Rookies arrive at Bears training camp at Olivet Nazarene University Tuesday, July 24, 2012, in Bourbonnais. | John J. Kim~Sun-Times
Updated: August 26, 2012 6:22AM
BOURBONNAIS — Are all the pieces in place?
Bears first-year general manager Phil Emery deftly maneuvered around that kiss-of-death question Tuesday when he was asked if he thinks he has put together a roster that will contend for the Super Bowl.
‘‘Well, I think we’ve made progress,’’ Emery said. ‘‘But to say a Super Bowl contender, it has to be earned on the field. Do we have good, talented players that can contribute toward our goal of winning a championship? Yes, we do. Are we there yet? No, we’re not. We’ve got to earn that every day on the field.’’
Expectations and optimism seem to be the biggest challenges as Emery and coach Lovie Smith met the media on the eve of the opening of training camp at Olivet Nazarene University.
Former general manager Jerry Angelo seemed to face one obstacle after another at the start of each season — last year it was the fallout from the NFL lockout, Matt Forte seeking a long-term contract and finding a center after failing to sign Olin Kreutz.
But Emery, by comparison, is in the clear. Forte, disgruntled all offseason with the franchise tag, signed a four-year, $32 million contract with $17 million guaranteed. All of the injured players from last season — including starters Forte, Jay Cutler, Brian Urlacher and Chris Conte — are ready to go with the exception of Johnny Knox. And Knox’s absence is muted by the addition of three-time Pro Bowl receiver Brandon Marshall and rookie Alshon Jeffery.
Early last season, it seemed like the Packers and Lions were pulling away from the aging, out-of-sync Bears in the NFC North. But with Emery replacing Angelo, Mike Tice replacing Mike Martz as offensive coordinator and Marshall replacing Knox and Roy Williams as the No. 1 wide receiver, the Bears open training camp as a team most NFL observers are watching.
‘‘As we look at our roster coming into camp, [it] looks about as good as it has since I’ve been here,’’ said Smith, who is 71-57 (3-3 in the playoffs) as he begins his ninth season as coach.
‘‘We realize that. We embrace that. We have a good football team. [When] you have good personnel and a good coaching staff, you can’t wait to get out on the football field.’’
Smith’s optimism is well-established in Chicago. But even he seemed a tad more confident than normal as he looked toward what could be a telltale season for him. He even lauded his players for staying off the police blotter in the offseason. Though he didn’t mention it, the rival Lions had players involved in seven arrests in the offseason.
‘‘I normally don’t bother them an awful lot when we take time off, but I’m proud of the job our players have done,’’ Smith said. ‘‘Look in the news, you see a lot of guys doing things they shouldn’t. I feel pretty good about what our players did while they were gone.’’