NFL draft: Bears’ No. 1 priority tough to figure
BY MARK POTASH firstname.lastname@example.org April 15, 2012 10:04PM
Brandon Marshall, Kyle Arrington
Updated: May 17, 2012 8:12AM
What do the Bears need in the upcoming NFL draft? Don’t ask.
New general manager Phil Emery addresses his team’s weaknesses with the same philosophy as he does with his team’s strengths.
‘‘The more information you put out . . . the more advantage you give your opponents to outdo you in the draft — jump in front of you, understand where you’re going,’’ Emery said. ‘‘We don’t ever want to put ourselves in that position.’’
Emery doesn’t have to say a word, as long as he acknowledges the Bears’ weaknesses as clearly as he did with the acquisition of Pro Bowl wide receiver Brandon Marshall in free agency. A big-play receiver has been an obvious void to many Bears observers for years, especially after former GM Jerry Angelo finally filled the previous obvious void by acquiring a ‘‘franchise’’ quarterback in Jay Cutler.
Angelo acknowledged the impact of big, big-play receivers, but he resisted the notion that the Bears needed one to go with Cutler, who had his best success in Denver with the 6-4 Marshall as his primary target. Emery not only got a Pro Bowl wide receiver six weeks after he was hired, but he got the one his quarterback wanted.
The Bears are doing their best to keep everybody guessing. Maybe that’s why coach Lovie Smith, straying from the company line just a bit, hinted last week that the Bears might draft an offensive lineman with their first-round pick.
‘‘You just never know,’’ Smith said. ‘‘We have the 19th pick in the draft this year, right? It’s good to have all of our picks. Not to say that we’re going to take an offensive lineman, but that will give you something else to think about.’’
Mock drafts can’t pinpoint the Bears’ biggest need. ESPN’s Mel Kiper has the Bears taking Illinois defensive end Whitney Mercilus at No. 19, and colleague Todd McShay has them taking South Carolina cornerback Stephon Gilmore. Other mock drafts have the Bears taking an offensive tackle (Stanford’s Jonathan Martin, Michigan’s Mike Adams), a wide receiver (Georgia Tech’s Stephen Hill, Baylor’s Kendall Wright), a defensive tackle (Memphis’ Dontari Poe, Mississippi State’s Fletcher Cox) and a linebacker (Boston College’s Luke Kuechly).
With the possible exception of linebacker, it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Bears addressed any of those positions in the first round, which underscores the biggest advantage they have in this year’s draft. After trading for Marshall, they can afford to take the best player available without ignoring an obvious need.
So with 10 days to go before the draft, here’s a look at the Bears’ biggest needs:
Israel Idonije is a solid all-around player, but unless Julius Peppers plays at a Jared Allen-level, the Bears need more than five sacks from their other end. With Corey Wootton injured last season, the Bears didn’t even have anybody to push Idonije for playing time.
The Bears seem to believe they will upgrade their offensive line with the return of injured right tackle Gabe Carimi and injured left guard Chris Williams (with the unspoken upgrade of Mike Tice coordinating the offense instead of Mike Martz). But until Carimi proves he can stay healthy and J’Marcus Webb proves he can play left tackle, it’s going to be a question mark.
Charles Tillman made the Pro Bowl last season, and Tim Jennings is a good tackler who fits Smith’s defense. But the Bears could use an infusion of youth and expertise here — someone to push or beat out Jennings and eventually replace Tillman.
The Bears were neither as good nor as deep as they thought they were at this position in 2011 and need help after cutting Anthony Adams and losing Amobi Okoye to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in free agency. Henry Melton had seven sacks but was inconsistent as an impact player. Matt Toeaina is a capable DT, and Stephen Paea, a second-round pick who developed slowly as a rookie, needs to make sudden improvement if the Bears are to upgrade here.
Though Marshall should be an obvious upgrade, the possible loss of Johnny Knox could leave the Bears in need. Knox, who suffered a devastating back injury in December, likely will miss the offseason program and possibly part or all of the regular season.
With Emery in his first year, the Bears could go a lot of directions in the draft. It’ll be interesting to see if he likes his safeties as much as Smith does. As strong as the Bears are with Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs, they could use a young, impact linebacker. And they could always use special-teams help, especially after losing Corey Graham and Sam Hurd.