Job One for general manager Phil Emery, when Bears president and CEO Ted Phillips hired him in late January, was to close the existing talent gap with the NFC North champion Packers.
Seven-time Pro Bowl linebacker Brian Urlacher believes Emery is well on his way to completing that mission.
"On paper we're a better football team than we were last year at the end of the season," Urlacher said. "Now we just have to go out there and do it. I'm excited about that. Phil Emery knows what he's doing, obviously, (getting wide receiver) Brandon Marshall and (running back) Michael Bush. Matt (Forte) is coming back. That was a big deal, obviously, to get him back, and we got him back."
Urlacher provided his critique just before he was honored as this year's Bears recipient of the Ed Block Courage Award. He also said he continues to rehab the torn knee ligaments he suffered in last season's final game, and that he will be completely recovered in time for necessary offseason activities.
The Ed Block Courage Award Foundation is dedicated to improving the lives of abused, neglected and at-risk children and ending the cycle of abuse. Its purpose is to raise awareness and prevention of child abuse. Each year, the award honors one player from each NFL team who exemplifies the principles of sportsmanship and courage. It is unique in that recipients are selected solely by a vote of their teammates.
One of Urlacher's newest teammates, Marshall, may be the most talented receiver in team history. But he arrives with a rap sheet that includes violence against women and other alcohol-related incidents. As a team captain and a leader on and off the field for more than a decade, the hope is that Urlacher's influence, and that of other trustworthy veterans, rubs off on Marshall.
"Most of the time, when something comes, up I'll get a call," coach Lovie Smith said, regarding off-the-field problems. "And a lot of times Brian will get a call so the guys can run things by him. He's just not a team captain that goes out there for the coin toss. He's a captain (who) is there. He'll always bring concerns (of his teammates) to me."
Urlacher doesn't anticipate any problems with Marshall, who caught 206 passes for 2,590 yards with Cutler as his quarterback in 2007-08, when both were with the Broncos.
"Brandon's a good guy," Urlacher said. "I know he's had some issues. Jay's going to handle that situation, so I'm not worried about it. Jay is a straightforward guy, and he's been around Brandon. I don't think it'll be an issue. He's coming into a good situation. He's got a great quarterback, good offensive line, good running game, decent defense, great coaching staff. He's going to get a lot of balls thrown at him, so that should keep him happy."
In addition to Marshall and Bush, the Bears have added quarterback Jason Campbell, wide receivers Devin Thomas and Eric Weems, cornerbacks Kelvin Hayden and Jonathan Wilhite and linebacker Blake Costanzo. They have also re-signed defensive end Israel Idonije, tight end Kellen Davis, safety Craig Steltz, quarterback Josh McCown, and cornerback Tim Jennings.
"In the offseason you're trying to improve your ball club, and we've done that, starting off with signing some of your own players," Smith said. "We feel like we have a special group. I know we've improved our talent since we played last."
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