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Bears fortunate that GM Phil Emery is no Jerry Angelo luck-alike

Phil Emery new General Manager Chicago Bears is introduced Monday January 30 2012 Halas Hall Lake Forest. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

Phil Emery, the new General Manager of the Chicago Bears, is introduced Monday January 30, 2012 at Halas Hall in Lake Forest. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: May 25, 2012 8:16AM



Phil Emery knows he not only has to draft better in the first round than Jerry Angelo did, he has to have better luck than Angelo had. He’d be unwise to underestimate that part of it.

‘‘There’s a little luck in all of life, right?’’ Emery said. ‘‘That’s why I’m here.’’

Ain’t that the truth. Emery knows he was standing behind the lectern in the media room at Halas Hall on Monday as the Bears’ general manager because Johnny Knox slipped.

And that’s not an exaggeration. If wide receiver Knox doesn’t slip, Jay Cutler doesn’t suffer a broken thumb chasing down the San Diego Chargers’ Antoine Cason, the Bears make the playoffs and there’s no way Ted Phillips fires Angelo. It’s still difficult to figure out the epiphany that compelled Phillips to pull the plug even as the Bears’ season played out as it did.

A tough break for Angelo — when’s the last time an NFL general manager was fired after a season in which four of his draft picks made the Pro Bowl and one led the NFL in punt returns? But it could turn out that fate has moved its huge hands in the Bears’ favor this time. Emery might not be the next Ron Wolf. But early signs indicate he’ll be fare better than Angelo did.

Emery already has made a difference by addressing two of Angelo’s most egregious errors. He traded for Pro Bowl wide receiver Brandon Marshall and signed Jason Campbell as a backup quarterback.

On paper, running back Michael Bush looks better than either of Angelo’s last two complementary backs, Chester Taylor and Marion Barber. And wide receivers Eric Weems and Devin Thomas need only stay out of jail to be upgrades over Sam Hurd. Emery even said Monday that he likes his offensive tackles drafted ‘‘earlier than late,’’ an indication he might push developing seventh-round pick J’Marcus Webb more than the Bears did under Angelo.

The draft is the hard part. But Emery is going in with the wind at his back, considering Angelo’s record of failed, disappointing or star-crossed first-round picks, from Marc Colombo (29th overall in 2002) to Gabe Carimi (29th overall in 2011).

Angelo traded the No. 4 pick in 2003 to draft Michael Haynes and Rex Grossman. Tommie Harris made three Pro Bowls but suffered two injuries that turned him into just another player. Greg Olsen was traded to accommodate Mike Martz’s ill-fated offense. Chris Williams was injured the first day of his first training camp. Carimi was injured in his second regular-season game. Colombo’s injury forced Angelo to overpay for John Tait. Grossman’s failure forced him to overpay for Jay Cutler. And while it was worth it, even that eventually blew up in Angelo’s face.

It would be hard for Emery to have any worse luck than Angelo had. And I like his chances of drafting better. He seems to be a better and well-organized manager, from attention to detail to a streamlined war room (just Emery, his area scouts and coach Lovie Smith) to the decision-making process (‘‘If you’re asking who makes the final decision . . . I do,’’ he said).

The Bears struggled with clerical mishaps and communication foul-ups under Angelo. With a foundation of nine years at the Naval Academy, Emery doesn’t seem like the kind of manager who will make those mistakes or tolerate them from others.

As for the draft, which opens Thursday night at 7, Emery said the Bears are targeting ‘‘a core of about seven players’’ at No. 19.

‘‘It’s a good draft for wideouts, defensive ends and tackles. It’s a good draft for projecting offensive tackles to guards,’’ he said.

Emery said he’s willing to move up or down in the first round, and teams have called that would allow him to do either. And he is not compelled to fill the biggest need — or any need.

‘‘We’re very oriented toward finding the player that’s going to get us there fastest,’’ Emery said.



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