One short year ago, Bears head personnel man Phil Emery made two decisions that he’d soon come to regret. He failed to sign or draft an impact tight end, instead trusting now former head coach Lovie Smith’s flawed scouting report on the incumbent. “I think if you want to feature Kellen Davis you can do that. Great size, great in-line blocker, skilled enough of an athlete to be able to move outside and do some things. I really like him.” The tight end they did draft, fourth rounder Evan Rodriguez, was primarily meant to enhance the blocking game, not add to the list of Cutler’s passing targets. Emery also evaluated the existing Bear offensive linemen and concluded they were sufficiently talented to handle Mike Tice’s scheme. Emery, Smith and Tice banked on marked improvement from tackles Webb and Carimi along with stable and healthy seasons from inside linemen Lance Louis, Roberto Garza and Chris Spencer. While inside line play was decent, the tackles proved to be lackluster and regressed throughout the year. While the defense held its own last season, the 2012 Bears offense was once again atrocious ranking bottom five in total yards per game. Unlike some general managers who don’t learn their lesson until the pink slip arrives, ehem… Jerry Angelo, Phil Emery took the two failures to heart – admittedly or not – charting a new plan for 2013.
Jermon Bushrod is the left tackle that Angelo and company always hoped J’Marcus Webb would become. A mid to late round player – Webb a seventh rounder and Bushrod a fourth rounder – that would grow into a Pro Bowl talent. Webb has failed to meet those expectations and will now compete for the right tackle position while Bushrod, a former Saint, is a two-time Pro Bowl selection on the left side. Emery, who could have otherwise drafted and developed a new tackle, is paying a premium – $22 million in guaranteed cash – to immediately solidify a key offensive position and make the Bears competitive come the fall of 2013. Because of the Bears limited cap space, the GM will likely rely on the draft plus a trickle down effect to improve the rest of the line. Webb, before shifting to left tackle after his rookie season, did well and showed promise at the right tackle position. With Webb most likely taking over that right tackle spot again, Gabe Carimi will slide into a guard spot and continue his development under highly touted line coach, Aaron Kromer. Emery and new head coach Marc Trestman expect enough of Kromer to hand him the dual title of offensive coordinator/offensive line coach which comes with more money and respect. With Bushrod in the fold, some existing line talent still on the payroll and a draft full of guards, Emery expects his O-line – ranked average by Football Outsiders – to take the next step and make Trestman’s west coast offense one of respectability around the league.
Former Bears tight end Kellen Davis caught 19 passes for 229 yards in 2012. His understudies, ex-Bear Matt Spaeth and rookie fourth rounder Evan Rodriguez, fared worse with a combined 10 receptions and 49 yards. Their newly signed replacement, Martellus Bennett, had almost twice as many receptions and nearly thrice as many yards as Davis, Spaeth and Rodriguez combined, raking in 55 receptions for 626 yards for the Giants. Let that sad fact soak in for a minute… Emery misjudged the catching and blocking talent of his tight ends which forced Cutler’s eyes to be either locked on Brandon Marshall or staring up at the sky from his backside. The 2013 Bears tight ends – still being assembled – will show remarkable improvement judging by the talent of its newest addition. Emery realized that Cutler needs a professional between-the-seams pass catcher to relieve pressure on Brandon Marshall. He also learned that adding another strong blocking talent to aid weak points in a still developing offensive line would boost last year’s piss poor offensive results. Martellus Bennett, an emerging talent, is well-regarded in both the passing and blocking game. Sadly, the well-rounded tight end is going the way of back-to-the-basket centers in the NBA. Most highly paid tight ends are now slightly bulkier receivers who lack blocking prowess. Good blockers at the position are rarely used in the vertical passing game. Bennett’s strength in both areas makes him worth the four-year, $20 million dollar contract that Emery gave him. He’ll quickly earn that money in Chicago as Bear fans wipe away the memory of an athletic but fumble-fingered Kellen Davis by concentrating on what his replacement will bring to the field.
In two short years at the helm of the Bears ship, Phil Emery has beefed up the offensive talent, stock piled some young, unproven defensive athletes and made tough personnel decision. He has proven to be a ‘win now’ team builder who is proactive, detail-oriented and decisive. Emery’s job isn’t done; free agency continues and draft day grows near but early grades are positive on this year’s early roster additions.