And he earned his way.
PEANUT SAYS HE WANTS TO COME BACK? HOW ARE TALKS GOING?
Certainly Charles knows we want him back and we'll just work through it. It's a step-by-step process.
LOCKER-ROOM ENVIRONMENT — ANY MORE EMPHASIS ON IT THIS YEAR?
Since Marc walked in the door — and Lovie Smith had a very positive environment, so it's not new to our players. But obviously we've had new players. But as far as Marc and the atmosphere that he established. I think it's easy to see that he really believes in an inter-connectiveness and helping one another, being a true team and what a true teammate, what that means in terms of leadership and owning up to your own responsibility to improve and help others around you. I think we have a great locker-room environment. I think it's because Marc and our coaching staff work extremely hard at it. They're constantly in contact with our players on a daily basis. Not a weekly, but a daily basis.
WILL IT BE MORE DIFFICULT TO TRADE DOWN IN SUCH A DEEP DRAFT?
It's always difficult to trade down unless you're willing to give up a lot of value and we're not going to do that. We're going to make sure there's equal value. Unless we just see that that potential pick that we're getting out of the deal is going to be in a significant spot where we can make some good out of it. The depth is good, especially on the offense. I'm sitting there at 14 — there are going to be some really good offensive playmaker on the board.
Well he's certainly going to be with us next year and we'll work through the rest, step by step. Love Brandon and I'm glad he's a Bear. He's certainly shown us over time that he's just continuing to get better as a football play and he's continuing to get better as a [person]. He's showing true leadership. He's pulling people together, getting them to work together in-season and offseason.
COULD MARQUESS WILSON PUSH EARL BENNETT?
I love competition, so we'll see how it comes out.
It's wide open. It's a wide-open competition.
WHERE CAN YOU IMPROVE ON OFFENSE?
Pacing. Keep pressure on our opponent. Just our success rates on plays. All areas, really, short-yardage, red zone. I think we were second in the league in scoring points. We'd like to be first. We'd like to be first in the league in offense. So to get to that goal, we're going to have to improve in all areas.
ON IF IT WAS IMPORTANT THAT THE BEARS' NEW DEFENSIVE ASSISTANT COACHES HAD 3-4 EXPERIENCE?
"Yeah, what we went through this search is to make sure that to improve our team on the defensive side of the football, that if we made coaching changes, it was an effort to get the most experienced coaches that have a high demanding style that will hold our veteran players accountable and have the necessary skill set to develop young players. We want to win championships, so we want to get the best coaches available. We're very excited about Paul Pasqualoni coming in, Reggie Herring and we're excited about bringing Joe Kim in as a consultant or specialist role as part of that mix."
DOES JULIUS PEPPERS' CONTRACT STATUS AFFECT WHO YOU LOOK FOR AT THE COMBINE/DRAFT?
"I think the status of our team impacts who we're looking for. We want to improve as a team. We're in this to win championships. So everybody we look at, it's: can they impact our team in a positive way? Can they contribute to championships? That same filter is for veteran players as it is for young players coming in."
HAVE YOU MADE A DECISION ON PEPPERS?
"He's part of our team. He's under contract."
HOW DIFFICULT IS IT TO DETERMINE WHERE TO GO WITH THE DEFENSE WITH ALL THE TURNOVER?
"Not difficult. It's part of the process of getting better. I'll say this, I think we have a history of we're not afraid to take calculated risk and we'll continue to do that. We'll continue to find players that have upside skills, that have good ceilings in terms of athletically, speed and size. And we'll piece it together. Obviously, there is a plan in place. It started with signing several veteran players back at the end of the year and the next step was making sure that our coaching staff was aligned correctly with experience and the skill sets that regardless of who we draft or bring in as a UFA, street, from Canada or from Arena League, that they have the skills to enhance what the positive traits of that player are and to fit it into our system of defense. That's why we went with more experienced coaches that have had numerous stays and stops and positive experiences running 4-3, 3-4, multiple-front defenses. That it gives us the same flexibility that our offensive staff gives us. One of the biggest reasons we hired Marc as our head coach is that he had demonstrated ability to take the positive skills that players have and mold it into something positive and to positively produce on the field and win championships. We want that the same on our defense."
ARE YOU STILL TRYING TO SIGN YOUR FREE AGENTS BEFORE MARCH 11?
"I'm sure that they will be, some of them. But that's a step-by-step process. Obviously, we had a high number of contracts that expired. And those players want their opportunity to get into the open market and that's OK. That's good. That's good for both sides. It allows better conversations. You have a better feel for market value. The No. 1 job of a front office collectively is always know the player's market and No. 1 job of an agent is to always to know a player's market. So when those are established at times with certain players, it makes the conversations better, they're more fluid and we can come to a conclusion quicker."
HOW IMPORTANT IS IT TO BRING BACK HENRY MELTON?
"The same priority as it is to bring back any player that we would be interested in bringing back. And we do want to bring back Henry and we'll work through that process."
HOW IS MELTON PROGRESSING IN HIS REHAB/DEDICATION?
"Yeah, he's made progress. He's made positive progress."
WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING FOR IN DEFENSIVE LINEMEN?
"I'll just say that my personal preference is bigger is always better as long as you're not sacrificing athleticism and speed. This is a fast game, but it's a very physically tough, impactful game and you need bigger bodies over time to win those matchups."
"Kind of like I said, he's making positive progress."
ON TALKING TO RICK SPEILMAN ABOUT THE COACHING SEARCH
"It was just a conversation about the process. We're friends and he wanted to know how we proceeded. I'm not the only person he reached out too. I reached out to a lot of people going through that process. You want to gather together solid ideas that can enhance your search in finding the right person, and knowing Rick, it's doesn't surprise me that he did a lot of homework. He's a very detailed, a very talented personnel evaluator. Him going out and seeking answers or suggestions or ways of doing things does not surprise me. He's a very talented person."
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is entering his fourth season covering the Chicago Bears full time. 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.