Bears general manager Jerry Angelo joined Mike Mulligan and Brian Hanley Friday morning on WSCR 670 the Score. Here’s the transcript of what he had to say in the interview. You can listen to the audio here.
Mulligan: Where are you with Kyle Orton? What are your thoughts on him as a quarterback?
Angelo: We still need to get that position solidified in terms of overall performance on a consistent basis. We were unable to do that last year. Kyle started out very well, got a bit of an injury — how much that played a part in a not-so-good second half of the season… he did have a good season-ending game against the Texans. I thought Kyle played better there. Until we get that position solidified in terms of winning football week in and week out, it’s going to be tough for us as a football team, particularly as an offense, and that’s been our Achilles’ heel under my watch. And that’s something that I’m obviously sensitive to, and want to make sure that we’re staying focused on it. I was hearing talk again about the wide receiver position, a few years ago it was the tight end, it’s the running backs, it’s the offensive line. That’s all true. We need to look at every position on offense, try to upgrade whatever we need to do. But we have to stay focused on the quarterback position. You win because of the quarterback. It’s not other positions that manufacture the quarterback. I hear this term ‘manageable quarterback’, you know, ‘he manages the game’. Yes, I understand that. But, in the end, and we all know this, at some point in the game, the quarterback has to make plays to win the game. That’s the bottom line. And that’s why it’s the toughest position to play in all of sports and the most valued in football.
Hanley: Given the fact that you believe that Kyle Orton’s arrow is still pointing up, can we assume that he gets next season as the No. 1 quarterback going into camp, or are you going to go out and try to do something to solidify that position this off-season and open up a competition yet again, and at the very least, are you in the market for a backup quarterback assuming Rex isn’t back?
Angelo: I don’t want to get fixated on anything right now. I just don’t want to say, ‘Hey, it’s yours to have.’ I think we need to look at every option and I think that’s doing our fiduciary duty in terms of management from my perspective, and when we talk, we’re going to see what options are out there, if there are any, and we will discuss everything; if we want to potentially create competition, and/or bring in a veteran to give us somebody in the building that we feel could help Kyle. I can’t sit here and say definitively what we’re going to do. I know right now what we have and I feel good about that. I do feel good about Kyle, I feel good about Caleb Hanie, and I want to make sure everybody understands that. But I want to make sure we look at every option that we potentially have to make sure we’re the best going forward at that position in the off-season.
Mulligan: You see [Justin] Gage having a great game in the playoffs, we see [Bobby] Wade and [Bernard] Berrian playing in the playoffs, [Muhsin] Muhammad was there last year, he’s in the playoffs, Mark Bradley started making some plays toward the end of the year. You get a bad rap for not getting these guys in here, but those guys seemingly were here and I’m just wondering is there any miscommunication or misevaluation beyond what the restraints are of your job, which is to bring in the talent?
Angelo: No, it’s a good question. When we draft players, when we bring players in in free agency, it’s not an extension of anybody’s ego. It’s finding the talent that we agree, in terms of the player profile, that fits what we want. We need to know what the coaches want at each position and that is defined by them. What we do from the personnel side is make sure that we look for those traits that our coaches want at the positions. We had a little bit of a transition when [offensive coordinator] Ron [Turner] came in on offense with a new staff, new system, so there are going to be players that fall through the cracks that just don’t fit their criteria. Doesn’t mean they can’t play, it’s just that we’re looking for something a little bit different. In part, that’s what happened to some of the guys. We wanted Bernard back, so it wasn’t that he was a castoff, so to speak. But we’ve done a pretty good job of facilitating at that position, and what we need to do, we need to play with more consistency and the quarterback is part of that equation. We’ve really not been able to do that and part of that has created some casualties at the position. We will be fine at the receiver position. We will continue to go out and look at that position, I’m not saying we’re not going to look at it in the draft and/or maybe even in free agency.
Hanley: Do you worry as a general manager that [Matt Forte] is getting burned out? Don’t you need a complimentary player?
Angelo: We had it and we were very successful with it in ’06, so it’s not something that’s foreign to us. I would like to see us get back into that. I’ve talked to Ron about that, I’ve talked to Lovie about that. They agree. We had high hopes for Matt when he came in, but he was a rookie, so we had to force feed him to know for sure if he could handle that. A lot of the preseason was to use Matt to make sure that he got up to speed with the system and we knew for sure what he was or wasn’t. Maybe [Kevin Jones, Garrett Wolfe, and Adrian Peterson] didn’t get the reps [they] needed to compliment what Matt was.
Mulligan: People talk about the age of the [offensive line]. Do you need to add more to that mix? Are you concerned about making sure you keep getting that infusion of youth?
Angelo: We are concerned given all those points. We will be looking at that position again hard this year, both in the draft and potentially in free agency. The only person we can talk about right now, obviously, is John St. Clair. [I] did like the way Josh Beekman came on; he gave us 16 games as a starter and that experience will be invaluable. He can also double up at the center position. But we need to continue to address that. We have some age there, we feel that it’s a good group. They did a very good job. You don’t need to have five all-stars at the position. If you keep the same five together, that unit turns out to be pretty good. The chemistry of that unit was excellent. The intangibles were excellent. We still need to bring in some quality linemen to get them into the mix and develop.
Hanley: How would you judge the transition of Devin Hester to wide receiver?
Angelo: Pretty well. I really watched how he grew and started to gain confidence as the year continued to progress. He was durable. The returns obviously weren’t what we would have liked, and certainly a bar that he set that probably no other will reach, at least in my foreseeable future. We’ve created a niche for him, we feel good about him. We know this: he’ll take another step next year, all players do once they get that year under their belt. I’ve never seen a No. 1 receiver and a No. 1 returner. Obviously, if you’ve never seen something, that tells you something. Whatever role we create for Devin, he is a playmaker and what we want to do is get the ball in his hands.
