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These new Bears names may clear Angelo's

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM



W hen told that a chart of the Bears’ draft history resembles the steep up-and-down angles of sharks’ teeth, a longtime NFL general manager said that’s true of all teams.

He compared the personnel game to being a major-league hitter. Everybody goes through slumps and hot streaks. The best at stocking NFL rosters, he said, are those who find ways to shorten the slumps and prolong those stretches when every decision seems like the right one.

Jerry Angelo entered the season in desperate need of a hot streak. While it’s premature to claim the Bears’ general manager has entered such a stretch, there has been a noticeable warming trend in recent weeks as young players not only continue to develop but keep making plays.

With coach Lovie Smith off the hot seat and being talked about as a candidate for coach of the year, the other half of the management team has been enjoying a renaissance as well. A series of unsuccessful drafts led many to question Angelo’s ability to identify talent. But while the Bears’ draft history under Angelo is far from stellar, the emergence of several recent picks provides hope that he can start consistently bringing in the kind of talent that will keep the team competitive into the future.

Contributions from young players were especially noticeable in the 40-14 victory over the Minnesota Vikings on Monday night. Second-year defensive lineman Henry Melton keeps making plays. He tipped a pass that defensive end Julius Peppers intercepted, then later recovered a fumble. In just the third game in which he has been activated, rookie defensive end Corey Wootton sacked Brett Favre, knocking him out of the game with a concussion.

Second-year nickel back D.J. Moore is tied for the team lead with four interceptions. Rookie safety Major Wright looks like he’ll develop into a solid starter, although he may want to review the NFL’s policy on helmet-to-helmet hits after he was fined $10,000 for the head shot he delivered to Vikings third-string quarterback Joe Webb.

Kids you can’t miss

‘‘[Wootton’s] making some plays,’’ linebacker Lance Briggs said. ‘‘That’s good. It’s good because you don’t hear a lot from him. It’s good to see him doing things. That’s the way rookies are supposed to be: not heard, but seen. But it’s good to see Corey getting sacks, D.J. making plays all year. All of the young guys. Major. Even though he took the quarterback out a little bit, it was good to see that aggressiveness.’’

Wootton’s and Melton’s performances have been most encouraging because Angelo has struggled to find defensive linemen who fit Smith’s cover-2 scheme. Both players came with plenty of question marks. Melton was a former college running back who had only played on the defensive line for a season and a half at Texas before being drafted. At 260 pounds, he was widely considered too small to be effective in the NFL, especially playing tackle. Many NFL teams didn’t even consider selecting Wootton after he suffered a serious knee injury during his junior year at Northwestern.

‘‘They’re great additions,’’ veteran defensive tackle Tommie Harris said. ‘‘They are going to be real good players. They’re young, they learn, they listen, and they’re contributing a lot. This is one of the best defensive line groups I’ve been around since I’ve been here.’’

Other line less solid

Angelo overestimated his talent on the offensive line heading into the season. Thanks largely to offensive line coach Mike Tice and the adjustments offensive coordinator Mike Martz made during the bye week, the Bears have been able to overcome what was a glaring weakness early in the season.

A lack of protection up front still could end up costing the Bears as soon as Sunday’s game against the blitz-happy New York Jets or in the playoffs, and upgrading the offensive line should be the top priority heading into the offseason, especially with center Olin Kreutz and guard Roberto Garza nearing the ends of their careers.

Rookie J’Marcus Webb was forced into duty at right tackle and could develop into a longtime starter. That makes three Bears rookies who have made significant contributions this season, which may be a record for Angelo given his spotty draft history and the team’s practice of making rookies wait their turn before seeing significant playing time.

It’s even more impressive given that Angelo didn’t have a first- or second-round pick this year — and it proves the Bears’ turnaround extends to the front office.



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