suntimes
SPARKLE 
Weather Updates

Bears looking for draft’s hidden gem? Here’s one that fills a need

South Floridlinebacker Jacquian Williams could be later-round player for Bears target NFL Draft add depth thposition.

South Florida linebacker Jacquian Williams could be a later-round player for the Bears to target in the NFL Draft to add depth at that position.

storyidforme: 10268957
tmspicid: 3089525
fileheaderid: 1809308

Recently, when I was at EFT Performance in Highland Park, a player I didn’t recognize jumped out at me.

He was a smooth athlete, and I even thought he might have been a big receiver. But the player was Jacquian Williams, an outside linebacker from South Florida. You could tell he was explosive, which was confirmed at the South Florida Pro Day, when he ran a 4.53 and 4.72 in the 40-yard dash. But he also had a 36 1/2 inch vertical leap.

The Bears will host more than a dozen incoming rookies at Halas Hall later this month in preparation for the April 28 NFL Draft, and I would expect Williams to be in that group, or make a separate visit on his own.

That’s because it’s evident the Bears need some depth at the position, and team brass was at the South Florida Pro Day in force. Personnel executives Jerry Angelo and Tim Ruskell worked together with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for several years, and Bears coach Lovie Smith often vacations in the area.

But Williams appeared to be one of the winners from that Pro Day. The big name, of course, was Terrell McClain, who is considered one of the more highly-rated defensive linemen. There was video of Bears defensive line coach Rod Marinelli working him out.

But Williams also turned some heads.

He came to South Florida as a junior college transfer, and he was named a team captain for his final season. Former USF head coach Jim Leavitt called him the “fastest linebacker” to ever play at the school.

He finished second-team All-BIG EAST, and he led the team with 71 tackles, including 11 for loss, 2 1/2 sacks and one interception.

USF coach Skip Holtz called him “his hero,” according to the St. Petersburg Times.

“He’s an incredibly unselfish young man. I don’t know that I’ve ever been around anybody as committed as he is, with the heart he has,” Holtz told the paper. “I hope my son grows up to be like Jacquian Williams. I feel that strongly about him as a young man.”

Williams isn’t projected to be a high draft pick, so he could be had in the later rounds.

At the NFL owners meeting in New Orleans, Smith talked about his depth at linebacker.

Specifically, I noted how fortunate his team has been because stud linebackers Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs have been, for the most part, durable and performed at elite levels.

Many of the other players in the unit -- because of the large investment in Briggs and Urlacher -- have been cost-effective veterans or low-round draft picks. I asked Smith if he would like to add some youth at the position.

“You do. It’s a good question,” Smith said. “Brian and Lance have played a few years, and we’d like to get some younger players into the mix, at all of our positions. So, yes, that’s the case. And this year, you look, we don’t have a lot of linebackers signed. We have to bring some players in. But I like the play of our backups.”

I would guess he’s talking about players Nick Roach and Brian Iwuh, and maybe even Rod Wilson. But Pisa Tinoisamoa will be unrestricted, and he’s always been a Smith favorite.

But, with Briggs and Urlacher in their 30s, the Bears need some young players who can learn from these standouts. Williams can play on special teams, and he almost certainly would play outside linebacker, more specifically Briggs’ spot.



© 2014 Sun-Times Media, LLC. All rights reserved. This material may not be copied or distributed without permission. For more information about reprints and permissions, visit www.suntimesreprints.com. To order a reprint of this article, click here.