Bears coach Lovie Smith finally addressed the media Wednesday, choosing as he does every year to wait until OTAs are completed before making any comments about the state of his team during the offseason training program.
"A lot has been done this offseason," Smith said following a two-hour practice at Halas Hall. "We've made some changes, brought in some new players, and the last time I talked with you, I know a lot more now about them. [I'm] just really pleased with where our team is right now."
Most of the attention has been on the offensive side of the football, with Smith's former boss in St. Louis, Mike Martz, being brought in as the new coordinator, replacing the fired Ron Turner. Because Martz and Jay Cutler are type-A personalities and can be abrasive here and there, not to mention the fact that coach criticized quarterback while working for NFL Network last season, pundits from coast to coast have wondered if the two of them are a match made in heaven or a disaster waiting to happen. But to this point, both Martz and Cutler have said all the right things, going out of their way to compliment one another when the opportunity presents itself.
As far as the skill-position players are concerned, while they may not be the strength of this team, as Martz suggested during minicamp in May, the trio of Devin Hester, Johnny Knox and Devin Aromashodu was impressive throughout OTAs.
"Whenever you put in a new offense," said Smith, "of course it's going to take a while. We needed every OTA, every offseason practice, and I've seen so much improvement. I'm sure Jay and Mike and the rest of the guys on offense would say the same thing. We've come a long way. We've got the majority of our packages in. [I'm] really excited about what we're going to be this year offensively."
It hasn't received nearly as much attention as Martz and Co. on offense, but the Bears will also have a new defensive coordinator in 2010. Rod Marinelli has been promoted from defensive line coach and assistant head coach and will be calling plays for the first time in his career, although, like Smith, he is a firm believer in the Cover 2 and the majority of the scheme remains intact. The hope is that Julius Peppers, who was the crown jewel of free agency, can be the pass-rushing presence off the edge this unit has needed for quite some time and elevates the play of his fellow defenders.
OTAs are voluntary and players can't be penalized by the team for not participating, but aside from cornerback Charles Tillman skipping a few practices, and receiving a temporary demotion to second string as a result, attendance was near 100 percent from start to finish.
"[We're] very pleased with the type of effort that we've gotten from it," Smith said. "Most of our veterans have been here. [They're] voluntary workouts, but most of the guys have been here working hard every day, finishing it off."
Injuries are a part of the game, and the Bears have some household names on the mend from a year ago, including two captains: linebacker Brian Urlacher and center Olin Kreutz. While Urlacher feels rested and ready after missing 15 of 16 contests in 2009 with a dislocated wrist, Kreutz just returned to practice this week following a surgical procedure on his Achilles. Both of them are six-time Pro Bowlers, but neither of them has gotten an invite since the Super Bowl campaign of 2006.
New tight end Brandon Manumaleuna, however, is yet to break a sweat in the Windy City, as the blocking specialist had his knee scoped recently but should be fully healed by training camp.
"Injury-wise," said Smith, "some of the players are getting better. [We're] getting Olin Kreutz a little bit closer to moving into his role. Brandon has missed most of the work. If there's a downer, it's that. But the next time we get together as a football team for training camp, we should have all of our players ready to go then."
Smith believes he has what he needs to succeed, and for his sake he better. The Monsters of the Midway have missed the playoffs three years in a row, and Smith will not see the final season of his contract in 2011 if that dubious streak extends to four. Plus, with the Blackhawks just winning the Stanley Cup for the first time in almost half a century, suddenly Chicago's 25-year Vince Lombardi Trophy drought seems a bit on the lengthy side.
We'll know a lot more once Smith and his minions report to Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais for training camp, which begins July 30.
"We're a good football team," he said. "[I'm] looking forward to putting on the pads and continuing the evaluation."
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John Crist is the Publisher of BearReport.com, a Heisman Trophy voter and a member of the Professional Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.
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