Lovie Smith unflitered from the combine:
Seems like once you get to the combine you can really start getting ready for the upcoming season. After having a chance to watch Pittsburgh celebrate the winning the Super Bowl everyone else is excited about getting back on the football field. Seems ours is coming a little bit closer, matter of fact we want to get out there so bad we're going to move up our minicamp to March 16, first time we could really get out there, excited about that.
Past season of course was disappointing. Anytime you don't make the playoffs and you're not holding up the trophy of course I see it as a bit of a disappointment but we feel like we're real close. We like the nucleus that we have coming back in all three phases, I'm talking about offense, defense and special teams. But we need to add a little bit, that's why this combine is good, lot of good players here, and we have a big group down here evaluating the players and hopefully we can add a couple pieces to the puzzle.
Offensively, just talking about a couple of our guys. I'm a big Kyle Orton fan. I like him leading our football team, he'll do that this coming season. Of course you're always trying to add different pieces to the mix, but Kyle Orton will be leading our football team this coming season. Like what Matt Forte was able to do this past season. Seems like it was a few weeks ago we were watching him perform out here at the combine. We like what he was able to do, need to get a little bit more around him. We can add a few more pieces to the puzzle on the offensive line. With John Tait retiring, that'll open up a spot for someone, but Greg Olsen coming back of course will be big, we know we need to add a little bit at the receiver position and we'll do that also.
Defensively, we're anxious to get back. We haven't played defense the way we should play defense in a few years but I still like what we have. After having a chance to evaluate our players quite a bit, Lance Briggs really did have a Pro Bowl year. I know he went there, but after evaluating it he really did play well throughout. Tommie Harris played better than he was given credit for, we'll add some more pieces to the mix of course with it and then make a run from there.
HOW SURPRISED WERE YOU BY THE DECISION BY JOHN TAIT TO RETIRE?
I think after you've played as many years as John has you just get to the point where you've had enough and of course I think he can still play, he has more years left in him but I guess as a football player you know when. Of course I tried to talk him out of it but for the guys that know John, you know that he doesn't come to decisions overnight. He put a little bit of thought into it, so we wish him the best and we'll go from there.
DOES MICHAEL CRABTREE'S INJURY, A STRESS FRACTURE IN HIS LEFT FOOT, AFFECT HIS DRAFT VALUE?
Well, I mean he's not going to play anytime soon as I see it. It's not a career-ending injury or anything like that. He's a good football player, he's got plenty of time to get well, I don't think that'll hurt him a lot.
HOW MUCH HARDER IS IT TO EVALUATE HIM NOW?
I think everybody has a history, he has a history and his history is pretty good. I think he'll be OK.
WITH TAIT RETIRING, IS IT A MUST TO RE-SIGN JOHN ST. CLAIR?
John St. Clair was big for us even before John Tait retired. John played well for us throughout the year. He was consistent each week, we knew what we were gonna get from him. Of course we'd like for him to remain a member of our team.
CAN YOU EVALUATE DEVIN HESTER'S SEASON AT RECEIVER?
He made a lot of progress during the course of the year. The last month of the season he was playing very good football. I think he'll make another step. He's excited about having a chance to throw with Kyle throughout the off-season. Last year of course we had different things going on with the quarterback position and Devin was working his way into it, but he's a lot further along now. I think he'll be able to handle being a full-time receiver and being the best punt returner in the league next year also.
ARE YOU SET AT QUARTERBACK OR WILL YOU BE LOOKING FOR DRAFT OR SIGN A QUARTERBACK?
We always like to keep our options open, we like what we have at the quarterback position, adding Brett Basanez of course, Caleb Hanie played very well when he got a chance in the preseason last year but it all starts with the guy you have leading your team and we feel comfortable with him.
HOW ABOUT IN THE SECONDARY? PLANS TO ADD PLAYERS THERE?
Well we have as you look at it on paper you can say that we have some holes there losing Mike [Brown] and then just not playing as well as we need to last year in our secondary. But of course this starts the process, we're still, I still say in free agency there are some options that you could possibly have, but the draft, I'm anxious to see the Dbs work out, we have time to get the secondary the way we would like it to be and we'll just kind of go from there.
IS COREY GRAHAM ATOP THE DEPTH CHART AT RIGHT CORNER?
As far as starters, the good thing about having the minicamp then is you get a chance to get the guys in the position that they need to be in. Nathan Vasher of course is healthy now coming back, too. Corey Graham played well for us, of course Charles Tillman, we have a lot of different options there. We're not naming a lot of starters there.
