CHICAGO — Another draft is in the books, and amazingly Chicago Bears General Manager Jerry Angelo stuck to his plan of addressing his team’s most dire needs.
With an offense ranked 27th in the league last season, Angelo finally realized that the most glaring problems weren’t at quarterback or running back, but the offensive line. So with the 14th overall pick, the Bears selected Vanderbilt offensive tackle, Chris Williams. At 6-foot-6, 315 pounds, Williams should be able to help provide Rex Grossman the protection he needs to get the ball down the field. The team added two more linemen – Chester Adams (Georgia) and Kirk Barton (Ohio State) — in the seventh round counting the most offensive linemen the Bears have taken in a single draft since current center Olin Kreutz was picked up in 1998.
And despite confusing a number of fans by not using one of their 11 remaining picks to jump up and select Chicago Area native and former Fighting Illini running back Rashard Mendenhall, the Bears used the 44th overall pick to take what looks like an exciting playmaker in Tulane running back Matt Forte. He will no doubt create competition for Cedric Benson.
“I felt like our running game was one of the weak spots on our football team,” Angelo told the team’s website. “He gives us a big back, a three-down back. He’s got enough speed to get to the outside and he has the ability to make people miss at the second level. Those are two areas where we could really never find any consistency, which made us an easy team to defend from my perspective.”
Angelo also finally admitted that perhaps Benson didn’t turn out to be the back the Bears thought they drafted in 2005.
“Maybe he’s not the featured back we thought he’d be. He played well as a complementary back with Thomas [Jones]. When we thought we were starting to see a little something [last season], then he breaks his ankle. I felt that we needed to make sure that we protected that position.”
Now with four running backs on the roster, surely the Bears can find a combination that will help balance out the offense. But perhaps the best offensive pickup in terms of skill players came on Day 2 when the Bears gave Grossman another weapon in Vanderbilt receiver Earl Bennett.
With little help at quarterback, Bennett became the SEC’s all-time leading receiver in just three years, and has drawn comparisons to Hines Ward. Just when the Bears seemed to have thrown away any chance of having an air attack in 2008, they added a playmaker to complement Marty Booker, Brandon Lloyd, the still unproven Mike Haas, and assuming he can learn the offense, deep threat Devin Hester. This is all assuming the line gives Grossman time to throw.
“If you watch the tape, he comes up big every game,” Bears’ director of college scouting Greg Gabriel told the team’s website. “He was their go-to-guy. Everybody knew that’s who they were going to throw to … yet he still came up with big catches.”
Despite Angelo declaring a need for more competition at the quarterback position, and expressing the desire to carry up to four next season, the Bears exhausted 12 picks without drafting a signal caller. But with added protection on the line, they might not be in horrible shape. Top prospects that could make their way onto the Bears roster as free agents are Colorado State quarterback Caleb Hanie, and Southern Illinois University product Nick Hill. A lot of experts seem to think both have a future in the NFL. They are both worth a shot. Still not convinced? Last I checked, a former Eastern Illinois University standout isn’t doing too badly for himself after joining the Cowboys as an undrafted free agent.
*Other notable picks that might turn into positive additions include defensive tackle Marcus Harrison (Arkansas), speedy and hard-hitting safety Craig Steltz (LSU), 6-foot-7 tight end Kellen Davis (Michigan State), and 6-4 wide receiver Marcus Monk (Arkansas).