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updated: 2/22/2014 5:01 PM

Will Bears have enough money for McCown?

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  • JOE LEWNARD/jlewnard@dailyherald.com ¬ Chicago Bears quarterback Josh McCown carries the ball for a first down during the second quarter at Soldier Field Monday.

      JOE LEWNARD/jlewnard@dailyherald.com ¬ Chicago Bears quarterback Josh McCown carries the ball for a first down during the second quarter at Soldier Field Monday.

 
 

INDIANAPOLIS -- The Bears have not been shy about their desire to re-sign unrestricted free agent quarterback Josh McCown, who enjoyed the best season of his 11-year NFL career filling in for injured Jay Cutler last season.

But with Cutler's $126 million, seven-year contract eating up a good chunk of the salary cap, there may not be enough money left for McCown, who has also expressed his desire to stay with the Bears.

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"We've all said we want Josh," coach Marc Trestman said. "We want him to be a part of our football team. We recognize how important he is, not just as the backup quarterback, but as an influence in our locker room. He's a great leader and he's great for our quarterback room as well, which is the most important room in the building."

If he chooses to explore his options in free agency, which starts March 11, McCown will have plenty of suitors after his 109.0 passer rating in 2013 that included 13 TD passes and just 1 interception.

"Josh has got the opportunity to look around," Trestman said. "We want him to be able to do that. He deserves that right, and we'll see where this thing goes. But Josh is well aware how we feel about him and that we want him back."

Getting a facelift:

The Bears' defensive makeover is not limited to personnel.

Three new coaches have been added to replace the fired members of Marc Trestman's original staff.

Paul Pasqualoni replaces Mike Phair as defensive line coach, Clint Hurtt will assist Pasqualoni, replacing Michael Sinclair, and Reggie Herring succeeds Tim Tibesar as the linebackers coach.

"We went through this search is to make sure to improve our team on the defensive side," Trestman said. "It was an effort to get the most experienced coaches that have a demanding style that will hold our veteran players accountable and have the necessary skill set to develop young players."

Reading between the lines, the intent was to add coaches who will demand a higher level of commitment and accountability.

No major changes are planned in the basic 4-3 scheme, but some new wrinkles are expected. Both Herring and Pasqualoni have experience in 3-4 systems.

"We think we've put together a staff of guys who can really incorporate and be flexible with the players we're going to have going through this process," Trestman said. "We're going start from the 4-3, but we've got to be flexible in our scheme to move people around and have the ability to get it done. Not just do it because we see other teams doing it, but doing it because we have the skill set and experience to be able to do it."

Center of attention:

As the line leader, center Roberto Garza's value was apparent last season on an offensive line that made significant strides from the disappointing crew of 2013.

Garza is slated to become an unrestricted free agent and, at 34, his NFL shelf life is likely to expire soon. But there is not a successor on the roster now.

"We want Roberto back," coach Marc Trestman said. "We believe he should finish his career with the Bears. He's such a leader in our locker room. He knows how we feel about him. We just need to let this thing evolve and hopefully it's going to work out best."

Room for improvement:

Free safety Chris Conte is under contract for one more season, but he must improve to keep the starting job he's held since midway through his 2011 rookie season.

"He's challenged by moving forward," coach Marc Trestman said. "He knows he's got to get better. He's working in any way he can at this point in time, working out and training, to get himself started. I think that he knows he didn't play as well as he could play."

Conte had a career-best 3 interceptions last season but struggled in coverage and with missed tackles.

"Chris knows he has to come in and compete to start," general manager Phil Emery said. "We need to improve back there. My vision for him is that he does compete and win it. I'd love to be talking to him about an extension (next year), so let's see what he does."

Room for improvement II:

The punting job is up for grabs.

The Bears were No. 32 in gross punting average last season and 28th in net punting average. Adam Podlesh's 40.6-yard gross average was the worst of his seven NFL seasons, and his 37.9-yard net was his lowest in five years.

Young punters Tress Way and Drew Butler, the son of former Bears place-kicker Kevin Butler, have been added to the roster and additional contenders could be added before training camp.

"It's a wide-open competition," Emery said.

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