Phil Emery likes combo of proven Bears, homegrown young talent
BY MARK POTASH Staff Reporter September 2, 2013 10:17PM
Updated: September 3, 2013 10:46AM
Despite missing the last four weeks with a concussion, wide receiver Earl Bennett sounded like he would play in the Bears’ regular-season opener Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals at Soldier Field.
‘‘That’s the plan,’’ Bennett said.
It didn’t look too good a week ago. But the issue of Bennett’s absence was trumped by coach Marc Trestman’s declaration that if Bennett couldn’t go, his replacement would be 20-year-old rookie Marquess Wilson, the Bears’ seventh-round pick from Washington State.
Wilson is the epitome of almost everything general manager Phil Emery is looking for as he tries to build the Bears into a perennial contender.
He’s young. He’s a target for Jay Cutler. He has a chance to be great. And he’s homegrown. While the rest of the NFL was skittish about Wilson quitting the Washington State team last year in a fit of petulance, Emery saw a chance to strike gold and pounced.
‘‘The best way to build a team is your own original talent,’’ Emery said Monday. ‘‘It helps you manage the cap [and] gives you flexibility, so that when you need a dynamic player, you are able to get him. It also gives your team a homegrown flavor for your fans and allows those players to improve together and play as a team longer and with more consistency.’’
No doubt Emery has taken huge steps toward that goal after adding nine homegrown rookies to his roster. He did his own homework to make his point Monday — 29 of his 53 players are homegrown. The Packers have 43. The Vikings 39. The Lions 27.
But the ascension of raw players such as Wilson leads to a legitimate question: Is it too much too soon? More than half of the 29 homegrown players — 15 — have accomplished little or nothing in the NFL. Twelve of them have never played in a regular-season NFL game.
Unless the Bears have an unusual number of rookie-of-the-year candidates, it leaves Emery with a top-heavy roster — proven veterans and Pro Bowlers supported by inexperienced and unproven players. If the Bears lose any of several key players, they will be filling in with inexperienced players or they’ll be scrambling to find veteran help off the street — a makeshift proposition at best.
If Lance Briggs is injured, his replacement could be rookie Khaseem Greene. If Roberto Garza is injured, his replacement could be Taylor Boggs or Eben Britton. If Julius Peppers is injured, rookies Cornelius Washington or David Bass would move into the rotation. If Henry Melton is injured, rookie Zach Minter could be the third tackle.
Are the Bears ready for that?
‘‘We hope we’re deep enough,’’ Trestman said. ‘‘We feel we’re deep enough that guys will have to move in and take on those roles and those positions. That’s just part of the game.’’
‘‘The best 53 players made the team and provided us with the best depth possible for today,’’ Emery said. ‘‘That doesn’t mean that’s going to be the team composition tomorrow or next week. We’re going to continue to address the roster. So I don’t see it as top-heavy. I see it as our best roster possible.’’
At full strength, though, the Bears have a nice combination of proven talent and young players with room for growth. At least on paper, Emery seemed to hit his stride in the 2013 draft after what appear to be some rookie jitters the previous year.
‘‘I need to do a better job of finding ways to gain more picks on draft day, and we need to do a better job as a college staff in our recruitment and retention of high-quality college free agents,’’ he said. ‘‘That’s how you produce [homegrown] rosters at . . . numbers where the Packers are at, where the Vikings are at.’’
In 20 months, Emery has replaced 31 of the 53 players on the roster — including 18 of 24 players on offense.
It’s all part of his grand plan: ‘‘Improve the weapons for our team, improve the protection for our quarterback, to be quarterback-centered and to slowly add youth and dynamic athleticism to our defense as our needs arise.’’
So far, so good.
‘‘We’re moving in the right direction,’’ Emery said.
It’s mostly out of his hands now. All Emery can do is let his coaching staff go to work — and keep his fingers crossed.