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Lovie Smith is Phil Emery’s guy

Bears general manager Phil Emery said team has looked other offensive linemen but hasn’t found right fit. | John J.

Bears general manager Phil Emery said the team has looked at other offensive linemen but hasn’t found the right fit. | John J. Kim~Sun-Times

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Updated: September 21, 2012 6:33AM

In his last 14 NFL seasons, Phil Emery largely and anonymously scoured the country for players. But his profile has increased dramatically since the Bears hired him as general manager in January.

Emery, though, didn’t ease into the job. He pulled off a blockbuster trade for three-time Pro Bowl receiver Brandon Marshall, re-signed Pro Bowl running back Matt Forte and overhauled the scouting staff.

Days before training camp closed, Emery sat down with the Sun-Times to discuss a range of topics, from inheriting coach Lovie Smith to why the Bears didn’t do more to address the oft-questioned offensive line. Here’s a portion of the interview:

Q: For a first-time general manager, you’ve been very aggressive in making transactions and trades. Can you explain that mind-set?

A: Well, I have a role and a part with the team, and I’m very fortunate to be in a leadership position and the primary position is in personnel.

I have a responsibility to our coaching staff, our owner, our president and all our support staff. But, primary, it’s to make sure we have the players on the field that will allow us to compete and win championships, and that job, it never stops. It’s around the clock.

I take it to heart, and we’re going to do whatever it takes – whether it’s drafting the right player, picking up players as UFAs, re-signing our own players, picking up street free agents after the draft – to make sure that we put the best roster together. Right now, that’s at 90. Soon, it’ll be at 75. That doesn’t mean it’s just releasing the players that we have. It might be releasing the players we have and adding, too, going into 75, before the 53. Then at 53, it’ll be the best 53 we can put on the field, at that time, to help us win championships. However they’ve come that way.

We have a preference in building through the draft. It’s the right way to do it, to reward your own. But when it comes down to that final roster decision, it won’t matter where they came from – who drafted them, what team they came from, whether I drafted them – it’s the best 53 that give us the absolute best opportunities to win football games and win championships.

Q: So you won’t protect a player if you spent a third- or fourth-round pick on him?

A: No, no. I made very sure of that, after the draft, when we got down to that range. You have to have confidence that when you’re picking a first-, second-round pick, those guys are in some ways going to contribute to your team.

I know that when I got down to the third or fourth and down there, I said, ‘These guys have to make the team.’ We see upside on them, but they have to show it to us and they have to make the team. So ultimately, if that street free agent or that college free agent is better than some of those picks, then we’ll figure it out and get the best player possible for the Bears on the field.

Q: The offensive line is a work in progress. You’ve been aggressive at a lot of positions but not the offensive line. Why is that?

A: Anytime you’re talking about personnel or personnel acquisitions, you have to go through the same filter. The first filter that we have – and I spent a lot of time when I first got here and not only the scouts understanding but our coaching staff – we went over players, positions, priorities.

It always comes down to this: Is that player that we’re considering for the Chicago Bears – no matter how we acquire him – better or worse than the player that is currently at that position. And if we can’t say that he’s better, with absolute certainty, there is no reason to acquire them.

At every position, every player on our squad goes through that same scrutiny. It’s always better or worse.

So often we’ll get down and talk about a player, and, when it gets down to it, I have to stop at the end and say, “OK, I understand the pluses and the minuses of a player, but I still didn’t hear whether he was better or worse than the player at the position we’re talking about.” That’s the bottom line.

To acquire a player – regardless if it’s offensive line or another position – is he better or worse than what we have on our squad? Second, does he fit us? Meaning does he fit our team? Is he good for our personality mix and character mix? Is he right for our staff? Is putting that player with that coach going to allow for him to reach his potential? Is he right for our scheme?

If those answers are right, then can we acquire him? What’s it going to take? Which pick? How is he going to fit in our cap?

So there’s a lot into the equation. It’s not as simple as, “We like that wideout. Let’s go get ’em.”

Well, is that wideout better? Scheme? Coaches? Locker room? Can we acquire him?

Just because the perception may be that we have not been aggressive at a position because we haven’t necessarily acquired one doesn’t mean that we haven’t been aggressively working every player available at that position.

Q: J’Marcus Webb has been a lightning-rod figure. What have you seen from the player you evaluated when he was a rookie coming out of West Texas A&M to the player he is now?

A: Well, my first exposure to him was at the Cactus Bowl. I had a chance to talk to him there and watch him perform. I see a player that is obviously gifted genetically. He has all the prerequisite athletic tools and body size that you’re looking for at that position. That prerequisite is very hard to find, so you want to be very patient with that person who possesses those tools because there are 32 staring left tackles. There are probably 20 or less – or half or less – that qualify as a consistent, good, NFL left tackle. A starter.

So you’re going to be patient. That’s what we’re doing. We’re being patient with J’Marcus, and we want to see him develop because of those tools, and what we’re looking for is, we see him do it, and we want to see him do it with consistency.

Q: How has your working relationship been with Lovie Smith?

A: I got to know him when I was here. His first draft, as the Bears head coach, I was here as a Southeast area scout. I got to know him and really gained an appreciation for him during that draft process. He’s everything that he was then. He’s extremely earnest person. He loves people.

He loves players, and they love him. He has a scheme, and a system and a plan. I mean, what’s not to like?

He’s been a demonstrated winner. Great stability, great family, players love playing for him. He’s the best recruiter in the NFL, when it comes to the unrestricted free agents, and college free agents. You have Lovie call them, and you know they’re going to be interested in becoming a Bear.

I feel very fortunate. I don’t know why anybody would look at that as a negative. As a first-time GM, having been through several coaching changes as a scout and as a coach, I know how disruptive that is. You can’t ever be afraid to make a change, if you know it’s going to be disruptive. However, I think I walked into a very good situation with Lovie Smith as our head coach. I mean, he’s a dean in the NFL for a reason.

You don’t stay as long as you, at any one club if there aren’t a lot of high quality attributes as a person that allows you to still be competing and working toward victories.

Q: Some general managers inherit a coach and that person is not “their guy.” Does it matter to you that Jerry Angelo hired Lovie Smith?

A: No, not at all. I’m more caught up in the person that Lovie is, and he’s a guy I want to be around. That’s the key. I want to be around him, and, as I told him, ‘I want to do my part for you, so we can all be successful.’ To me, it’s about helping him have the right players on the field, that are going to match his schemes and allow him to coach to his full efficiency, so we can win on the field.

Q: There are high expectations this season. Is there something you’re looking for from Lovie Smith this season during this test phase?

A: I don’t look at it as a test phase. Lovie Smith is our head coach. We need to make progress toward our goal, which is winning championships. That’s how I’m going to be judged, that’s how everybody in the building is going to be judged. He understands he’s under that same umbrella. We’re all going to be judged on our progress toward championships, and consistency to be in the mix to win championships.

Q: So you’re not caught up in 2013 contract status?

A: My mind is not around that. It’s around the team and now. We’re all going to be judged by the same standards. That’s the standard I put myself on. At the end of that process, we’ll move forward, with where we’re at.

Q: Teams have different philosophies with coaches and players in terms of negotiating. Are you open to whatever window or do you prefer to deal with contract matters during the offseason?

A: Ideally, yes [during offseason]. But, I will tell you that we have a plan in place. I will never discuss that plan. I really feel that contract negotiations are between a player and a club. We’ll do those whenever it benefits both parities. My design is that nobody will ever know that until they’re done. And that’s when they’re important, when they’re done. I’m open. But my preference is not to do it during the season. Ideally, its in the offseason.

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