Moon: Emery's time is now

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Moon: Emery's time is now

The Bears and the rest of the NFL without exception have swung onto final approach for the draft that is now 2-12 weeks off.

It is the time and reason for which Phil Emery was hired as Bears general manager. This is his time. And for the Bears in their quest to catch the Green Bay Packers and get back ahead of the Detroit Lions, it has to be.

Setting draft positions aside for the moment, the Packers (Aaron Rodgers) and Lions (Matthew Stafford) landed their franchise quarterbacks in drafts. They landed their top receivers (Greg JenningsJordy Nelson; Calvin Johnson) in drafts. They secured their top defensive players (Clay Matthews, Ndamukong Suh) in drafts.

The Bears didn't have top-four picks but the misses later is why Emery is back in Lake Forest.

Continuity through free agency a first, major positive

Emerys accomplishments in the open market have been considerable. Trading for wide receiver Brandon Marshall; adding backup quarterback Jason Campbell and retaining Josh McCown; adding Michael Bush at running back; signing cornerbacks Kelvin Hayden and Jonathan Wilhite; and with the assorted Blake Costanzo, Devin Thomas and Eric Weems for special teams and ideally more.

Add to that the re-signings of Kellen Davis, Israel Idonije, Tim Jennings and Craig Steltz and the result has been an offseason of several steps forward without any backwards, other than defensive tackle Amobi Okoye leaving for one year with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

(Consider that one almost by choice. The Bears made an offer in their range for a player they wanted and who wanted to stay but were simply outbid by a team offering more of a starting opportunity.)

A subtly noteworthy backdrop here has been that Emery has followed a course in sync with much of what Jerry Angelo had laid out.

Angelo had targeted San Diegos Vincent Jackson as the first big strike in free agency. Marshalls character issues made him off-limits for Angelo with Sam Hurd and Tank Johnson on the resume, deserved or not.

Campbell was the goal at quarterback along with McCown, Angelos addition. And Hayden had met with the Bears previously but not signed.

The real point, however, is that Emery clearly is in phase with coaches and their needs a major positive. He did not pull into Halas Hall with an agenda and telling coaches what they needed.

And We used our college scouts expertise to work with us on unrestricted free agents, Emery said.

But now...

Emery is generally credited with a significant improvement from the Kansas City Chiefs draft of 2009 before he arrived and those of 2010 and 2011.

He already has put himself and the Bears in apparent better position than the Chiefs were. General manager Scott Pioli arrived in January 2009 but was slow to trust and ran that draft with a skeleton staff. Sources said he was rumored to have simply thrown scouts reports away and gone his own way and Emery was there for 2010.

Emery, as he has done in free agency, has avoided slipping backwards with staff or personnel losses. He worked with many of the scouts when he was with the Bears from 1998-2004; he will not be emulating Piolis first draft year in that area.

Emery, with his own credentials in college scouting, kept the Chicago college-evaluation staff in place. He also undertook a comprehensive program of synchronizing language, standards, expectations and virtually every other aspect of talent appraisal. He had the college scouts evaluate pro tape.

The objective was to ensure that the grading system and descriptions were matched in minds and the Bears system So that I could have a common understanding of where that grade was with the player, Emery said.

We put our coaches through the same process. We met with both groups and formulated the groups of players we had targeted. After the combine, we came back and met for 10 days and went through 400 college prospects.

Now the urgency is taking the steps forward that didnt happen with the Jarron Gilberts, Dan Bazuins, Juaquin Iglesiases and more.

Even though the contracts are small, it has always been the harder side of the personnel job.

Watching players as pros is an easier process because the level of the playing field, Emery said. Whereas in college you have a wide variety of talent prospects are playing against.

Bears wide receivers give defense a taste of its own medicine

Bears wide receivers give defense a taste of its own medicine

BOURBONNAIS — For much of this offseason’s practices, the Bears’ offense has had to put up with spirited mouthiness from a feisty Bears defense. On Friday, the day before the Bears get into full pads for the first time in nearly seven months, a touch of the smack flowed the other way, set in motion by one of the smallest players on the roster.

Wide receiver Daniel Braverman, the diminutive (5-9, 185) seventh-round pick of the Bears in this year’s draft, outfought fellow rookie Deiondre' Hall (6-2, 201) for a contested ball across the middle, bounced up and let out with a yell to confirm exactly which side of the ball came away with it.

The catch was the first of many by Braverman, whose day was mirrored by starting wideout Kevin White also making repeated, sometimes acrobatic catches against what until now was a defense firmly holding the upper hand this offseason.

[MORE: Akiem Hicks sees Tom Brady qualities in Jay Cutler]

“I think [Braverman] is a guy who was very productive in college, our scouting department really liked him, that's why we drafted him,” said coach John Fox. “I think you know he caught our eyes as far as putting it all together in the offseason and he's continued on that so far this camp.”

