Question marks for Bears as 2012 prep begins
It might be a while before the Chicago Bears get a look at all the pieces general manager Phil Emery has assembled in free agency for next season.
The Bears begin their voluntary offseason program with players Monday and it's possible they won't have running back Matt Forte, linebacker Brian Urlacher or running back Kahlil Bell available. Forte can't participate unless he signs his franchise free-agent tender of $7.74 million, and the same is true of Bell, who has received a tender offer as a restricted free agent.
''In the offseason, I tell the guys if you have an issue with your contract, out of season is the time to work on those things,'' coach Lovie Smith said Tuesday before the team's Ed Block courage award was presented to Urlacher. ''That's what Matt is going through right now. I'm on record of how we feel about Matt Forte. We start up Monday. Hopefully he'll be there. If he's not, then we're going to go to work with the players that we have there. We have a lot of time.''
Urlacher's participation will likely be spotty. He suffered a sprained left knee in the regular-season finale and did not need surgery, but he is not going to rush his recovery.
''I've still got 3 1/2 months, four months,'' Urlacher said. ''So I'm definitely not in a big hurry. I've done everything up to this point that I've been asked to do. I'm going to keep doing what I've been told to do. Like I've said ... when the time is right I'll be ready to play. I'm not worried about it. It's not an issue. I'll be good to go.''
The Bears do not have minicamp for the full team until the end of their offseason program, in late June. The late minicamp could also benefit tackle Gabe Carimi, who is coming off knee surgery, and guard Chris Williams, whose 2011 season ended due to a dislocated wrist.
It's less certain when wide receiver Johnny Knox will be available after December back surgery following an injury against Seattle.
''He's making a lot of progress,'' Smith said. ''From the time we saw him on the field lying on the field to where he is right now, you know, making the same type of progress throughout. Things should be OK for him. As far as when he'll be back 100 percent and ready to go, I don't know that.''
Urlacher is ecstatic over the moves the team has made in Emery's first free agency signing period. The Bears acquired eight new players including wide receiver Brandon Marshall, and signing five of their own free agents.
''It's exciting to see us making moves like that because we haven't done that a lot in the past,'' Urlacher said. ''We needed a receiver, we got a receiver. We still have the draft. All the pressure has been taken off of our draft with what he's done so far.''
Urlacher isn't worried about Marshall's off-field problems or his battle with borderline personality disorder. Urlacher thinks Marshall's close relationship with quarterback Jay Cutler will help.
''I'm not worried about him,'' Urlacher said. ''Jay is a straightforward guy. He's been around Brandon. So I don't think there will be an issue.
When the season does start, Urlacher said game officials could be scrutinizing defensive players' hits even more as a result of the New Orleans Saints bounty case.
''It's always touchy,'' Urlacher said. ''It's going be even more so after all this stuff went down.''
Notes: The award given to Urlacher is for inspiration, sportsmanship and courage in difficult situations. Urlacher's mother, Lavoyda Lenard, died unexpectedly early last season. The award is voted on by Bears players. ''Any time your teammates give you an award, that's a big deal,'' Urlacher said.