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Defense will be Bears’ focus as they check out Senior Bowl prospects

SENIOR BOWL

The facts: 3 p.m. Saturday, NFL Network (coverage of practices all week).

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Updated: January 20, 2014 7:44PM



Bears coaches and front-office staff will descend upon Mobile, Ala., primarily to watch one side of the football.

Every relevant draft pick likely will be used to shore up the worst defensive unit in franchise history.

“We’re going to be a younger defense,” general manager Phil Emery said this month.

“The draft will be focused in that area.”

There are plenty of defensive players to follow in the weeklong lead-up to Saturday’s Senior Bowl, which last year produced 94 draft picks, the most in a decade.

Here’s what to watch for — and whom the Bears will be watching — this week:

D-linemen

Emery said the Bears were at least one defensive lineman short this past season. That number will grow when Shea McClellin is moved to outside linebacker, or if any of the team’s three free-agent defensive tackles sign elsewhere.

The Bears will get up-close looks at defensive ends Trent Murphy (Stanford), James Gayle (Virginia Tech), Kareem Martin (North Carolina), Chris Smith (Arkansas) and Ed Stinson (Alabama).

The defensive-tackle pool is even more intriguing. Pittsburgh’s Aaron Donald was the ACC defensive player of the year; Arizona State’s Will Sutton won the last two such awards in the Pac-12.

Minnesota’s Ra’Shede Hageman and Penn State’s DaQuan Jones were named first-team All-Big Ten by conference coaches.

The outsiders

If McClellin and middle linebacker Jon Bostic move to outside linebacker, the Bears already might have more than enough at the spot. Or, as the saying goes, maybe having too many players at the position means they don’t have much at all.

Missouri’s Michael Sam was a unanimous All-American, Telvin Smith was national champ Florida State’s leading tackler and BYU’s Kyle Van Noy could be a first-round pick.

Cover somebody

The Senior Bowl’s cornerback crop isn’t as deep as other spots, but remember this name: Pierre Desir. From Division II Lindenwood (Mo.), Desir, a native of Haiti, has NFL size at 6-1, 197 pounds.

He could go as high as the second round and might be a good fit for the Bears if they part ways with Charles Tillman.

The Bears will check out safeties Deone Bucannon (Washington State), Ahmad Dixon (Baylor), Isaiah Lewis (Michigan State) and Jimmie Ward (Northern Illinois).

Jimmy!

Fresh off his star turn at the East-West Shrine Game, in which he threw for 100 yards and one touchdown, Eastern Illinois quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo might be the most fascinating player to watch.

The Rolling Meadows graduate can stake his claim as a second- or third-round pick with another strong performance — going far ahead of Northwestern quarterback-turned-pro-wideout Kain Colter — though that likely precludes him from being selected by the Bears.

Iowa tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz (Johnsburg), Michigan offensive lineman Michael Schofield (Sandburg), Notre Dame tackle Zack Martin and Illinois outside linebacker Jonathan Brown are familiar faces to Chicagoans, too.

New bosses

Newly hired coaches Mike Zimmer (Vikings) and Jim Caldwell (Lions) will be scouting in Mobile.

So, too, will former Bears coach Lovie Smith, who was hired by the Buccaneers.

Smith’s team figures to be a logical landing spot for departing Bears veterans.

Email: pfinley@suntimes.com

Twitter: @patrickfinley



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