LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) - The Chicago Bears' defense will likely have a similar look next season, with or without Brian Urlacher.
New coach Marc Trestman and defensive coordinator Mel Tucker said the Bears will stick with a 4-3 set and won't change much schematically with a defense that ranked among the league's best under Lovie Smith.
The big question is whether Urlacher will be a part of it. The eight-time Pro Bowl linebacker has an expiring contract and missed the last four games with a hamstring injury after being slowed by a knee problem.
``I'm excited to come here because Brian Urlacher's been such an important part of this (organization),'' Trestman said Thursday. ``To talk about where that thing is going, it would be premature for me to talk about at this time.''
Trestman said he and Urlacher recently spoke on the phone for about 30 to 40 minutes about the team, not his situation.
``I don't think there was any question that he loves Chicago and this is a place that he would like to be,'' Trestman said. ``There was no question there. I'll leave it at that. I don't think it's any more than that. Coming in here as I have, I'm not as attuned to the entire situation, certainly the economics and all the things that go into it. That's the thing that is going to be a process between Brian and the organization as we move forward.''
At 34, Urlacher is coming off a difficult season in which he hardly resembled the explosive player who's been causing havoc for 13 seasons.
If this is the end for him in Chicago, he goes down as one of the best linebackers in franchise history, right there with Dick Butkus and Mike Singletary. But it remains to be seen if he is finished with the Bears.
Even though he wasn't at full strength, teammates valued his leadership. And with Nick Roach's contract also up, the Bears could have a shortage of linebackers.
That's just one issue facing them after missing the playoffs for the fifth time in six years.
It was a scenario few would have envisioned after Chicago got off to a 7-1 start, but the Bears collapsed for the second straight year, costing Smith his job. They hired Trestman from the CFL's Montreal Alouettes to get the most out of quarterback Jay Cutler and fix an offense that had consistently struggled under the previous regime.
On defense, it's more about continuity than change. Tucker will add a few touches, but the Bears aren't in for an overhaul in that area. They're keeping the same terminology.
``I really think that it's important to hit the ground running,'' said Tucker, who spent the past four years as Jacksonville's defensive coordinator. ``Because of my background - I've done 4-3, I've done 3-4 - you want to look at the group of guys you have and say, `How can we get this group up and running as fast as possible?' It's not about me. It's about the players and what they can do right now. I felt like these guys were playing at a fairly high level here in the scheme they were playing. We need to get better. Obviously, we'll do that, but ... I think they'll be more productive for me to learn their terminology than for me to come in and scrap everything they've done and then bring in something totally new.''
Tucker wouldn't say if he envisions last year's first-round draft pick, Shea McClellin, staying at defensive end or moving to linebacker at some point.
``Now is not the time for that,'' Tucker said.
Another issue for the Bears is Devin Hester. The receiver and record-setting return specialist was so upset by Smith's firing that he said at the time he was considering retirement.
It's not clear what his role on offense would be if he comes back. The bigger concern is that he didn't return a punt or kickoff for a touchdown last season.
As for retirement? New special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis said they spoke, and he's under the impression Hester wants to play next season.
``I'm sure he was emotional afterward,'' DeCamillis said. ``And I'm sure he wants to still compete. That's really what we talked about - was competing. Hopefully, that's what comes about.''
Notes: Trestman said he hasn't finished the offensive playbook, something he hopes to have done ``within a reasonable amount of time.'' ... The Bears remain in the market for a receivers coach. ``I'm hopeful that will be resolved in the very near future.''
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