WILL YOU MOVE CHARLES TILLMAN TO FREE SAFETY?
You know, I'm still trying to figure out where that talk started. He's our No. 1 corner and we're going to move him to free safety? Who came up with that anyway, Who in the Chicago media started that. Again I don't know where that came from. Charles Tillman is a cornerback for us. I can't wait to get him back out on the football field. As we talk about free agents and what we're going to do in free-agency, I fell like we've already signed the best free agent on the market right now in Rod Marinelli with our coaching staff and also adding Jon Hoke to that mix, feel real good about them. Jon Hoke is excited about getting a chance to work with Charles.
ARE YOU SENDING A MESSAGE OR SETTING THE TONE BY HAVING AN EARLY MINICAMP?
You're always trying to not necessarily send messages, but get certain points across, and the point we're trying to get across is that it wasn't good enough last year. This is the first time we can do something about it, and we want to take advantage of that. We do have new coaches on our staff. They get a chance to see the players earlier, and with the draft coming up, we get another good look at the players before we get to it. But as much as anything, it's the first time we can do something as a group, and that's what we're going to use it for.
DO YOU NEED A VETERAN PRESENCE AT RECEIVER?
I think we need a good solid No. 2 to step up with Devin as much as anything. I've never looked to just add veterans to add veterans. You're just trying to add good football players. We weren't satisfied with all the production we got at the receiver position last year, so we're trying to do something about it.
WILL HUNTER HILLENMEYER, A FAVORITE OF YOURS, HAVE A CHANCE TO REGAIN HIS STARTING JOB?
All good players are favorites of mine, I guess you could say that. But it will be good competition. You start over each year. Hunter has played a lot of football for us. I like what Nick Roach was able to do, even with injuries this past year, so we'll let the guys battle it out, along with Jamar Williams. I wouldn't count him out either.
HOW WOULD YOU ASSESS MATT FORTE'S ROOKIE SEASON?
I think he had an outstanding season. He did everything we asked him to do. He carried the football as a runner, picking up the protections, learning the offense, just becoming a good teammate. He did everything we asked him to do for a rookie season. I'm anxious to see what he can come back with this next year.
IS GARRETT WOLFE YOUR NO. 2 RUNNING BACK NOW?
No. 2, No. 1 ... we're not putting a lot of numbers on guys right now. Garrett did a lot for us last year, special teams-wise and the few times he got an opportunity to run the football. I'm anxious to see him, the 2009 version of him.
GIVEN THE CHRIS WILLIAMS' SITUATION LAST YEAR, WILL YOU BE EXTRA CAUTIOUS DRAFTING A PLAYER WITH A MEDICAL HISTORY OR RED FLAG?
I think we were cautious last year. You have to make decisions. You evaluate players and sometimes they get injured or things pop up. Chris Williams is fine right now. He'll line up at the left tackle position for us and we're expecting big things out of him now. Looking at it in hindsight now, to have a chance to come in and learn your rookie year without playing I think has turned out well for him. But we're always cautious. We look at everything. We have our doctors evaluate all of the players before we take them, and hopefully the guys we bring in this year will be able to play right away.
WILL INJURIES AFFECT HOW YOU LOOK AT THE DRAFT FOR SOMEONE LIKE CRABTREE?
You don't go into the draft trying to take guys that are injured. Crabtree, I've answered about three questions on him right now. I think it's a little early even to go into that. We always try to get the best possible player, period, and that's what we'll do this year. That's about all I can really tell you about that.
WHAT WILL ROD MARINELLI BRING TO THE TABLE?
First off, just his expertise at the position. I think if you talk to players, coaches, everyone would say the same thing about Rod as a defensive line coach. I know he's hit the pavement running quickly. Sometimes you go on reputation and other times you have a chance to go on what you really know. I spent five years with Rod. I know what type of coach he is and what type of man he is. I know what he will bring to our football team. He's bringing a lot of excitement in the building. I know that the players are excited about getting a chance to work with him, and they'll get a chance to work with him soon.
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE PACKERS GOING TO A 3-4 DEFENSE?
I've paid a little bit of attention to what they're doing. I know they've got some good coaches there, but haven't spent a whole lot of time really looking at what they're do ing to be truthful. I know Mike [McCarthy] is a heck of a football coach and I'm sure whatever changes he's made will benefit them.
IS IT IMPORTANT TO GET A COMPLEMENT TO FORTE TO LIMIT HIS TOUCHES THIS COMING SEASON?
