The Bears are a better team now than they were at the end of last season. That was a point coach Lovie Smith emphasized while speaking with media members before defensive lineman Israel Idonije was presented with the Ed Block Courage Award during a luncheon at Maryville Academy in Des Plaines on Tuesday.
The roster is far from set. More changes are coming, and not only because the NFL draft is scheduled for later this month.
"The process continues each day," Smith said before signing autographs and posing for photographs on the campus of one of Illinois' oldest childcare agencies.
"We're looking at people. We're looking at veterans. Players are coming available every day. We'll evaluate all of them. We're preparing right now for the draft, looking at workouts, evaluating film. We have time still. We don't have to play tomorrow."
Smith was talking specifically about the safety position, which remains an area of need, but most of the questions Tuesday related to the defensive line.
It was fitting that Idonije was the being honored because his name has been very much in the news of late. The Bears released veteran defensive end Alex Brown last week, which means Idonije, who played tackle last season, will not only move to end but will likely play a much bigger role.
"First off, it was really hard to let a player like Alex Brown go but it's a new year and we're going in a different direction," Smith said. "[It] allows us an opportunity to release a player like Alex because of what we feel about what Izzy can do, and not only Izzy Idonije but Mark Anderson. Mark Anderson did some good things [last season]. We've got some other young players, too. Henry Melton is coming back, Jarron Gilbert. So we have some other options but it still won't be the same without Alex being there."
Idonije weighed as much as 290 while playing tackle last season but said he expects to report to camp weighing between 260-265 this season.
"You're asking the wrong guy," Idonije said when asked if he expects to compete for a starting job in training camp. "For me, the situation hasn't changed. I'm going to come to camp in great shape and be ready to play and compete like every year. Every year I've been here there has been serious competition on the d-line. There are always young guys. Things aren't over yet. The draft hasn't happened yet. For me, my focus and situation hasn't changed --- come in and work and where the chips fall is where they fall."
The Ed Block Courage Award is given to players, who are voted on by their teammates for being role models of inspiration, sportsmanship and courage.
Idonije has been has been delivering aid and medical care to his home country of Nigeria for three straight years as part of the Israel Idonije Foundation's CARE Africa program. This year, the veteran donated more than a thousand pairs of shoes to the underprivileged.
The Ed Block Courage Award Foundation is based in Baltimore and is dedicated to improving the lives of neglected children.
"It was incredible," he said. "The medical team we took and all the shoes we donated. I can't even begin to start telling you all the things that happened and all the stories. It was another great year and we're looking for another great year in 2011."