Chris Williams (74) is one of 10 offensive linemen that have been drafted by Jerry Angelo. ‘‘Offensive linemen don’t bring a lot of glitter, but we certainly understand the value,’’ Angelo said. | jonathan Daniel~Getty Images
Top offensive tackle prospects
Anthony Castonzo, Boston College: He’ll have a long career, but will it be at right or left tackle?
Tyron Smith, USC: The tackle best-suited to playing on left side could go to Cowboys at No. 9.
Gabe Carimi, Wisconsin: Bears sorely need lineman with his nasty on-field disposition.
Nate Solder, Colorado: Much
upside but may take time for him to develop.
Marcus Cannon, TCU: May be
better suited to guard in NFL. Bears could use one of those, too.
Derek Sherrod, Mississippi State: Polished pass blocker not as effective on running plays.
Ben Ijalana, Villanova: Questions about how he would fare against elite competition.
Orlando Franklin, Miami: Solid, all-around tackle lacks mobility.
Updated: July 31, 2011 12:17AM
An injured Jay Cutler standing on the sideline during the NFC Championship Game loss to the Green Bay Packers remains the defining moment of the 2010 season. The Bears’ biggest weakness blinks neon after they surrendered a league-high 56 sacks last season, making general manager Jerry Angelo’s draft-day priority obvious.
Angelo should take the highest-rated offensive lineman available with the 29th pick to prevent Cutler from spending a third consecutive season spitting blood.
But factors beyond Angelo’s control are conspiring against him. What the Bears desperately need is a left tackle. Not only are they difficult to find so late in the first round, but there might not be a pure left tackle in the 2011 class, leaving
Angelo few options heading into what might be the most critical draft of his career.
Factor in Angelo’s struggles in the first round and his history of drafting offensive linemen, and it’s more likely he will trade out of the first round or take a defensive tackle or cornerback.
“They’re in a tricky spot,” ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay said. “They really are. When you look at their needs and the type of players they are looking for, there’s a chance, if they don’t make a move up, nobody is going to be there that they’re in love with.”
In 23 years with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Bears, Angelo has drafted only four offensive linemen in the first round, and only one of those — Paul Gruber — developed into an elite player.
Angelo has drafted 10 offensive linemen since joining the Bears, but only Chris Williams and J’Marcus Webb remain on the roster. Webb, a seventh-round pick, looks like the better bet to become a longtime contributor than Williams, who was drafted 14th overall in 2008 as the left tackle of the future but has been moved to guard.
“They’re not pretty picks when you look at them,” Angelo said when asked why he has spent so few first-round picks on offensive linemen. “You always want a little more glitter. Offensive linemen don’t bring a lot of glitter, but we certainly understand the value.
“In part, too, we’ve had a good run in free agency with offensive lineman, and that has bode well for us, not that we dislike drafting offensive linemen as a philosophy. We felt years ago — I don’t feel as strongly about it now — that you could develop offensive linemen and get them in later rounds. That really hasn’t historically played out, although we did a good job with Webb in the seventh.”
If Angelo takes a tackle at No. 29,
it likely will be the result of a player such as Colorado’s Nate Solder tumbling down the draft board. Although five tackles could go in the first round, there is no consensus top player. Former Lake Zurich standout Anthony Castonzo of Boston College and USC’s Tyron Smith generally are considered the top tackle prospects, although some
believe Castonzo would be better-suited at right tackle and worry about Smith making the transition after playing on the right side in college.
Wisconsin’s Gabe Carimi will have a long career, but most scouts see him playing right tackle or even guard. Bears offensive line coach Mike Tice would love to get his hands on the most intriguing tackle prospect. The 6-81/2, 314-pound Solder is a former tight end who lacks polish but might have more upside than any other tackle in the class.
TCU’s Marcus Cannon and Mississippi State’s Derek Sherrod also could be available late in the first round.
“We’ve seen a lot of guys with second-round grades come off the board late in the first,” McShay said. “There’s such a high demand for these players teams will occasionally reach for them. If [Castonzo, Smith, Carimi and Solder] are gone when they get on the board, then there’s a chance they will wind up reaching. If they take a tackle, they will reach.”
Tice should improve the Bears’ ability to develop offensive linemen. He personally scouts players and prides himself on developing raw talent. Webb is the most recent example. After starting 12 games at right tackle, he might be able to switch to the left side eventually, although making that leap in his second pro season is a lot to ask.
Frank Omiyale hadn’t played left tackle in two seasons before being forced into the starting lineup in Week 2 at Dallas. Having an offseason and a training camp (if the NFL lockout ends) could help him become more serviceable, but he’s hardly a long-term solution in a
division with elite pass rushers.
Add it all up, and the Bears are in a difficult situation. Their biggest need is at left tackle, but they’re unlikely to find a quick fix in this draft.