Brian Urlacher was the center of attention Tuesday, but all he could talk about was his teammates. The Chicago Bears middle linebacker was at a luncheon to receive the Ed Block Courage Award, but he skipped talk about his own good fortunes to praise what the organization has done this offseason.
"On paper, we're a better football team than we were last year at the end of the season, so I'm excited about that," Urlacher told the Chicago Tribune. "(General manager) Phil Emery knows what he's doing, obviously; Brandon Marshall, Michael Bush, Matt (Forte) coming back, that was a big deal. (Defensive back) Tim Jennings, (defensive lineman) Israel (Idonije), (wideout Eric) Weems, I know I'm leaving some guys out, I don't mean to, but we've done a lot."
Urlacher couldn't be stopped: "It's exciting to see us making moves like that because we haven't done that a lot in the past. We needed a receiver, we got a receiver, and we still have the draft. All the pressure's been taken off our draft with what (Emery has) done so far, so it's exciting. We might get the best player available, which is good."
It's too easy to forget the Bears were a 7-3 team before Jay Cutler went down with a broken thumb last season. With Cutler under center, Chicago scored just under 27 points a game. When he was replaced by Caleb Hanie and later Josh McCown, production fell to 14 points per outing, and the Bears were done.
Protecting Cutler remains an issue. Chicago gave up 49 sacks in 2011, tied for fifth-worst in the NFL. Only four teams allowed more hits (87) on the quarterback. For all the slings and arrows Cutler absorbed after the NFC Championship Game in January 2011, he returned to play the part of a top-10 quarterback before his thumb injury last season.
Elements of the Bears' locker room were understandably frustrated with the front-office approach under former GM Jerry Angelo, who was fired in January. Under Emery, the team has enjoyed a bold offseason.
A month away from his 34th birthday, Urlacher is running out of time and appreciates the hustle. The Bears, by all accounts, are going for it in 2012.