Chicago Bears: 3 Players to Watch in Texas vs. The Nation Game
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In recent years, the Texas vs. The Nation game has seen future NFL players like Pierre Garcon, Lardarius Webb, Demetress Bell and current Bear receiver Johnny Knox participate and offers teams the chance to see players they normally would not have on their radar.
According to the chairman of Texas vs. The Nation game, Kenny Hansmire (h/t Dallas Morning News):
I can guarantee that people will be watching the future of the NFL at this game. At least 97 percent of these players will sign NFL contracts after this game.
The Dallas Morning News (via neighborsgo.com) also reports that there will be over 250 NFL scouts on hand and noted that one out of every ten players in the NFL played in the Texas vs. The Nation game.
The game will be played this Saturday in Allen, Texas and will be broadcast on FOX Sports.
Most of the talent in this game will be late-round selections at best, but there are plenty of diamonds in the rough that could interest the Chicago Bears in the 2013 draft or even as undrafted free agents.
Here are three players the Bears should watch in the Texas vs. The Nation game:
Ray Ray Armstrong, Safety, Miami (FL)
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Likely the most notable player at the Texas vs The Nation game, Ray Ray Armstrong was in the news for all the wrong reasons last summer.
Armstrong was kicked off the University of Miami squad for improper discussions with football boosters via twitter. He attempted a return to the football field with Faulkner University but was again ruled ineligible.
Touted as the Hurricane's top signee in 2009, he failed to live up to the comparisons to former Hurricane great, Sean Taylor. He was suspended for five games in 2011, also for improper booster relations, but showed some good signs when on the field.
Having not played a game since the 2011 season, Saturday's Texas vs. The Nation game will finally give him an opportunity to show scouts what he can do.
He has great size (6'4", 215 lbs.), above average speed, is gifted athletically and is a hard hitter. He is extremely raw and given all the problems he has had off the field, some teams will likely have him off their draft board all together.
He will be a project for any team that chooses him, but given the fact that the Bears appear confident with their safety tandem of Chris Conte and Major Wright, they could be willing to take a chance and try to mold him for the future.
Other than Conte and Wright, Brandon Hardin (who didn't see the field in 2012 due to injury) and Craig Steltz are still under contract for 2013, so Armstrong could be a guy who would benefit from a year on the practice squad.
Defensive backs coach Jon Hoke is one of only two coaches (the other being Mike Phair) from Lovie Smith's staff to return under new head coach Marc Trestman. Hoke has helped oversee the growth of Conte and Wright and was critical in the development of cornerbacks Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings into Pro Bowl players.
If Armstrong is taken later in the draft and gets the opportunity to develop under Hoke and new defensive coordinator Mel Tucker, he could find himself proving all of his doubters wrong.
Matt Smith, Center, Kentucky
Kentucky center, Matt Smith
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Often overshadowed by offensive linemate and projected second-round pick Larry Warford, Kentucky center Matt Smith has an opportunity on Saturday to drive up his draft stock, much like Warford did at the Senior Bowl.
Smith, who was started out his college career as a defensive tackle, made the move to center in 2009. He became the full-time starter there in 2010.
At 6'4" and 298 pounds, he has great height for the position. But, by comparison to most NFL centers, Smith is a bit thin in the shoulders and midsection and would need to add more bulk to his upper body.
He has good quickness and is a good run-blocker, but tends to struggle against a solid pass rush. He'll need to work on eliminating his stiffness and become better at the point of attack, but his size and strength alone should garner him some interest from many teams.
The Bears seem content with Roberto Garza at center, but with him turning 34 this March, the time is now for them to be looking for a player they can develop behind him.
New offensive coordinator and offensive line coach, Aaron Kromer, has helped develop young players (Jermon Bushrod, Carl Nicks) into Pro Bowl players and would likely welcome the challenge of transforming Smith into a serviceable NFL center.
Smith would likely be a priority undrafted free-agent signee, but he could turn out to be a steal, much like current Bears guard James Brown was last season.
John Youboty, Defensive End, Temple
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The brother of former Ohio State standout Ashton Youboty, John Youboty started his college career at Marshall before transferring to Temple in 2011.
He was named to the All-Big East second team following the 2012 season, in which he finished with 42 tackles, a team high five sacks and a forced fumble.
He played a majority of his time at Temple out of position at the defensive tackle spot, but given his size (6'4", 250 pounds) he has the frame of a speed-rushing NFL defensive end.
Youboty is very quick off of the ball, has terrific bend and shows fine lateral movement. He will likely need to bulk up to be an every-down starter in the NFL and will also have to work on his run defense, as he has a tendency to rush to far upfield, opening up running lanes.
Once a 3-star recruit with scholarship offers to Michigan State, Nebraska and Missouri, the talent is clearly there, but given his strong showings against lesser talent while at both Marshall and Temple, it is hard to gauge what Youboty will be able to do at the next level.
With Julius Peppers having turned 33 earlier in January and with Israel Idonije slated to become a free agent, the Bears will likely continue to look to get younger along the defensive line, particularly at defensive end.
Last year's first-round pick, Shea McClellin, will likely be battling with Corey Wootton for a chance to take over Idonije's starting position if he is not re-signed, and bringing along a guy like Youboty would only help to push both players.
A strong showing Saturday could catapult Youboty into the middle rounds of the draft, but if he is available in later rounds, the Bears could find another young athletic defensive end with the potential to become a solid speed-rusher in the NFL.