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NFL Draft: Secondary a primary concern for Bears

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Updated: June 3, 2014 6:41AM



During a time of increased coyness and myriad misinformation, general manager Phil Emery opted for honest answers with the NFL draft approaching.

Or at least that’s what he said he was offering — with a wry smile — when asked about cornerbacks and safeties.

“We’ve looked at every corner that has length as a possible safety,” Emery said Thursday. “We’ve looked at them as a scouting staff, and I reassigned them again to go look at that equation.”

The Bears have gotten that equation wrong before under Emery, selecting Oregon State’s Brandon Hardin in the third round in 2012 to play safety. Hardin is gone, and Emery took the fall again — “I put Brandon in a position he couldn’t succeed, and that’s on me,” he said — but the Bears’ motivations are apparent.

The Bears need a safety, especially with Chris Conte possibly opening camp on the physically unable-to-perform list after shoulder surgery March 26. Unfortunately, the safety class this year isn’t overflowing with standouts.

“There is a drop-off in terms of perceived level of ability between the first few safeties in the draft and the next grouping,” Emery said.

The Bears have narrowed their list of potential targets at No. 14 to six players. It’s safe to assume that the top safeties — Louisville’s Calvin Pryor and Alabama’s Ha Ha Clinton-Dix — are on it.

Emery said the scheme changes under defensive coordinator Mel Tucker and his new assistants “might affect the ideal player that we’re looking for” on defense,
including defensive backs. “But you have to be able to be in position to draft those players,” he said.

The ways safeties need to play in the era of dynamic offenses and tight ends with basketball backgrounds definitely has changed how the position is valued, too.

“There’s a number of what we would call receiving tight ends that are really challenging teams,” Emery said. “You have to find guys with length at safety or at corner that you can bring inside and cover those types of players.”

That said, the outlook at safety and at cornerback couldn’t be more different.

Starting corners Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings return, but Emery reiterated that the competition at safety, which
includes free-agent additions Ryan Mundy and M.D. Jennings, is wide-open.

Unlike the thin safety class, Emery said that, among cornerbacks, “there’s a subset of players that … have the athletic upside [and] have had flashes of production” that project them to be
potential starters.

So safety appears to be a first- or second-round target, although Emery highlighted his preference for defensive tackles and left the proverbial door open for all offensive positions but quarterback.

“[You] opt for the best player that’s going to help us win,”
Emery said.

Email: ajahns@suntimes.com

Twitter: @adamjahns



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