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Bears GM Phil Emery tells it like it is

Updated: February 6, 2014 6:35AM



The Bears lost to the Packers but won the postseason news conference in a rout.

That’s not a satisfying conclusion to the 2013 season, but Emery’s forthright critique of Marc Trestman’s first season still left Bears fans with a little hope as they anticipate changes and upgrades in free agency and the draft: he sees the same game we do.

That counts for something. How many times in the past have the Bears lost the big game [ital] and [end ital] the press conference? Let’s not forget, the Bears used to annually lead the NFL in dog-and-pony shows.

Thursday’s press conference with Emery and Trestman was anything but that. On the contrary, Emery — admittedly long-winded but at least smart enough to start at 9:30 in the morning — eventually gave it to us straight. A former strength-and-conditioning coach and a scout at heart, Emery has an awkward, unpolished manner for an executive. But he’s earnest if nothing else. Even his tip-of-the-cap to the media was as much common sense and the truth as it was a courtesy. ‘‘You keep our feet to the fire and that’s a good thing,’’ Emery said. ‘‘The way for us to reach championships is keep pushing our level. The way we’re going to do that is internally, but no one succeeds with out a push.’’

Emery praised the positive elements of the 2013 season, and correctly noted that when Mel Tucker had a defense at full strength in the first three weeks of the season, the Bears were pretty good — ninth in the NFL in run defense, with two touchdowns on interception returns. And 3-0.

It wasn’t until Henry Melton suffered a season-ending torn ACL against the Steelers, followed by Nate Collins and D.J. Williams and Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman, that everything fell apart. And by refusing to commit to Tucker for 2014, Emery and Trestman tacitly acknowledged that injuries indeed are not an excuse and Tucker will be held accountable for the steep dropoff in performance.

In fact, Emery lamented the defensive deficiencies that ultimately doomed the 2013 Bears more like a 40-year season-ticket holder than the general manager who was at least partially responsible for it.

‘‘Obviously we need to improve as a defense,’’ Emery said. ‘‘We had a lot of tough days defensively and a we had a tough season. There are no excuses for it. I know our fans are frustrated. I know everybody in this city is frustrated. This team is frustrated.

‘‘I think Lance Biggs’ comments [Tuesday, on Comcast’s ‘‘Sports Talk Live’’ with David Kaplan] sounds like a very frustrated player who loves football and know that there is a higher level of play that can be attained and is frustrated and angry about it. We share in that frustration and anger.’’

Emery took the blame for the Bears’ inability to replace injured players. ‘‘We had injuries; they’re not an excuse,’’ he said. ‘‘Did we have enough depth to win football games? The answer is no. From a personnel perspective, I had not done enough to provide enough depth. We were at least one defensive lineman short.

‘‘We had signed a tackle in Sedrick Ellis [who retired on the eve of training camp]; that didn’t work out. The fact that we coudn’t replace Sedrick, that’s on me. We didn’t have enough pass rush form the outside or the inside. David Bass came in [from the Raiders] and did a very good job against the run. But he’s a young rusher. We needed one more there.’’

But wait, there’s more. Emery didn’t ignore the almost mystifying performance of safeties Chris Conte and Major Wright, who struggled all season to make plays. He didn’t flog them, but you can tell by his words that he’s not going to hand them their jobs back next season.

‘‘[We] needed another safety to provide competition to improve our group — that’s on me,’’ Emery said. ‘‘I [drafted] Brandon Hardin [who suffered season-ending injuries in both preseasons with the Bears and was cut]. I put that young man in a bad position to succeed, moved him from a corner to a safety and he wasn’t able to make that transformation and that’s on me.’’

And last but not least, Emery acknowledged that Shea McClellin is not the every-down, hand-on-the-ground defensive end he projected him to be when he drafted McClellin 19th overall in 2012.

‘‘Putting him at defensive end, that’s on me — not giving him the ultimate opportunity to succeed,’’ Emery said. ‘‘He produced in a positive way, but the overall impact the last two seasons has not been at a high enough level.

‘‘What we have to do with Shea is find ways to use the unique talents and skills of the players that we have.’’

Emery treaded lightly on the sensitive subject of Julius Peppers, whose overall production dropped precipitously in 2013. Whether or not Peppers can regain his Pro Bowl form at 34 next season, Emery is not likely to be able to take that chance with Peppers’ $18 million salary cap number. Probably out of respect, Emery didn’t address the Peppers issue until he was asked, and even then was reticent. ‘‘Julius had an 8-8 year, like all of us, like I did, and that’s where he’s at,’’ Emery said.

Though Peppers’ future with the team is a legitimate concern, you have to respect the fact that Emery showed due respect to a great player, a proud warrior and a team leader who is headed to the Hall of Fame. That was part of the fine touch Emery displayed a revealing press conference. Shea McClellin and Jon Bostic might be in for position changes. Chris Conte and Major Wright need more competition. Mel Tucker may or may not be back. But he’ll deal with the Peppers situation when he deals with it.

Fair enough. Emery gave Bears fans more than they expected Thursday. It doesn’t assure us of anything. We don’t know if Emery will draft another Shea McClellin or another Alshon Jeffery in May. ‘‘That’s on me’’ won’t go over as well a year from now. His team needs a lot of help. But it’s good to know he’s at least looking for what he needs most.

Email: mpotash@suntimes.com

Twitter: @MarkPotash



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