Running back Jeremy Langford added several long bursts on runs through the interior, and various receivers added to the day that belonged in large measure to the offense despite missing starting right guard Kyle Long (calf injury).

The defense did have its highlights. Defensive lineman Akiem Hicks generated a pair of dominating pass rushes that produced a simulated sack of Jay Cutler and a throwaway, Willie Young blew up a pass play coming clean on a blitz, and safety Harold Jones-Quartey threw Langford to the ground on a non-tackle tackle after the latter had ripped off one of his gashes through the defense.

[SHOP: Gear up for the 2016 season, Bears fans!

Braverman also has been worked on kickoff return and will have myriad chances to be a roster surprise, given the four preseason games and handful of practices in New England with the Patriots.

“These coaches preach every day how important special teams is, and that's something I have to learn to get adjusted to because I was just a returner,” Braverman said. “But now here you have to be a ‘gunner’ and and R2, L2, [position] stuff on kickoffs. It's just getting one day better in every little detail and aspect you can possible in 24 hours of a day.”

Bears: Akiem Hicks sees Tom Brady qualities in Jay Cutler

Bears: Akiem Hicks sees Tom Brady qualities in Jay Cutler

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. – Akiem Hicks has spent the better part of his four-year NFL career intent on annihilating quarterbacks. The defensive lineman also has spent those four years in the presence of two of the greats of this or any NFL era – Drew Brees in New Orleans and Tom Brady in New England.

He has seen some of what makes them great. And since joining the Bears last March, Hick has seen similar traits in his current quarterback – Jay Cutler.

“They have those intangibles,” Hicks told CSNChicago.com on Thursday. “All the stats that you see – the 4,000-yard seasons, the 50-touchdown [seasons] – they also have things that people don’t get to really get to see all the time. It’s something when you’re close to it and see it all the time… . Tom Brady, for instance. This is a real leader.

“And I see the same qualities in Jay Cutler – somebody who knows how to motivate his guys, knows when to get on his guys’ heads, all that. You see it all the time in practice and then it translates into the game. Guys believe in them more.”

Brady has won twice as many Super Bowls than Cutler has playoff games. The two are rarely mentioned in the same sentence.

But Hicks’ assessment of Cutler is not the first by a teammate to focus on the “L” word – Leadership. As Hicks says of Brady and Brees, outsiders do not see what teammates say. And that is the bigger point.

Bears camp shorts: Jay Cutler pick-free, QB's running, 'free hugs'

Bears camp shorts: Jay Cutler pick-free, QB's running, 'free hugs'

BOURBONNAIS — During a “team” session in Wednesday’s first practice of Bears 2016 training camp, cornerback Tracy Porter made a perfect break on a route by wide receiver Eddie Royal. The defensive back battled Royal for the ball, which then fell incomplete.

It was as close as anyone on the defense came to intercepting a Jay Cutler pass.

That wouldn’t really command much attention were it not that Cutler opened camp last year going 11 practices before throwing an interception in a drill, 7-on-7 or full-team session. It proved a foreshadowing of perhaps the single most important step forward by Cutler.

Obviously this is practice; it doesn’t count any more than preseason games do. But to dismiss any step toward ball security as insignificant is perspective-lite. The Bears track practice stats as part of their analytics for a reason, and “you play the way you practice” is a bromide of long standing for a reason. Had Cutler been throwing multiple picks every practice, the hand-wringing would have been epic.

[MORE: Kevin White not looking like a rookie as Bears open training camp]

Cutler did follow his improved ball-security camp by opening the season throwing interceptions in his first two games. Against Green Bay. Against Arizona. Against the No. 7 and No. 3 interception defenses in the NFL last year. He eventually threw four interceptions over his first six games — tying the lowest pick number through the first six games of any year in his 10-year career. The other year he had just four was 2011 — the year Cutler posted the best interception percentage (2.2) of his career. Last season was his second-best (2.3).

Reducing Cutler’s interceptions was THE primary specific targeted by Adam Gase and Dowell Loggains last offseason. What began in training camp carried over into the season.

- Jeremy Langford was haunted by a couple of costly pass drops last season, and improved receiving was a priority all offseason for the second-year running back. On Wednesday he consistently showed excellent receiving skills, wresting one catch away from linebacker Danny Trevathan.

[SHOP: Gear up for the 2016 season, Bears fans!

- Rookie Cody Whitehair stepped in at left guard with the No. 1 unit while Ted Larsen was dealing with a calf injury. On Wednesday, Larsen and Whitehair each were working at both guard and center as the Bears develop both versatility and competition levels at the interior-line spots….

- The Bears won’t be running heavy doses of read-options but that isn’t exempting quarterbacks from working on their running techniques along with backs and receivers, cutting, running and being buffeted by blocking dummies under the vociferous directions of running backs coach Stan Drayton.

- Think a little courtesy doesn’t help? A young boy stood along the ropes on Wednesday holding up a large sign, “Free hugs 4 Bears.” Yes, he did give out a couple of hugs and got some autographs and smiles in return.