The Chicago Bears are looking to rebound on a disappointing 2011 season in which they ended with five losses in six games to finish with a record of 8-8. Injuries to Jay Cutler and Matt Forte crushed the hopes of Bears fans on any playoff dreams.
The offseason was an eventful one, with Jerry Angelo and Mike Martz departing and being replaced by Phil Emery and Mike Tice, respectively. The new era of Bears football has fans optimistic about the upcoming season, and rightly so. The talented Bears added a star receiver in Brandon Marshall and running back Michael Bush to their backfield.
Emery's first draft came and went, but not without some controversy. The team didn't address their offensive line in the draft, but got several talented players to fill key spots. Here are the Bears draft picks and how they will fit into the team in 2012.
The Bears surprised many with their selection of Shea McClellin as the 19th overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. There was speculation that the pick would be DE Whitney Mercilus, but the team decided to go for the more versatile McClellin even though many see him as more of a 3-4 fit.
The 6'3'', 255-pound rookie from Boise State will give the Bears another option in their pass rush and take some of the attention off of Julius Peppers. Though he has the ability to play multiple positions, head coach Lovie Smith wants to keep him on the edge. In a Chicago Tribune article, Smith said:
You won't come to practice and see him working on pass coverage. You will see him hitting the bag and trying to improve his technique at getting to the quarterback.
McClellin will share time in the defensive end rotation with Peppers and Israel Idonije, and if he can find success in his first year, the Bears will have a deadly pass rush to help stifle Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stafford.
Alshon Jeffery, the second round pick out of South Carolina, was arguably the Bears' best selection in last month's draft. He has a big frame, at 6'4'', 229 pounds, and good hands. Jeffery, along with offseason acquisition Brandon Marshall, provides the Bears with big targets for Jay Cutler—something the team sorely needed.
Though he left his first practice with cramps, he has impressed the Bears staff in his short time with the team. In an ESPN.com article, first-year offensive coordinator Mike Tice had this to say about Jeffery's first day in camp:
You could tell he has some explosiveness about him. You could tell he has some ball skills. That’s why we drafted him so high. You can tell that he’s gonna be a playmaker for the Bears for 2012, and hopefully for many years to come.
The rookie wide receiver looks to line up opposite Brandon Marshall for the season opener. Earl Bennett will likely take the slot and Devin Hester will fill in as the No. 4 with Knox still uncertain for 2012.
Another intriguing pick for the Bears was Brandon Hardin. A cornerback at Oregon State, Hardin missed all of the 2011 season with a fractured shoulder. He went No. 79 overall, and will likely be used as a safety because of his size and physical ability.
Though there have been some questions raised about his injury history, many of his issues have been bone breaks, like in 2011. The Bears are confident that he is fully healthy and ready to contribute on defense as well as special teams this year.
In a division with the high-powered passing attacks of the Lions and Packers, talented defensive backs are a must to compete for a playoff spot. The Bears hope Hardin will help improve the poor safety play and fight for a starting spot alongside Chris Conte, Craig Steltz, and Major Wright.
Evan Rodriguez brings yet another big target to the offensive arsenal. He has great hands and is a good blocker, and he will be an H-back or tight end option for the Bears. He compares himself and his style of play to that of Aaron Hernandez of the New England Patriots.
The team already has Kellen Davis and Matt Spaeth at the tight end position, but the quickness and offensive capabilities of Rodriguez may get him significant playing time by the end of the season. At the very least, he may take some reps away from fullback Tyler Clutts.
A cornerback out of Nevada, Isaiah Frey will be more of a long-term project for the Bears. The sixth-round pick played against less-than-stellar talent in college, and will look to make the team and contribute on special teams and occasional defensive rotations, though even that is uncertain.
Frey has great speed and has plenty of potential, but will have to fight for a roster spot. The Bears signed Kelvin Hayden and Jonathan Wilhite in the offseason and took another corner in the seventh round, so Frey may see extremely limited playing time in 2012, but remains a talented option for the team's future.
The last selection for the Bears in the 2012 NFL Draft was another cornerback, Greg McCoy. The rookie out of TCU has solid speed, but struggled with bigger receivers in college. He will compete with Frey for a spot on the roster, but may have the advantage because of his returning abilities.
If Johnny Knox doesn't play in 2012, it could leave the door wide open for McCoy on kickoffs. He was sixth in the nation in kick return average last season, and could provide a spark when Hester isn't in. Though he may have less potential than Frey, McCoy could be more valuable to the team this season.