Jerry Angelo, Bears couldn’t ask for better guides in Day 2 of NFL draft
BY NEIL HAYES firstname.lastname@example.org April 29, 2011 10:54PM
California cornerback Chris Conte, right, tries to tackle Southern California running back C.J. Gable during the second half of their NCAA college football game, Saturday, Nov. 8, 2008, in Los Angeles. USC won 17-3. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Updated: August 13, 2011 2:14AM
Bears general manager Jerry Angelo needed all the help he could get while evaluating one of the most difficult draft classes of his career.
That’s why a theme that began Thursday when Angelo chose Wisconsin tackle Gabe Carimi in the first round of the NFL draft continued during the second and third rounds Friday night.
On Thursday, offensive line coach Mike Tice had the inside dope on Carimi. On Friday, Oregon State defensive tackle Stephen Paea and California safety Chris Conte came highly recommended by people Angelo trusts most, providing valuable peace of mind during a draft that appears to be aging Angelo in dog years.
‘‘When the coaches have the experience that these coaches have,’’ Angelo said, ‘‘and they have NFL experience and know the demands physically and also mentally and how the kids are going to react to the grind of our league, it’s very reassuring.’’
Oregon State coach Mike Riley coached with Bears defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli at USC and gave Paea the highest possible recommendation, resulting in the Bears sending a fourth-round pick to the Washington Redskins for the right to move up nine spots to select the Tongan strongman 53rd overall. It took a similar vote of confidence from longtime NFL defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast, now coordinating Cal’s defense, to convince secondary coach John Hoke and Angelo that Conte’s rare skill set made him the best bet in the third round.
Two reasons to like Paea
In Paea, they found someone with the rare combination of quickness and strength. Not only did Paea’s speed off the ball impress Marinelli, but he set a record at the NFL combine by bench-pressing 225 pounds 49 times, breaking the old mark of 45.
‘‘A lot of what we liked about him is his versatility,’’ Bears player personnel director Tim Ruskell said. ‘‘He is a guy that is very strong and very quick, two different traits when you are looking at those positions. But this guy gets off the ball, and he is a high-motor player.”
Although he’s strong enough to fend off double-teams, Paea said he prefers the ‘‘three-technique’’ tackle position vacated by Tommie Harris, which demands quickness.
‘‘I can play both, but I’ll be more productive in the three-technique vs. the one-technique,’’ Paea said.
Conte spent his first three seasons as a cornerback before moving to safety as a senior and helping transform Cal’s defense. The 6-2, 197-pounder peaked late in his career, and his best game came against the best team on Cal’s schedule. By shadowing dynamic Oregon quarterback Darron Thomas all over the field, Conte proved himself a sure open-field tackler and played a key role in Cal’s defense holding then-No. 1 Oregon’s prolific offense to a season low in yards and points in a 15-13 loss in November.
Angelo projects Conte as a free safety in the pros — a position he claims is nearly extinct.
‘‘I don’t know if [former Tampa Bay Buccaneers safety John Lynch] would get drafted anymore,’’ Angelo said. ‘‘You don’t go out looking for John Lynches today. It’s hard to find a guy who can tackle and has good cover skills, and he has to be fast now, too. We just felt because he’s so hard to find, let’s not look a gift horse in the mouth.’’
Paea has the kind of story that makes the NFL draft so compelling. He was a rugby player on the Tongan Island of Vava’u before coming to the United States at 16. He didn’t play football until his senior year and had only one scholarship offer after two years of junior college, but he started 37 of 38 games after arriving at Oregon State and recorded 129 tackles, 14 sacks and 301/2 tackles for loss. His nine forced fumbles were a school career record.
‘‘If somebody told me when I came from Tonga that I would be the 53rd player in the draft, I would have laughed,’’ Paea said. ‘‘I only expected to go in the seventh round or to just get to the NFL.’’
Paea was considered one of the top defensive tackle prospects in the country by several scouting services until he tore the lateral meniscus in his right knee during a Senior Bowl practice. He said Friday that he has fully recovered from surgery and is ready to participate in offseason workouts.
‘‘He was just a unique guy for us, and when you combine that with his effort level, it was a no-brainer for us,’’ Ruskell said.