For Bears, Focus Shifts to Business on Field
LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) The fun officially started for the Chicago Bears on Tuesday.
With a labor agreement in place, the doors to Halas Hall swung open for players. Management got down to business, too, trying to fill out the roster.
"The talk should be about what it takes to get back to the Super Bowl and win the Super Bowl instead of all this back business," said new team chairman George McCaskey, who replaced his retired brother Michael. "That's what we've been working on even in the absence of the players being prepared for the resumption of operations and getting back to the Super Bowl and winning it. That's what it's about."
The way defensive lineman Israel Idonije sees it, the Bears just might be in a better spot than most teams.
Coming off a run to the NFC championship game, most of the core players are under contract and the same systems on offense and defense are in place.
"Our learning curve and our path to getting back up to full speed is going to be a lot different than (other) clubs," he said.
There's still plenty of work to do, and for the next few days, general manager Jerry Angelo and the front office are on the clock as they try to fill out the roster. Teams were able to start signing draft picks and undrafted rookies on Tuesday, and they could also begin negotiations with veteran free agents, though they can't sign them until Friday, the same day the Bears are scheduled to report to training camp in Bourbonnais, Ill.
Topping the priority list was re-signing veteran Olin Kreutz, but the six-time Pro Bowl center's status wasn't the only issue to address. The Bears could use some help on the line even if they get him back, and there are question marks on defense, too.
The Bears had only two linebackers under contract Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs. Free agent Nick Roach had breakfast with coach Lovie Smith, defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli and linebackers coach Bob Babich on Tuesday, but whether he re-signs remains to be seen.
His agent, Josh Wright, said three other teams have expressed interest, but no offers had been made. Roach started 30 games over the past three years.
The Bears could use another pass-rusher to complement Julius Peppers, and re-signing defensive tackle Anthony Adams is probably high on their list.
As for Kreutz, his preference is to stay put. Agent Mark Bartelstein said, "We're talking to the Bears and we'll just kind of see what happens." He would not say which other teams have shown interest.
One free agent who apparently won't be back is veteran punter Brad Maynard. The Bears do not plan to bring him back, and kicker Robbie Gould is sorry to see his holder go. He said the continuity they had with long snapper Pat Mannelly made the field-goal unit one of the best in league history. On punts, Maynard wasn't bad, either.
"He's helped (special teams coordinator) Dave Toub's career tremendously, having a punter do what he did, and he'll continue to do it," Gould said. "I think he's got a lot of years ahead of him. He's a veteran, he knows how to punt, has done a great job. Would I love to have him back? Absolutely. But unfortunately, right now, that's just not the decision I have to make because I'm a player and I have to put the ball through the uprights. ... It's a sad day. Brad's done a lot for me, personally. He's done a lot for the organization."
The Bears hinted that they might be looking for a punter when they signed Richmond McGee to a two-year contract in February, and they still could bring in a more experienced punter, like free agent Steve Weatherford. He played for the New York Jets last season and went to Illinois.
But most of the key faces will be familiar ones when practices start on Saturday, and that could be an advantage for the Bears. Not having organized team activities this summer does hurt particularly the rookies and it raised questions about players' conditioning and whether they'll be more susceptible to injuries.
Idonije and Gould aren't buying that, though.
"I think you do the guys a disservice when you say they're just going to fall apart when they start playing," Idonije said. "These guys take this seriously. Despite everything that's been going on, everybody's been working out because guys take their jobs seriously. A part of that fine balance is going to be having the coaches in place to really understand their core guys."
Gould added: "We're going to be ready to make a run to the Super Bowl. We didn't have OTAs. We didn't have to run. We have to be a professional. All our guys are professionals. You don't come into this organization if you're not a professional. And if you aren't a professional, guess what? You find your way out the door."
McCaskey said the Bears discussed holding training camp in Lake Forest, but he's glad they're going to Bourbonnais, an hour's drive south of Chicago. He thinks the time there will help build camaraderie and focus the players.
"We're excited to be getting back to Bourbonnais, especially in this situation because we think it will help regroup the team because they haven't had OTAs, they haven't had voluntary workouts," He said. "So in terms of building camaraderie, it's better from a facilities standpoint.
"We think, actually, with the shortened time frame that going to Bourbonnais is the better course of action."