No job is safe

In just three mini-camps Lovie Smith has proven that he likes his players to compete for playing time. While that doesn't mean Brian Urlacher is in jeopardy of losing his job, veterans will have to live up to Smith's expectations.

"I think everyone has to play that way. It's about competition. We're new coming in as a staff, so no one has a job locked up," Smith said. "They have to prove that they belong at that position that they're in."

Olin Kreutz has played for Dave Wannstedt, Dick Jauron and now Smith. The three-time Pro Bowl center knows that the pressure is on everyone when a new coach arrives.

"Everybody else is on edge," Kreutz said. "Everybody knows that their job really is at stake with a new coaching staff. They don't know anything about you."

Practices have been much more active than in the past because veterans can't sit back and rely on their reputations to procure a spot in the starting lineup.

"Everybody has to prove themselves again. It's almost like everybody's a rookie, so that brings a lot more energy to practices," Kreutz said.

One of many weaknesses of the previous regime was blind loyalty. Charles Tillman, Lance Briggs, Anthony Thomas and Urlacher proved to be the best option at their respective position as rookies, but did not begin the year atop the depth chart because Jauron didn't want to disappoint an incumbent starter.

Smith has the complete opposite philosophy. He's publicly challenged several players in the media including Urlacher, the team's biggest draw. The four-time Pro Bowl middle linebacker wasn't involved in a single turnover last season and that's unacceptable in Smith's defense.

"I want to go on record as saying I don't think Brian Urlacher had a bad year last year. He was in the Pro Bowl, and there's a reason for that, (he was) voted on by his peers," Smith said. "(But) at the linebacker position, you have to have other stats. Linebackers are supposed to make tackles. A 200-tackle season for a linebacker, or 180-plus tackles, that's what you're supposed to have. I'm talking about the special plays, the interceptions, fumble recoveries, make-a-difference plays. That's the part of the game that we really try to develop."

Smith has gone on record with numerical goals for Urlacher, which is something Jauron nor Greg Blache would have ever done.

"With his talent, we really think we can take him to that next level," Smith said. "We talked to Brian about the 55 Club: 5 sacks, 5 interceptions. That's a high standard for a linebacker but one that can be achieved, and he'll have an opportunity to do that."

The Bears also have high expectations for their '04 draft class. In particular Tommie Harris and Terry Johnson should pay immediate dividends.

"We're not drafting guys in the early rounds to sit around, we think that eventually they're going to be a starter for us," Smith said of the Bears first and second-round picks.

Harris and Johnson are the most athletic defensive tackles on the roster, which could lead to them starting as rookies. At the very least the duo will play in as part of a rotation this year. They will push Bryan Robinson and Alfonso, but that doesn't excuse veterans from not helping younger players.

"We would like for them to open their arms and help the younger players coming through. I just assume that that's a part of being a teammate, especially a veteran teammate, and helping young guys come in," Smith said.

That puts older players of being in the awkward position of having to train their eventual replacement.

"I think that in itself kind of gets you going a little bit," Smith said of having younger players compete with veterans. "That's the good thing about the draft when you bring new guys in. It really does get everybody going a little bit more."

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