The Chicago Bears enter the 2013 offseason with plenty of holes to fill and positions that need youth and improvement.
The most glaring needs happen to be on the offensive end with the poor play of the offensive line and tight end throughout the last couple of seasons. Depth at wide receiver and finding another running back who can do it all are also slight concerns.
The Bears also need someone who can take the top off the defense, especially under Marc Trestman's offensive scheme coming to Chicago. A running back who can spell Matt Forte at times and catch out of the backfield or be split wide is another need that could be addressed throughout the draft.
Even though the Bears defense finished fifth in total defense rankings, the age of the defense is slowly starting to become an issue. All the Pro-Bowlers on the defense are over 30. The only exception being Henry Melton who is an unrestricted free agent this offseason.
Chicago could use young impact players on defense. There are plenty of prospects to choose from and sleepers all throughout the draft who could shine on Sundays.
Instead of creating a mock draft or highlight soon-to-be free agents who could make an impact on the Bears' roster, here are eight players Bears scouts' should be watching very closely in the upcoming NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, which begins on Feb. 20.
Being brutally honest, the Bears need offensive line help.
The hiring of former Saints' offensive line and interim head coach Aaron Kromer to be offensive coordinator is a perfect start. Kromer was able to transform players like fourth-round picks Jermon Bushrod and Jahri Evans and turn them into perennial Pro Bowlers. He had five linemen make 10 Pro Bowls throughout his four-season tenure with the Saints.
The Bears starting offensive line for the final game from tackle to tackle included J’Marcus Webb, James Brown, Roberto Garza, Gabe Carimi, and Jonathan Scott.
Garza is a middle of the pack center, who is capable of getting the job done, and will do better under the coaching of Kromer. Analysts still have some faith in former seventh-round pick Webb because of his youth and sheer size. Not to mention that Webb came into the league as a very raw tackle prospect.
The verdict is still out on former first-round pick tackle/guard Carimi, who has missed numerous games due to injury and underperforming. Brown was a rookie last year from Troy and started the final three games for Chicago. And rounding up the mediocre bunch is Scott. A seventh-year pro who played in 12 games for the Bears this season and started in seven. He was previously with Detroit, Buffalo and most recently Pittsburgh.
Drafting someone who can be plugged in day one at any position on the line is key.
That’s where Barrett Jones comes in. The 6’5", 311-pound senior can step in and play just about any position on the line, at least that’s what he showed at Alabama. Jones played guard his freshman and sophomore season, tackle his junior season, and stepped back inside to lead the line at center his senior season.
With Jones being able to play any position on the line, you can plug him in anywhere Kromer feels he will help protect Cutler and make running lanes for Forte the best. Putting him in at center means Garza can return to playing his original position of guard. Putting him at guard means you can kick Carimi back out to tackle, if Kromer believes Carimi can get the job done.
No matter which way you look at him, Barrett Jones is an impressive offensive line prospect. Although he will not be participating in combine workouts due to recently having foot surgery to repair ligaments, he is still invited and will be available to answer any questions teams may have.
He could very well be the Bears first-round pick at 20.
Being brutally honest, again, the Bears need to improve their tight end core.
Even though Kellen Davis was able to do a mediocre job in Lovie Smith and Mike Tice’s offense where the tight end wasn't featured, it is almost guaranteed that his play will not be enough under the offensive scheme of Marc Trestman.
The now sixth year pro from Michigan State Davis does not show the consistent hands or playmaking ability that is necessary from a tight end in today’s NFL offenses.
A very intriguing tight end prospect in this years draft is Zach Ertz out of Stanford. The 6’6", 252-pound junior tight end had a breakout season after taking over the starting role in place of Coby Fleener. Ertz caught 69 passes for 898 yards and 6 touchdowns in 14 games for the Cardinals last season.
To go along with being a great receiving threat, Ertz is a complete tight end that understands blocking schemes. He helped pave the way for Cardinal running back Stepfan Taylor to rush for 1530 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Look for Ertz to perform well in all categories at next weeks combine. Players out of Stanford are always well polished in the interviewing process, and Ertz should have no problem in receiving drills. He should run the forty-yard-dash around 4.6 seconds.
With Ertz expected to go within the first two rounds in April’s draft, the Bears might be looking to grab him at 20. If they decide to focus on a different need in the first round, Bears' coaches will be praying non-stop to the mighty football gods that Ertz falls to them at the 18th pick in the second round.
The Bears need someone who can flat out fly at the wide receiver position.
A deep threat was lacking in the offense last season, or consistent receiving threat other than Brandon Marshall for that matter. Marshall was targeted on an astounding 45 percent of Jay Cutler’s passes last season.
Alshon Jeffery showed signs of promise at the position but missed six games due to injury and was not able to get completely comfortable in the offense. It will be interesting to see how he improves in his second season with the Bears.
Devin Hester undoubtedly has the speed to be a deep threat. But in his years as a wide receiver project, has not shown consistency in catching the ball and route running. Plus, it's still up in the air whether Hester will be with the Bears next season hinting at requesting a trade from the team.
A solution to the lack of a consistent deep threat is Virginia West wide receiver Stedman Bailey.
The 5’10", 188-pound Bailey accounted for staggering numbers in his junior season with the Mountaineers, catching 114 passes for 1622 yards and 25 touchdowns.
The Biletnikoff award finalist reminds some people of a poor man’s Percy Harvin. He has very soft hands, and you rarely see double catches of the football. And just because he isn’t 6’3", doesn’t mean he isn’t a receiving threat in the red-zone. Bailey was one of Mountaineer quarterback Geno Smith’s favorite targets within 20 yards of the end-zone.
