Members of the new Bears coaching staff said Thursday in various ways that the defense in many ways will look the same as those of the nine Lovie Smith years.
What no one was saying, however, was that they either expected or wanted that look to include Brian Urlacher.
Urlacher, the second-best linebacker currently on the roster, has said that he wants to remain a Bear. The current Bears coaches have said that they are impressed with all he has done and been as a Bear, which is far from the same thing.
Marc Trestman speaks of Urlacher in the past tense, not the present or future. GM Phil Emery has given the only positive evaluation of Urlacher’s 2013 play, noting at the Trestman hiring press conference that Urlacher had returned to a top level from his 2011 knee injury at the time of his hamstring injury in the Seattle game.
“I think again the organization is going through [the evaluation] process,” Trestman said on Thursday. “I said that at the press conference. I’ll say it again: I’m excited to come here because Brian Urlacher has been such an important part of this ... to talk about where that thing is going would be premature at this time.”
No member of the coaching staff would offer even an assessment that Urlacher is indeed a good football player. Despite missing the final four games with a hamstring pull, he finished fourth in tackles (88) and second to Lance Briggs in tackles for loss (seven).
“Really, I’m not going to talk about individual personnel right now,” said defensive coordinator Mel Tucker. “We’re still in the evaluation process, and we’ll go through that. At some point, we’ll cross that bridge, but not today.”
This suggests several possibilities:
- that Tucker, who has been in his job for a month, indeed hasn’t finished evaluating one of the potential linchpins of his defense;
- that Tucker has completed a positive evaluation and the organization wants no loose compliments circulating to increase Urlacher’s price;
- that Emery’s preferred cone of silence on personnel matters is in place, good or bad;
- that coaches have completed their assessment of Urlacher, the decision is to let Urlacher go, and that where one of the franchise’s great defensive players is concerned, if you can’t say something nice about someone, don’t say anything at all.
Trestman did say that he and Urlacher shared a lengthy telephone call. But Trestman made no mention about “how much we wanted him with us in 2013.” Trestman said specifically that Urlacher’s situation wasn’t part of the conversation.
“He’s in Arizona,” Trestman said. “[I] had probably a 30- to 40-minute discussion. He was great. We talked generally about the team. Not specifically about his situation. I asked him about the team and our locker room and tried to gather as much information as I can.”
One NFL veteran told CSNChicago.com that the best scenario for the Bears will be to make Urlacher a modest offer that will not insult him. Then if Urlacher exits, it will be his choice.
Free agency effectively begins on Mar. 9 when teams can talk to the players of other teams. An offer would be expected before that if one is coming. If the evaluations lean toward closing Urlacher’s Chicago era, the team might be expected to grant him an early release to give him a head start on the market.
That, like what the new coaching staff thinks of Urlacher, remains decidedly unclear.