Bears just might ignore offensive line in draft
BY MARK POTASH email@example.com February 20, 2013 4:44PM
When: Thursday through Tuesday.
Where: Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
What: More than 300 draft-eligible player will go through workouts, drills and interviews with NFL teams at the combine. Once held in privacy for NFL teams only, the combine has become a media and fan extravaganza. The NFL arranges interviews with various players, coaches, general managers and analysts Thursday through Sunday. Before Saturday’s workouts, the players are measured, undergo medical examinations and psychological and intelligence testing and conduct interviews with the media and various NFL teams. Each NFL team is allowed to conduct 15-minute interviews with up to 60 players during the combine.
Bears interest: Bears coach Marc Trestman and general manager Phil Emery are scheduled to hold news conferences Thursday.
NFL Network coverage: The workouts, which begin Saturday, will be televised for the ninth consecutive year. Here’s the live TV schedule for combine workouts (condensed versions of each day’s workouts will be broadcast throughout the rest of that day):
Saturday (8 a.m. to 3 p.m.): Tight ends, offensive linemen, special teams.
Sunday (8 a.m. to 3 p.m.): Quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers.
Monday (8 a.m. to 2 p.m.): Defensive linemen, linebackers.
Tuesday (8 a.m. to 1 p.m.): Defensive backs.
Updated: March 22, 2013 10:38AM
INDIANAPOLIS—The obvious is not so obvious in the post-Lovie Smith era.
Just three weeks into the 2012 season — about the time Jay Cutler was chewing out J’Marcus Webb, Chilo Rachal was replacing Chris Spencer, Gabe Carimi was still recovering from major knee surgery and Cutler was shaking off seven sacks against the Packers — the Bears’ offensive line problems were so acute and self-evident that it was a foregone conclusion general manager Phil Emery would take an offensive lineman with the Bears’ first-round pick in the 2013 NFL draft. Every mock draft said so. Every Bears fan said so. Even common sense said so.
But that scenario has changed since Emery fired Lovie Smith and hired Marc Trestman. As the NFL Scouting Combine commences this week at Lucas Oil Stadium, an offensive tackle still is high on the priority list. But a replacement for Brian Urlacher is gaining momentum. And a 21st century tight end for Trestman’s 21st century offense is almost certain to tempt Emery at No. 20 of the first round of the April 25 draft.
ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. has the Bears taking Alabama offensive tackle D.J. Fluker. His colleague Todd McShay has them taking Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o. Among the other players pegged for the Bears at No. 20 in the pre-Combine mock drafts are Oklahoma tackle Lane Johnson and North Carolina guard Jonathan Cooper. But also Stanford tight end Zach Ertz, Notre Dame tight end Tyler Eifert and LSU linebacker Kevin Minter. Georgia linebacker Alec Ogletree — a potential superstar with a drug suspension and DUI on his resume — is in play for the Bears.
Emery responded to criticism that he ignored the offensive line in free agency and the draft in 2012 with a detailed explanation of his thought process that led to him choosing defensive end Shea McClellin with the 19th overall pick and wide receiver Alshon Jeffery with the 50th pick.
It was a refreshing spate of candor. But lost in all the detail was a slight miscalculation: ‘‘We felt good about our guard play,’’ Emery said during that press conference a day after he fired Smith. ‘‘We certainly had enough, between our starters and backups, for the interior play.’’
Not really. Spencer, who had never played left guard in the NFL, was replaced by Rachal in Week 3. Rachal was replaced by Spencer in Week 12. Edwin Williams replaced an injured Spencer a week later and the Bears finished the season with undrafted (but touted) free agent James Brown starting the final three weeks.
McClellin and Jeffery (whom the Bears moved up five spots to draft) showed enough promise as rookies to support Emery’s decisions to draft them. But it’s just as arguable the Bears would have been better off with an interior lineman — Stanford guard David DeCastro at No. 20; or Wisconsin center Peter Konz or Iowa State tackle Kelechi Osemele at No. 50.
DeCastro, a top-10 rated guard chosen 24th by the Pittsburgh Steelers, suffered a knee injury as a rookie but returned late in the season and still looks like a 10-year starter in the NFL. Konz, the 55th overall pick, started at right guard for the NFC finalist Atlanta Falcons. Osemele, the 60th overall pick, started at left guard for the Super Bowl champion Ravens.
Can the Bears afford to ignore the offensive line again? It’s unlikely, but don’t discount the possibility that the Bears might not trip over themselves trying to get an automatic starter.
In Trestman’s first season in Montreal in 2008, he upgraded the Alouettes’ offensive line without adding any linemen to his roster. The Alouettes improved from a CFL-worst 68 sacks allowed in 2007 to a CFL-best 22 in 2008. They improved from 4.7 yards per rushing attempt in 2007 to 6.3 in 2008. Trestman’s starting tackles that season had been backups in 2007.
Furthermore, new offensive line coach Aaron Kromer has a history of maximizing talent with New Orleans. The Saints won the Super Bowl after the 2009 season with an offensive line that included a second-round pick, two fourth-round picks and two fifth-round picks. Each of them made the Pro Bowl under Kromer.
Can he work that kind of magic here?
‘‘We sure hope so,’’ Kromer said. ‘‘You really try to play to their strengths. What do they do well? What kind of run-blocking is best for them. What kind of pass protection schemes are best for them? And just know what they can do and use it to your advantage. When it’s all said and done, it’s how well they play together.’’