He shows great burst in and out of routes in film, along with the ability to get behind the defense consistently. One of Bailey's greatest assets is when he gets the ball he isn’t looking to run out of bounds. He has great playmaking ability in being able to take a screen all the way to the house. He should run somewhere in the sub 4.4 in the forty-yard dash.
Bailey should see his draft stock rise throughout the combine and pro-day process. His name is expected to be called anywhere throughout the second and fourth rounds. It would not be surprising if the Bears called his name in the fourth round to add a very explosive young receiver to their core.
The Bears could use a back up running back if they can get one for a late round pick.
Matt Forte has missed games the past two seasons due to injuries. Michael Bush is mostly used in goal-line and short yardage situations. And isn't a threat defenses worry about receiving out of the backfield.
Even though Khalil Bell and Armando Allen have helped win games, neither is explosive enough to step into the starting rotation and make an impact if Forte or Bush are unavailable. Neither is great catching out of the backfield either, which will most likely be demanded of all running backs in Marc Trestman’s coaching scheme.
This is where Oregon running back Kenjon Barner comes in. After LaMichael James got drafted into the NFL, it was Barner who made it feel like James had never left at all.
The 5’11 195-pound Duck ran for 1767 yards and 21 touchdowns his senior season after taking over the starting role. Averaging 6.4 yards every time he rushed the ball. Barner also caught 20 passes for 256 yards and two touchdowns. Averaging 12.8 a catch.
He is a very elusive and speedy back that can either be used in the backfield, or split wide in key situations. With reliable hands, he catches the ball great and rarely fumbles. He would bring another added dimension to the Bears offense.
Barner should test off the charts at the combine next week, and should run the forty around the 4.45 area.
Although having a monster senior season, Barner’s draft stock is not as high as he would have probably liked. He is projected to go somewhere between the fourth, fifth and sixth rounds. But that spot is perfect for the Bear’s if they do decide to grab another running back who can do it all on their offense.
Talk about an eventual replacement for Brian Urlacher has been going on in Chicago for years.
But you don’t need to reach for someone in the top of the draft like Alec Ogletree out of Georgia to have a young impact player you can mold to be the next leader on defense.
Look no further than the inside linebacker from North Carolina, Kevin Reddick.
The 6’1", 246-pound Reddick is a superior athlete on defense, who makes plays all over the field. He shows great recognition of plays, and is more than fast enough to pursuit the ball carrier for a tackle.
Reddick also shows great ability to get after the quarterback by being able to rack up 6.5 sacks. He has proven the ability needed to get off or around blockers and rush the passer. The senior also had 85 tackles, 18.5 of those going for losses.
His added pass rush means if the Bears decide to kick Lance Briggs inside, Reddick would play just as well at an outside linebacker position.
With no off the field issues, Reddick should test well in interview and linebacker drills throughout combine testing. He should run the forty around 4.55-4.65.
Even with the talent of a first rounder, Reddick is not viewed as one. He should be drafted in the later rounds for playing against a smaller school that is not to known for producing great linebackers. If the Bears decide they see an eventual replacement to Urlacher on the inside in Reddick, they should have no problem drafting him anywhere from rounds four, five or six.
Just imagine what the Bears could do with another pass rusher on the defensive line.
Chicago drafted highly touted Boise State defensive end Shea McClellin last year. But McClellin produced 14 tackles and two and a half sacks in 14 games.
A pass-rushing end that Chicago can get for cheap is Brandon Jenkins out of Florida State.
The 6’3 260-pound Jenkins suffered a Lisfranc injury to his left foot in the season opener in 2012, which is why his stock is down in this years draft. But Jenkins was able to rack up 21.5 sacks and 33.5 tackles for loss his sophomore and junior seasons for the Seminoles.
The former first-team All-ACC defensive end shows great burst off the ball and enough speed to get around the tackle and get to the quarterback.
He should test very well if all things go smoothly in the combine after healing from his foot injury. He should run the forty around 4.6-4.7.
Jenkins draft stock has dropped a lot from the first round grade he had after his injury his senior season. He also struggles at times with getting off the blocks. But that is nothing that the coaching of Mel Tucker cannot fix. He should be picked in the second day of the of the NFL Draft.
If you haven’t heard about Brandon Williams yet, trust me, you will after the combine.
The future of Henry Melton is up in the air right now after having a Pro Bowl season. It is unsure whether the Bears will be able to afford his price tag, as Melton becomes a free agent this offseason. Resigning him is a must, but if Chicago is unable to, they might want to take a hard look at Brandon Williams.
The Missouri Southern defensive tackle has been an immovable force throughout his collegiate career as a Lion.
Racking up 27 total sacks while playing at 6’3" and 325 is quite impressive. He is a big body that eats up a lot of space and shows an excellent motor and being able to get off the ball.
Some analysts and scouts say they see Williams making the kind of leap that Dontari Poe made in the 2012 draft by being picked 11th by Kansas City. But it is still yet to be seen since Poe made that jump after the combine.
He should run the forty around 5.1-5.2. And bench-pressing under 30 will be a disappointment for the stacked Williams.
Any way you look at it, Williams is currently being ranked around as a second day draft pick between the fifth and seventh rounds. But all this is before the Scouting Combine. It will be interesting to see if the Bears seem as high on the Missouri Southern prospect as other teams.