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Dennard, Gilbert could help Bears on defense

Should the Bears take a DB in the first round?

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Updated: March 27, 2014 6:47AM

When Michigan State cornerback Darqueze Dennard and Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert met at the College Football Awards in December, Dennard coined a nickname for Gilbert: “Pretty Boy.”

“He makes fun of me because I always take ‘selfies’ on my phone,” Gilbert said.

Despite their needs elsewhere, the Bears could call either one — by name or nickname — in the NFL draft in May.

It’s not a ridiculous notion.

Members of the Bears’ brass traveled to scout Dennard during his senior season, sources told the Sun-Times.

They liked what they saw: the 5-11, 199-pounder won the Jim Thorpe Award and was a unanimous first-team All-American, intercepting four passes and breaking up 10 more. He’s considered the best cover corner in the draft.

Dennard’s 4.51-second 40-yard dash Tuesday at the NFL Scouting Combine was enough to impress the NFL Network’s Mike Mayock, who already had him pegged as a potential top-15 pick.

Gilbert, though, blew Dennard’s doors off.

The 6-foot, 202-pounder ran an absurd 4.37 40-yard dash, the fastest of any cornerback and the fourth-best by any player at Lucas Oil Stadium. His 20 bench-press reps were tied for third-best among corners.

Even if he lacks Dennard’s ball skills, Gilbert, who played press coverage almost three-quarters of his OSU snaps, is among the most-prized possessions in today’s NFL: a cornerback with size.

Gilbert said he and Dennard, who did not speak to the media at the combine, do “a pretty good job of playing the ball in the air.”

Gilbert led the Big 12 with seven interceptions last year.

“I think [Dennard is] a pretty complete player,” Gilbert said. “He’s not as fast as me, I can tell you that.”

The Bears are desperate for defensive playmakers — general manager Phil Emery says scoring on defense is what he values most — but have long put a premium on cornerback grit. It’s the identity of their defense.

“I know our players believe it — that generally the toughness of your team shows up in your corners,” Emery said. “So we want tough, physical tacklers, but also guys that have the athleticism and the speed to get their hands on the ball.”

That sounds a lot like Charles Tillman, doesn’t it?

Emery reiterated that the free agent-to-be is “a big part of this” and said the team has told Tillman they’d like him to return. Coach Marc Trestman called the 33-year-old “extremely important.”

But the sides have yet to agree on his value.

The most obvious of Tillman’s suitors could be ex-Bears coach Lovie Smith, whose Buccaneers were rumored to be shopping their own star corner, Darrelle Revis.

Were Tillman to leave, would the Bears dream of using the 14th pick on a cornerback, considering their gaping holes at defensive tackle, defensive end and safety?

Consider this: At Oklahoma State, Gilbert had six career kickoff returns for touchdowns.

Replacing Tillman and free agent-to-be Devin Hester at the same time? Now that would be worthy of a selfie.


Twitter: @patrickfinley

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