As expected, the Bears are battening down the hatches and activating the cone of silence in preparation for their first NFL draft under general manager Phil Emery.
The Bears have alerted the media that only coach Lovie Smith will be available for an interview -- and only one -- during the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis on Feb. 22-28. In previous years, Smith and general manager Jerry Angelo would meet with Bears beat reporters and scouts or assistants in Indy for the Combine usually would be accessible.
But Emery, who spent eight years at the Naval Academy, where ''Loose Lips Sinks Ships'' was born, made it clear that under his leadership, the Bears will divulge as little information about their wants and needs in the draft and free agency as possible.
''When it comes time to publicly assess our needs or publicly talk about players that we may target, we will not do that. OK?,'' Emery said in response to the very first question asked of him at his introductory press conference on Jan. 30. ''Because I feel that's a competitive disadvantage to do so.
''We will know internally what our needs are. We will know internally the players we are going to target. We will not give away our competitive advantage to outline who those individuals are or at what position they are.''
All Emery would promise is that the Bears would target ''good football players, producers, dynamic playmakers that can help this football team grow.'' Good to know that! But as reassuring as it might be, Emery's plan of attack in acquiring talent is the same as every professional franchise in sports history, with the possible exception of the Washington Generals.
In all objectivity, there is much to be said for maintaining "radio silence" when it comes to acquiring talent. While many needs are obvious, even from a reporter's perspective it doesn't seem to make much sense to address them too specifically in a public forum.
Every so often it at least appears to make a difference. In 2001, the Bears had the No. 8 pick in the first round and did not hide their interest in a defensive end. In NFL circles and publicly, it was clear they had their eyes on Cal defensive end Andre Carter.
The 49ers, who had the ninth pick, also wanted Carter and leapfrogged the Bears in the draft order by trading with the Seattle Seahawks for the No. 7 pick and selected Carter. The Bears were happy to get Michigan wide receiver David Terrell -- a supposed top-3 pick who was still available -- with their pick at No. 8.
Whether or not the Bears lost Carter by publicly or privately telegraphing their intentions, there's an obvious premium on information and mis-information prior to the draft. Jim Finks, who built the Bears' Super Bowl championship team, was a master at disguising his intentions.
In Finks' first draft with the Bears in 1975, he refused to tip his end on what he might do with the No. 4 overall pick, but did mention that he liked Texas A & I fullback Don Hardeman, then drafted Jackson State's Walter Payton. As it turned out, they would have drafted Payton with the No. 1 pick if they had it, coach Jack Pardee said.
In fact, almost every key Finks No. 1 pick -- Payton, Dan Hampton, Otis Wilson, Dennis Lick, Ted Albrecht -- had one thing in common: Finks never said a word about them. It wasn't until Mike Ditka was hired by George Halas and given some of Finks' say in the draft room that the Bears started showing more of their hand.
It's in the Bears' best interest to not reveal anything regarding who they like or what they're looking for. But if their silence on personnel matters under Emery is going to be absolute, it's a policy that's likely to backfire in Chicago.
Bears fans like to know what their GM is thinking. Does he think the quarterback makes the wide receiver? Does he need a clear ''No. 1'' wide receiver. Will he take players who are red-flagged for injuries? How much of a chance will he take on players with personal issues? And what about the backup quarterback?
Unless he drafts as well as Jim Finks did, Phil Emery is going to have to find a way to answer those questions without revealing whom he's drafting. It's not that difficult. You just have to have an appreciation for the fact that Bears fans have a more vested emotional interest in this team than anyone at Halas Hall except maybe Virginia McCaskey. And they want to know not only that you plan to win, but how you're going to do it.