I'm OK with him getting that many touches his first year. Do we need a good complement to go along with him? Yes, we're always trying to do that. I think as you look at our history since we've been there as a staff, I think we've had our most productive years when we had two running backs that we really felt comfortable playing, and you would like to get back to that situation. Maybe we have that complement there right now.
IS IT A PRIORITY TO ADD A TOP-FLIGHT PASS RUSHER VIA FREE AGENCY OR THE DRAFT?
Of course that will help whenever you can add a top-flight defensive lineman who's a rusher. But the first thing you do is what we did. We brought in the best defensive line coach in the game. He'll help a lot. From there, we'll always try to keep our defensive line as one of our strengths, so you'll always look to that.
MORE ON TILLMAN TO SAFETY?
You guys need to tell me something, just so I can learn, on how you can take that corner, it's so hard finding a corner, and put him at free safety.
IT HASN'T BEEN AN EASY FINDING A SAFETY FOR YOU?
Corner though, again, they have the hardest job. The free safety is back in the middle of the field. How do you help a corner? Playing cover-two, which you guys talk about always. How else do you help a corner? You need good corners, believe me.
DID DECIDING TO BRING BROWN BACK HINGE ON NOT WANTING TO CROWD DANIEAL MANNING AND IS MANNING IN THE MIX AT SAFETY?
He's definitely in the safety mix, that's a good way of putting it. Danieal has a lot of things going on right now, he was the best kickoff returner in the league this last year. Of course, I like what he was able to do at the nickel position. He made a lot of progress. That is a tough position to play. We put a lot of time into Danieal getting that down. So we have options with Danieal. Right now, before we get to the minicamp and all, we want to keep all of our options open.
AS FAR AS BEING A KICK RETURNER, WOULD IT BE BETTER FOR HIM TO BE AT NICKEL IF HE IS THE KICKOFF RETURNER?
That's a good point. It's a lot harder being a full-time guy taking every rep along with being a returner. We'll keep that in mind.
HOW HAVE THE LAST TWO MONTHS GONE WITH YOU TAKING OVER THE DEFENSE?
It's the first time we've seen each other, right? We've been down in the basement just kind of pounding it away. It's not like I haven't been involved with the defense and the offense even before now. My role has changed a little bit with that, yes, but you put a lot of time in any way. I've just kind of shifted around where I am spending the majority of my time.
HOW MUCH DID THE LIST OF FRANCHISE PLAYERS, 14 OF THEM, AFFECT FREE-AGENT WISH LISTS FOR YOU GUYS?
When you franchise, what they're saying is those are pretty good football players. Some of them, of course, we would have had interest in. It changes a little but, but there are a lot of good players. One door is closed, you look to the other.
IN EVALUATING TAPE YOU SAID BRIGGS HAD A GOOD SEASON, SAID TOMMIE PLAYED WELL, WHAT DID YOU SEE WHEN YOU LOOKED AT URLACHER?
I mentioned a couple of those guys, what I saw from Brian is that Brian did some good things during the course of the year. When I said Briggs played well, there are a lot of things he can improve on. Tommie can too. What I saw from our defensive players, that at times they played very good football, all of them, individually and as a group, the works. But there were other times when we didn't make plays that we need to and that we'll make this coming season. Brian is a part of that.
WHAT STOOD OUT ABOUT KYLE ORTON THE MOST THIS PAST SEASON?
What stood out to me the most was how he started out the football season. This time last year, competing for the job, he earned it. And then starting off the football season, before Kyle injured his ankle I thought he was doing all of the things we thought he could do and we needed him to do. After the injury, he didn't play as well. He is working out already. He is on a mission. I loved his leadership throughout. Got a chance to see him in some tough situations. Guys need to go through a little adversity, all quarterbacks do, you need to be able to handle it. He's solid. He'll be able to handle it. He'll come back strong this season.
WOULD YOU BE COMFORTABLE AS HANIE OR BASANEZ AS YOUR NO. 2 QB?
Yes, I would. Everybody wants a veteran, and that's good, and who knows? We haven't closed the door on any of our positions right now. But I think sometimes you have to go with young talent. Of course Brett has played a little bit, has been in the league a little bit, but what I saw from Caleb Hanie last year gets you excited.
WOULD YOU NOT LOOK AT A PROVEN STARTER BECAUSE YOU DON'T WANT TO STUNT ORTON?
We will look at veterans at every position, quarterback and all. In the offseason, you don't shut any doors. You keep all the options open and you see what is available and see if it is a good fit for our football team. That's the way we've looked at it every year. Nothing has changed this year. But if you ask me if I feel comfortable at the quarterback position right now, yes I do.
