Chicago Bears general manager Phil Emery, speaking to the media for the first time since training camp, steadfastly defended quarterback Jay Cutler's sideline demeanor, which has included bumping offensive tackle J'Marcus Webb and walking away from offensive coordinator Mike Tice.
Emery said he considered the Bears a family and that overall Cutler has been a valuable member of that family.
"When I look at the team at the end of the day, are we all going in the same direction in a positive way?" Emery said. "Do we have a passion for one another? Are we allowing each other to work toward excellence? Are we there to help one another? (Do we have) true love and understanding for each other, and do we have a commitment to moving forward?
"In each one of those ways, when I look at Jay Cutler, the answer is 'yes.' He's a passionate player. He has great drive and energy. He's moving toward excellence. He does care and love his teammates, and he's a big part of the positive things that we're doing."
Cutler has been criticized by some in the national media, including former Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw, but Emery dismissed that.
"I can't speak for Terry Bradshaw," Emery said. "I can just speak about us. I am a Jay Cutler fan. I believe in what he is doing as a quarterback. If you look at the simple things, the 9-1 (record) in the last 10 games, the 22-10 (record) over the last three years, those stats say something -- that we have a winner at a key position for our franchise.
"I said early in the year that I felt Jay was a franchise-level quarterback. I will continue to say that."
As far as a contract extension for coach Lovie Smith, whose deal is up after next season, Emery said he was amused at a recent erroneous radio report that negotiations had begun.
"I said, 'Geez, even if that was true, when would we have gotten that done?'" Emery said. "Coach Smith is very focused on improving this team on a daily basis. There are not enough hours in a day to have those kinds of conversations, and that's pretty much where we're at.
"My preference is to do these things at the end of the year. There may be a situation where it's to the club's advantage and to the player's advantage to do something during the season. But most often it's better to wait until the end of the year. That applies not only to our players but to our head coach and our coaching staff."
Emery's biggest offseason gamble was acquiring wide receiver Brandon Marshall, whose off-the-field problems had made him expendable in Miami. That move, so far, has paid off big time. The king-sized, dominant pass catcher that the Bears' offense has always lacked, Marshall is fourth in the NFL with 496 receiving yards and seventh in receptions with 35. And that's just part of the story, according to Emery.
"Way beyond what he's provided for us in terms of offensive firepower is the person that Brandon is; the leadership that he's provided," the GM said. "What he does on the practice field, I admire and I look up (to). If you watch him on a daily basis, what he does as a professional, going out there to improve himself and to make others around him better, it is a sight to see."
On the defensive side of the ball, Emery said that he believes eight-time Pro Bowl middle linebacker Brian Urlacher is still making progress from his preseason knee surgery but that his presence on the field is invaluable.
"What I see on the field is a great communicator," the first-year GM said. "I definitely sense that, having gone through the preseason when he is not in there. When he is there, this guy has a tremendous role in terms of the communicating of our defense and making it all fit together. He is doing an outstanding job with that, and that's a big part of why we are playing well.
"From a physical aspect, I do see a guy that has gotten better each week working back through the injury."
Emery has been impressed with the defense as a whole, particularly those players who were thought by critics to be getting too old.
"It's been fun to watch those older veteran players," Emery said. "I was kind of thinking, 'If that's what older veteran players play like, sign me up for some more.'"