From his statements this morning at the NFL Scouting Combine, Chicago Bears head coach Lovie Smith believes 2012 is a crucial season in terms of his stay in the Windy City.
“Win or else,” said Smith. “Every year I’ve been a head football coach and as a position coach, I felt like we needed to win the next year. There’s a standard that we were going to try to get accomplished. That hasn’t changed at all.”
Smith spoke to the media for roughly 15 minutes and touched on a number of subjects, including the recent firing of GM Jerry Angelo, the man who hired Smith in 2004.
"Jerry did a lot for us, but you do move on," Smith said. “I can't necessarily say [I’m] surprised [Angelo was fired].
"I'm here primarily because of what Jerry Angelo did for me. Jerry will be fine. He's a lifetime friend."
Smith said it’s been a smooth transition from Angelo to new GM Phil Emery, and that him staying on as head coach did not hinder the process.
“I don’t think any of the guys looked at it that way. Hopefully, they were looking at a great situation that they’re coming into, they were looking at a team two years ago that went to the NFC Championship Game, a team that was 7-3 this year before injuries happened. That’s the head coach that you’re getting. I know Phil is excited about the job and everything that was in place when he took the job."
Other staff changes include the promotion of Mike Tice to offensive coordinator, hiring Jeremy Bates as quarterbacks coach and Tim Holt as offensive line coach. Smtih said the decision to elevate Tice was an easy one, as their philosophies meshed.
"I just thought what Mike believed in and what I believed in would be a good fit for us."
QB Jay Cutler
Kelley L. Cox/US Presswire
The team lost its two best offensive players in Jay Cutler and Matt Forte last year, which Smith said played a huge part in the team’s late-season collapse. The back injury to Johnny Knox, the team’s leading receiver in yardage, didn’t help either. It’s still anyone’s guess when he’ll be ready to resume football activities.
”Johnny Knox is rehabbing every day and is making a lot of progress every day,” said Smith.
Another big injury on offense was the dislocated kneecap of right tackle Gabe Carimi. He had three surgeries during the season to fix the injury and, like Knox, it’s unclear when he’ll be able to return.
“I don't know when Gabe will be ready,” Smith said, adding that his return will be the same as adding a top-tier free agent to the roster.
At wide receiver, Smith was a bit standoffish about the notion the team must make an upgrade at the position, giving his typical noncommittal answer.
“We look to improve every position. Wide receiver is a part of that."
Yet he did acknowledge that a big-bodied wideout would be very helpful to Cutler.
"You don’t have to have the ball in the perfect spot, when you have a big body to throw to."
On defense, Smith is excited about the safety pairing of Major Wright and Chris Conte, saying the team hasn’t had a better starting duo during his tenure in Chicago.
Along the defensive line, Smith feels DT Henry Melton is a crucial cog to the defense as a whole. And Julius Peppers is the best player in the NFL.
"[Peppers] will very seldom lead the league in sacks because he gets respect, always double teamed, triple teamed."
As far as Matt Forte is concerned, Smith believes that his contract extension will happen in due time.
"Matt is going to play his football for the Chicago Bears, you start with that," Smith said. "In time, hopefully we can get an agreement in place that suits Matt and we feel comfortable with. I think it's just a matter of time. That will happen eventually.
"The team hasn't changed its approach to Matt Forte, at all. I think we are on record to how important Matt is to our organization. Just him in the community for what he and his wife will do, and what they mean to us ... just him as a football player."
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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of Bear Report magazine and BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.