ANY THOUGHTS ON CHANGING THE OVERTIME RULE?
I know we've talked about this overtime rule every year. How long has this overtime rule been in play? Have we changed it lately? No, we haven't. It's been in play a long time. I feel comfortable with it. We've had success in overtime and I just wonder what don't you like about the overtime rule? I hear the other team doesn't have a chance to get the ball. Well, you've got a chance to get the ball back. If there is one play, you've got a chance. Normally, you're backed up. You get a takeaway, you're in perfect position. As you can see, I like the overtime rule exactly as it is.
YOU SAID EARLIER THERE MIGHT ALREADY BE A COMPLEMENT TO MATT FORTE ON THE ROSTER? COULD THAT BE FREE AGENT KEVIN JONES?
Yes, it could be Kevin Jones. It could be Garrett Wolfe. And I am really not trying to get around the question but you do have to keep all of your options open. I just know that I like what Kevin Jones was able to do last year. He had an injury he was able to fight through, at the end, he's been a No. 1 running back. At the end, he was coming into my office asking me what he could to help the football team win. Special teams, he played some special teams. Garrett Wolfe has been a team player throughout, Adrian Peterson, all of those guys have been. So we'll give him an opportunity but you always evaluate them against everything else that is available.
DO YOU EXPECT BIG THINGS FROM WALE OGUNLEYE IN THE FINAL YEAR OF HIS DEAL?
Wale being motivated? Of course. He's a real pro. He's been that way since Day 1. I'm anxious to let Rod have an opportunity to work with him. Again, he's been the same way every day he has been a member of the Bears. That's doing whatever he can to help the team win. He's still got a lot of good football left in him.
MARINELLI SAYS MARK ANDERSON HAS DONE IT BEFORE. DO YOU FEEL THERE IS HOPE FOR HIM HE WILL TURN IT AROUND?
I definitely he think he can. As you said, he's done it before. It's on record what he can do. Again, new defensive line coach coming in. We see a lot of guys for him to work with. Mark has done it. He will do it again. Another guy who played better than he was given credit for is Anthony Adams last year. Anthony didn't dress a few games, he just kept working hard each week and as you loom at the video he did some good football things.
FEEL CONFIDENT IN MARK BEING ABLE TO REGAIN FORM AND HOW DOES THAT AFFECT YOUR DRAFT APPROACH?
It doesn't affect it. You're always trying to get, you cannot have too many good pass rushers so we'll always look to that. There are a lot of good ones in this draft coming out.
IS KYLE'S ANKLE 100 PERCENT?
OK, 95 PERCENT OR BETTER?
I like that a lot better. Yes, I would say it is. Kyle will be good to go for the minicamp. He should be fine.
CRABTREE? DO YOU PLAY IT OUT IN MIND IF HE IS STILL THERE AT 18 WHAT WOULD WE DO WITH A GUY WITH THAT KIND OF POTENTIAL?
You play it out with every player. You do. All the potential guys. You never know. You look through the drafts there are always players that go a little bit later that the experts say won't be there when you get a chance to draft. We never do that. That's why you evaluate everybody. If a guy like that falls that far, which I doubt that would happen seriously, of course you keep all of your options open still. That's just not coach talk.
HOW DOES THE LATEST INJURY INFO ON CRABTREE IMPACT YOUR EVALUATION OF HIM?
It impacts it a little bit but again, he has a history. Who will take a player just based on what he does here this weekend? You take players based on what they've done in their college career when they have on pads playing football, not just with Crabtree, I am talking about with everyone. So you will take all of that into consideration.
HEARD ANYTHING DURING INTERVIEWS HERE THAT WOULD ELIMINATE SOMEONE OFF YOUR BOARD?
No, we just started our interviews. Last night was the first night for the most part. We had our group interviews. We have a long ways to go. Most guys now days, they're all somewhere working out together, getting ready for this combine. I'm talking about not just the physical things you do, interviewing and doing all that. You hear very things that you don't like. They've been prepped pretty good and again most job interviews, not just players, we have our best suit on when we go out to interview and that's what the guys are doing.
HOW MUCH OF A ROLE DO YOU ENVISION EARL BENNETT PLAYING?
Just a rookie year last year. He didn't get an opportunity to be truthful. You have to wait your time a little bit as a rookie. Some things have happened. He will be in a position to show us what he can do soon. Earl did everything we asked him to do. We saw him on the practice field getting better and better and I know he was active there a little bit at the end. We like what we've seen from him and some of the questions we have right now, maybe he is the answer to some of them.