Future Is Now For Emery, Bears
Chicago Bears general manager Phil Emery began to fill some obvious gaps in the free agent market this spring, but in true Chicago style, they were more like ankle-deep craters than simple potholes.
Phase Two of the on-going project will come in the NFL Draft next week when Emery and his staff are expected to target an offensive lineman or an inside linebacker (or both) in the first two rounds, with the 20th and 50th selections overall. Right now, they will not have a selection in the third and seventh rounds, which means a move down in the order in return for multiple picks is an option.
"I approached a couple during the owners meetings. They are talks. They're back and forth," said head coach Marc Trestman on Tuesday,shortly after his first practice. "They're kicking things around. It doesn't get serious until you get close to the pick.
As Emery is well aware, there may be better no time to solidify the trouble spots than the present. The talent pools, especially at the tackle position, are as deep they have been in recent years.
“The offensive line class has strength in the front end when you look at it from tackle, guard and center,” Emery said. “There are a number of players who could be in the mix as starters.”
While newcomer Jermon Bushrod appears to be set at left tackle, the other side remains unsettled at this time. J'Marcus Webb and Jonathan Scott are the lead candidates to start on the right side next season, but neither is considered to be a long-term solution.
At guard, veteran Matt Slauson signed a one-year contract to make up for the loss of Lance Louis. The ex-New York Jet likely will start opposite Gabe Carimi, whose contract is due to expire after the 2014 season.
The situation is similar at middle linebacker, where newcomer D.J. Williams is set to replace Brian Urlacher next season. Williams agreed to a one-year deal.
Here are top candidates at the two areas of need who figure to get long, hard looks in the hours ahead:
Terron Armstead, 6-foot-5, 306 pounds, Arkansas-Pine Bluff: In college, the Illinois native was inconsistent against lesser competition. He made favorable impressions in all-star games and at the draft combine, where he was clocked at 4.65 in the 40-yard dash.
D.J. Fluker, 6-foot-5, 339 pounds, Alabama: Tackles Luke Joeckel, Eric Fisher and Lane Johnson will be off the board early in round one, but Fluker's size, strength and reach make for more than a consolation prize. Most effective as a run-blocker, he has the potential to become a difference-maker at the right or strong side for years to come.
Kyle Long, 6-foot-6, 313 pounds, Oregon: The son of Hall of Fame defensive end Howie Long lacks polish, but his athletic talent cannot be ignored. He played guard in college but could settle in at a tackle spot before long.
Justin Pugh, 6-foot-5, 307 pounds, Syracuse: Because his 34-inch arms are shorter than many coaches and general managers like at the tackle position, a move to guard may be in his future. The three-year starter probably won't require much maintenance along the way.
Larry Warford, 6-foot-3, 332 pounds, Kentucky: Some scouts consider him to be on par with Chance Warmack (Alabama), who may be the first guard off the board. He comes off impressive performances in the Senior Bowl and at the draft combine.
- Menelik Watson, 6-5, 310, Florida State: His long arms and quick feet are made for the left tackle position, although it may be a while before the late-bloomer makes a regular contribution. Some question whether the native of England has the desire to achieve his potential at the next level.
Kiko Alonso, 6-foot-4, 238 pounds, Oregon: He has one of the biggest upsides at the position, but multiple health problems (knee, wrist) and run-ins with the law (DUI, burglary) have lowered his stock. He has the size, burst speed and ball skills to be effective in either man or zone coverage.
Arthur Brown, 6-foot-1, 241 pounds, Kansas State: He was among the draft candidates whom the organization brought in for an interview this month. A sure tackler, he combines speed and toughness that make up for a lack of ideal size.
Alec Ogletree, 6-foot-3, 242 pounds, Georgia: The converted safety can close in a hurry – the next Urlacher, anyone? -- but his lack of discipline on and off the field are red flags in the minds of many. He may be worth the risk on the basis of freakish athleticism alone.
- Manti Te'o, 6-foot-1, 241 pounds, Notre Dame: The Heisman Trophy candidate groped at too many make-believe ball-carriers in the Sugar Bowl, and his recent 4.7 time dropped jaws for the wrong reason. Still, he possesses a high football I.Q., a non-stop motor and leadership ability, which could lead to a productive career.