BOURBONNAIS -- New general manager Phil Emery's tenure as an area scout with the Bears overlapped Lovie Smith's rein as head coach for just a few months, so there was no strong allegiance in place.
Often that arrangement doesn't bode well for the incumbent head coach since many new GMs want to bring in their own guy.
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No preconceived notions or early first impressions will matter as much as the team's performance on the field this year, but Emery has had a lot of positive things to say about Smith.
"I felt that was a positive coming in as a first-time general manager, that Lovie Smith was our head coach," Emery said. "I think he's a very fine head coach and even a better person.
"He cares about our team, he cares about the people in our building, he's a guy that unifies people. He doesn't create cliques; he creates unity."
Smith has one year remaining on his contract after this season, which will make his status tenuous if the Bears miss the playoffs for the fifth time in six years.
But Emery is so far vague about his expectations for Smith.
"As far as my expectations, it's the same I place on myself," Emery said. "We expect to be experts at our given jobs, and our goal is excellence and coming together to win championships, and that's my expectation -- to make steady progress towards those goals."
Defensive tackle Stephen Paea's rookie season was far from a disaster, but it didn't live up to expectations after he was selected in the second round, 53rd overall.
He and the Bears are expecting bigger things this season than the 18 tackles and 2 sacks he had in 2011. He's being counted on to have more of an impact backing up nose tackle Matt Toeaina and 3-technique tackle Henry Melton.
A year's worth of experience and an off-season in the system will help. But the biggest difference this season could be a right knee that's healthier than it was in 2011, when Paea required postseason arthroscopic surgery.
The difference, he said, is noticeable.
"Change of direction, being able to squat, I can do everything now," Paea said. "Let's just say it's 100 percent right now. I'm feeling pretty good about it, very confident and just can't wait to go."
Having to play both inside positions means Paea needs quickness to penetrate at the 3 technique and stoutness and strength to anchor the run defense at nose tackle.
A sound knee will help every part of his game.
"The difference is I can hold double-teams better," the 6-foot-1 Paea said. "Even though I'm only at 285, 290 (pounds), I can play like I'm 315 and be able to bull rush, do all the strength things that you need from your leg, and be able to change direction (in pass-rush situations)."
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In his first season as a starter, defensive tackle Henry Melton opened with a bang, getting 2 sacks in the season opener.
But he added just 2 more in the next nine games and finished with 7, good enough for second on the team. But there's room for improvement.
"Down-in, down-out consistency each and every play, (getting) upfield pressure," defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said when asked where Melton could get better. "(But) he's got the ability to be a really good rusher."
Getting complementary pass-rush help for Pro Bowl defensive end Julius Peppers is a top priority for Marinelli, and that help must come from the linemen if the Bears' scheme is to function at peak efficiency.
"Part of our deal is that every guy who makes that front has got to be able to pass rush," Marinelli said. "That's what we're looking for."