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Jerry Angelo, Bears can finally exhale after challenging NFL draft

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

Jerry Angelo looked less tortured late Saturday afternoon than he did after the first two days of the NFL draft — probably because his final pick was spent and what he may remember as the most challenging and controversial draft of his long career finally had ended.

From the start, Angelo had problems evaluating this draft class for reasons he never has fully explained. Then there was the uncertainty surrounding the NFL’s labor situation and the pressure of trying to close the talent gap with the defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers.

Add to that his bungling of a trade with the Baltimore Ravens and the subsequent criticism by everybody from Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti to coach John Harbaugh, and the guess here is Angelo poured himself a large glass of red wine when he arrived home Saturday night.

“It was just different, that’s all,” Angelo said when asked to sum up the 2011 draft.

“I feel strongly that all these players should make our football team; all these players fit the prototype of what we are looking for at their positions. Some of them will be early contributors, some will give us quality depth and some will make an impact on special teams.”

Angelo’s final two picks Saturday were Idaho quarterback Nathan Enderle in the fifth round and West Virginia linebacker J.T. Thomas in the sixth, although those aren’t the players that likely will define his latest draft haul.

Enderle pick all about Martz

Enderle is the latest example of the influence Mike Martz holds in the organization. The Bears’ offensive coordinator personally worked out the 6-4, 234-pounder, who was a four-year starter in Idaho’s pro-style offense, and liked what he saw enough to convince Angelo to invest in a developmental quarterback one year after Dan LeFevour was drafted in the sixth round and later released.

Enderle completed 56.7 percent of his passes for 3,314 yards with 22 touchdowns and 16 interceptions last season, but he completed 61.5 percent of his passes with 22 touchdowns and nine interceptions as a junior. Player personnel director Tim Ruskell believes Enderle lost some key playmakers last season who had made him more successful as a junior.

“We want to develop our own quarterbacks,” Angelo said. “We want to stay with that plan. We hit a speed bump last year, and we just felt like the plan is in place, and we feel very good with him coming on board.”

Thomas was a three-year starter at weak-side linebacker for the Mountaineers and has the chase-down speed and coverage ability to succeed in a cover-2 defense. The 6-foot, 240-pounder also fills a need, considering the Bears currently have ony two linebackers under contract. His special-teams experience increases his value in an organization where such skills are coveted.

“He fits us perfectly,” Angelo said. “He can play all three [linebacker] positions.”

The hiring of old friend Ruskell was supposed to make Angelo’s job easier, not harder, but that hardly seemed to be the case this season. That Ruskell had run his own draft room as general manager of the Seattle Seahawks makes the Bears’ failure to execute the trade with the Ravens even more puzzling.

Keep an eye on Conte

In the final analysis, however, it’s difficult to be critical of an oft-criticized Angelo based on his first two picks. Wisconsin offensive tackle Gabe Carimi and Oregon State defensive tackle Stephen Paea both were highly rated and fill pressing needs.

The wild card might turn out to be third-round pick Chris Conte, the Cal cornerback-turned-safety who emerged after three years of obscurity to be an All-Pac-10 performer. While Angelo is convinced he has the skills necessary to succeed in the NFL as a free safety, most other draft experts projected him to be a late-round pick.

“We wanted to address as many needs and fill as many holes as we can,” Angelo said. “We weren’t naive. We weren’t going to be able to do that in one draft session, given what our status was, and we didn’t try to do that. We didn’t get fixated to cover all the things that we would like to do. We did the best we could without being desperate in our approach.”

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