Speaking to a small circle of reporters last week inside the Walter Payton Center at Halas Hall, Bears coach Marc Trestman struggled to be heard by anybody not close enough to read the label on his glasses.

Trestman's voice didn't carry strongly enough to get a yard on fourth-and-1. But it left an impression.

Chicago will judge Trestman by wins and losses, but until we learn more about the unorthodox but intelligent first-time NFL head coach, style more than substance shapes perception. The reality? That includes curious Bears players, most of whom wanted Lovie Smith to return and don't really know Trestman beyond a news conference or phone call.

Unsigned linebacker Brian Urlacher fits awkwardly into that category.

As 50 Bears staff members headed Wednesday to the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis, where they will begin considering draft picks and free-agents through Feb. 26, Trestman needs Urlacher as much as Urlacher needs the Bears.

For a new coach who initially could have trouble connecting with his most important audience — his team — cultivating Urlacher provides a natural bridge to credibility in the locker room. Nobody in there ever strains to hear what No. 54 has to say. Few teammates ever doubted him.

Urlacher's endorsement would go a long way toward making Trestman's transition from unknown to unquestioned. If Urlacher believes in Trestman early, teammates will follow. But if Urlacher isn't in a Bears uniform for the first time after 13 seasons, it inevitably will put more pressure on Trestman to prove immediately the team is better off without a popular future Hall of Famer. The biggest loss of any first season for a coach can be the confidence of his players.

Neither Trestman nor general manager Phil Emery has given a strong indication he wants Urlacher to return. Both have been respectful but noncommittal. This should be a decision devoid of sentiment but not sensibility.