Mulligan: We talked to Warren Sapp. When you hired Rod Marinelli, apparently you hired Warren Sapp, too. He says he’s going to work with Tommie Harris.
Mulligan: He said he’s going to meet Tommie after the Super Bowl and he’s going to look him in the eye and find out how great Tommie wants to be. So, it was a brilliant move to hire Rod because you got some double duty there.
Angelo: [laughing] Great. I wonder if he’s got anything left on those tires of his. We saw what he does with [Dancing with] the Stars.
Mulligan: He can still move.
Mulligan: Tommie is due a … roster bonus. Is that a lock? Do you have a conversation about that? Do you feel pretty good about Marinelli coming in here? I know you are very well familiar with his work.
Angelo: Tommie played a lot of football for us last year. I believe Tommie played the third most plays behind our two ends, Alex [Brown] and [Adewale Ogunleye]. So, I don’t want there to be a misnomer that we didn’t get a lot of play time from Tommie. About midway through the season, he started to kick in and we felt like he was playing good football for us the latter part of the season. We know what Tommie can do. Obviously, health’s a big part of it. We did some things with Tommie during the season that were different than what we’ve done with him before in terms of training him and I felt that they were really paying big dividends with him as the season went on. We feel really good about Tommie. We feel real good about Rod Marinelli and what he can do to continue Tommie’s development. That’s going to be a real strength of our football team. He’s very important in terms of our scheme on defense, in terms of the position that he plays. There are not many like him. Hard to find an inside pass rusher with his talents. I think it’s going to be a real good marriage between he and Rod.
Hanley: Where is he health-wise?…
Angelo: [interrupting] Tommie’s fine. We would never have signed Tommie if we didn’t think he was healthy. He had to pass our physical, obviously, which he did. Tommie’s had some issues, physically speaking, but we’ve worked through those. All players have something. It’s not like he’s isolated. Charles Tillman… I could go down our roster and I bet you I could come up with probably 60 percent of it, guys are dealing with something. That’s just part of the game. What I have to look at, based on our medical people, is how they feel about him going forward. And we feel good about him going forward.
Hanley: So, he’s here next year? You’re going to give him that roster bonus?
Angelo: We’re going to talk about everything, but I don’t see any reason why we would not do it based on what I just said.
Mulligan: What are your thoughts about Lovie play-calling?
Angelo: That’s fine with me. Just because it’s new, doesn’t mean it won’t work. I know Jim Mora’s going to do it up in Seattle. You saw Wade Phillips take over the defensive duties during the year [in Dallas]. The reason I think you see it on offense more … most head coaches … are hired because teams have acute offensive problems and they hire the best pedigree offensive coordinator to come in and, really, to manage the offense. And that coach knows that’s why he’s being hired. So, they’re usually hands-on with the offense. Now, the defense, that’s not the case. For whatever reason, when defensive coaches come on board, it’s not because the defense is anemic. It’s just they like the coach. Bill Parcells, Bill Belichick, Jimmy Johnson. And he comes in and he delegates that responsibility. In a few situations over the years, guys have been hands-on with it. But usually, that comes with the offense. But it doesn’t mean the defensive coach can’t do that. And Lovie feels, based on where he is after five years with the football team, knowing what his responsibilities are, that he can handle that. I know with Rod and with [defensive coordinator] Bob [Babich], having the familiarity that he does with them, that he feels real good that they’ll be able to play off each other and really draw to everybody’s expertise and experience.
Hanley: Given Lovie’s input and Rod being brought on board here, and assuming Tommie’s play improves next year back to what we’re used to seeing, will you be active in the free agent market? There’s a lot of attractive pass rush guys out there and this defense is all based up front.
[irrelevant chatter amongst the three]
Mulligan: But, will you make a splash in the free agent market?
Angelo: We just have to be patient right now during this time. I know right after the season, I’m talking in front of you and I’m visiting now and we’re talking prematurely. I don’t want to say anything factually until we’ve gotten everybody’s input. And that’s very important. We want to measure twice and cut once. To do that, we have to have the input from everybody with the expertise in terms of our team evaluating, and we have to do that correctly. I’ve said it a hundred times but I’ll say it again: the hardest thing to do is self-evaluate. We have to evaluate and base those evaluations determining, what is broke? And determine, is it really broke? Or is it something that we can do, repair in-house, and/or can improve upon? Those aren’t easy discussions and we have to really be honest and be objective and we have to have different inputs. Not everybody is going to look at our situation the same, but that’s healthy, too. And then we’ll come up with a plan, and determine what our needs are versus our wants. And then we’ll prioritize those. And we’ll do that ad nauseam. And we’ll take a little time, we’ll take a few weeks to do that, and then once we come out of that, then you’ll know what our plan is. But for me to sit and here and tell you right now, black and white, I can’t do that.
Mulligan: Is there anybody you like in these playoffs? Can you tip your hand a little bit about who you think might win this thing?
Angelo: This is great. Every year, it seems like it gets more and more difficult to do. I’m just shocked that one of those two teams [Giants or Panthers] aren’t in it, given what they did. You know, Tennessee. How do you explain it? That you get all these No. 1 seeds not in it? It’s great for football, it shows you anybody can, it’s getting hot at the right time. I think this Arizona-Philly game’s going to be a real good game. I would have never thought Arizona would have got to this point. If I had to pick, the winner of that Baltimore-Pittsburgh game would be my favorite. Tough to beat a team three times in a row. Baltimore really seems to have it going on, but I would probably be leaning toward Pittsburgh.