LAKE FOREST – Bears chairman George McCaskey made his expectations clear Tuesday as players returned to Halas Hall for the belated start to the NFL season.
Yes, McCaskey was pleased that the lockout was over. Yes, he thought the deal was fair.
But McCaskey preferred to focus on the next six months rather than dwell on the past six.
“The talk should be about what it takes to get back to the Super Bowl, and to win the Super Bowl, instead of all of this back business,” said McCaskey, who became chairman this spring after his brother, Michael, retired. “That’s what we’ve been working on, even in the absence of the players.
“[During the lockout, we were focused on] being prepared for the resumption of operations and getting back to the Super Bowl and winning it. That’s what it’s about.”
It was a loud statement by a boss who stayed quiet during the NFL’s labor talks.
In Bears general manager Jerry Angelo’s office, the first full day of post-lockout football was devoted to adding depth for training camp. The Bears announced the signings of 26 undrafted free agents, including former Ohio State wide receiver Dane Sanzenbacher, to increase the Bears’ roster to 73 players under contract plus five unsigned draft picks.
A dozen vacancies remain, almost all of which figure to be filled by veteran free agents.
Several of those roster spots could be filled by players who finished last season with the Bears. They include veteran center Olin Kreutz, defensive tackle Anthony Adams and linebacker Nick Roach, all of whom have expressed interest in returning to the team.
The Bears can sign veteran free agents at 5 p.m. Friday after a three-day negotiation period.
McCaskey said he was confident in Angelo and player personnel director Tim Ruskell.
“It’s asking a lot of them,” McCaskey said, “but we think they’re going to be up to the task.”
Bears players who spoke Tuesday promised to do their part. A veteran roster with at least 17 returning starters gave the Bears an advantage over most other teams, players said.
“I don’t think we’ll be hurt, mainly because we have a core group of guys back,” said Bears defensive end Israel Idonije, an eighth-year veteran. “And [we have] the kind of guys who have been through this system, played in this system. This system brings stability to it. …
“For the guys who have been added, because everybody else knows what they’re doing, the coaches can pay a little more extra attention to bringing those guys up to speed.
“Because of it, I think we’ll be in great shape. We won’t go through a lot of that learning curve, and our path to getting back will be easier than a lot of the other clubs that are kind of rebuilding.”
Bears kicker Robbie Gould said the team’s experienced coaching staff also helped.
A quarter of the NFL’s 32 teams will enter training camp with different coaches than they had at the start of last season. That is not the case with the Bears, who signed Lovie Smith to a two-year contract extension in February after he completed his seventh season at the helm.
“In the forefront of all this, leadership is key,” Gould said. “The Chicago Bears wouldn’t have re-signed Lovie Smith to that deal [heading into] a lockout if they didn’t feel he had the leadership to lead us through an opportunity to win the Super Bowl after a shortened offseason.
“If you look at the guys we have in our locker room, it’s a very veteran-oriented group of guys who have been here, have been around. Our leadership is great in our locker room.
“We’re going to be ready to play football. We’re going to be ready to make a run at the Super Bowl.”
It was exactly what McCaskey was hoping to hear.