COMMENTARY | Just over a year ago, the Chicago Bears hired Phil Emery, then Kansas City's director of college scouting, as the fifth general manager in team history. His hiring brought an end to the 11-year run of former GM Jerry Angelo, a tenure I graded here in a previous column. Just a year into his run at the helm, Emery is making all the right moves.
Bears quarterback Jay Cutler has been sacked 148 times in his four seasons in Chicago, an average of 37 sacks per season. That's way too many. In addition, Cutler has missed games due to injury in his previous three campaigns. This points to an issue with protecting the QB, and Emery has been proactive in fixing the problem.
In the NFL, everything starts with the quarterback, and to say Chicago's offensive line was "bad" last year would be an insult to all things bad. Cutler's protection from his O-line was atrocious. Rather than head into another season hoping the line will gel, Phil Emery got proactive and revamped it, signing Jermon Bushrod to protect Cutler's blindside. Emery also brought in Matt Slauson, a solid guard who signed for a bargain-basement price. 2013 first-rounder Kyle Long adds versatility and size at the right guard position. These moves are designed to protect the most important position in sports -- and with Cutler heading into a contract year, he has all the motivation (and protection) he needs to deliver a playoff run.
Emery's upgrade of the roster isn't limited to the offensive line. As I wrote here in a previous column, five Bears tight ends accounted for 33 catches. Not 33 catches apiece -- total. Martellus Bennett, an early Emery signing this offseason, caught 55 passes last season as a Giant. Yes, one man caught 22 more passes than five members of Chicago's roster combined -- all while never fumbling the ball.
Defensively, despite ranking fifth in total defense last year, Chicago let some winnable games get away. The 23-17 home loss to Seattle in Week 13 was unacceptable. The Bears allowed rookie QB Russell Wilson to pass for nearly 300 yards and two scores, those two touchdowns coming late in the fourth quarter to put the Seahawks ahead and in overtime to win it. In both drives, Wilson exploited a tired, hurting defense. Face of the franchise Brian Urlacher was out late in the game, sidelined by a pulled hamstring which would end his season and, ultimately, his time in Chicago.
So, what does Phil Emery do? Upgrade the linebacker position, signing James Anderson and tackling machine D.J. Williams to one-year contracts. Williams, a former standout in Denver suspended for performance-enhancing drug usage, is hungry to show he's still a viable force in the NFL. Anderson is a man the Bears are so high on, they're allowing him to wear No. 50, last worn 20 years ago by "Samurai" Mike Singletary.
Chicago also drafted Rutgers standout LB Khaseem Greene, who led the Scarlet Knights in solo tackles, tackle assists, total tackles, tackles for loss, sacks, QB hurries, forced fumbles and fumble recoveries. Have I also mentioned Greene was ranked ninth out of 199 OLBs by nfldraftscout.com? Emery got him in the fourth round of the draft. With Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings shutting down wide receivers, teams will dump balls off over the middle, leaving pass catchers to be dissected by Green.
The Bears aren't making so-called "sexy" moves in the draft and free agency; they're making solid ones. Phil Emery seems to have his head in the game. With solid play from the offensive line protecting him and a defense that got younger and faster at linebacker, QB Jay Cutler is in prime position to make believers out of us all. Of course, I do have doubts -- and addressed them here -- about whether rookie head coach Marc Trestman is the man to lead Chicago to the Lombardi trophy. But, as the old saying goes, "that's why they play the games!"
Doc Hopkins has followed Chicago sports for decades. He has worked in sports media over 10 years and has been published in the Chicago Tribune. Find him on Twitter @SupermanHopkins or leave him a comment below.
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