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NFL Draft Preview: Bears need talent across board

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LAKE FOREST, Ill. — The Chicago Bears entered free agency desperate for talent suitable for almost every defensive position in a 3-4 scheme.

Considering the Bears never played the scheme in franchise history, it’s likely to take more than one free agency signing period and even one NFL Draft to supply talent needed to completely turn around a 5-11 team.

Still, they found enough at virtually every need position to leave only a few real problem areas, provided the free-agent acquisitions made were wiser under new general manager Ryan Pace than those made by former GM Phil Emery in his final free-agent signing period. As a result, the Bears enter the draft more able to use the seventh overall pick in Round 1 on the best available player.

Lacking any legitimate 3-4 linemen, the signing of former Ravens pass-rush linebacker Pernell McPhee to a five-year, $40 million deal ensured they’ll have at least one viable pass rusher from a standing position.

“First of all, he’s disruptive, he hits the quarterback a ton – I think he’s an ascending player,” Pace said. “He’s got length, gets off blocks, I think he’s a well-rounded player, too. I think he’s a productive pass rusher, but also a steady, consistent run defender.”

While there are still lingering doubts because former Ravens have occasionally fizzled after leaving Baltimore in free agency and because McPhee was only a situational backup behind Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil, Pace sees a player “ascending” and productive per number of snaps. And there’s also the fact he’s an outside rush linebacker at 274 pounds. That’s a player type they previously did not have on the roster.

“I don’t think it’s a scheme thing where he’s getting his production – he’s beating his man one on one,” Pace said. “What’s exciting about him is it might be a tackle, it might be a guard, it might be a center … he’s all over the place winning one-on-one matchups.”

Their other linebacker acquisitions were former Cardinal Sam Acho and former Buc Mason Foster, and both were for only one year. They’ve done this much the same way they added players on one-year deals under Emery, but in this case it’s two younger players rather than the aging players hoping to hang on or re-establish themselves. They’re not saying exactly where both figure to play, but Foster looks like an inside linebacker while Acho figures to be outside, with the ability to move inside at 6-foot-3, 250 pounds.

Even with these linebacker acquisitions and other pass rushers on the roster, they’re still in need of ways to get heat on the quarterback.

“I don’t think you can have enough good pass rushers,” Pace said. “And I think Seattle is an example of that. So, if the right pass rusher is there in the first round, we’ll take that.”

Signing end Jarvis Jenkins and controversial tackle Ray McDonald brought more strength to a line that had only one-gap, speedy types. The defense still has an obvious need for a young pass rusher, either out of the five-technique spot or as a stand-up rusher. They are still left with misfit players in Jared Allen and Lamarr Houston trying to fit in at linebacker, and with Willie Young recovering from a torn Achilles and in limbo.

A traditional wide body, space-eating nose tackle would also be a fit, although second-year tackle Ego Ferguson has the size to make that switch.

Safety remains a problem area and one they could look at in any of the first three rounds. The signing of 32-year-old veteran Antrel Rolle, after Chris Conte left, looks like a stopgap move, or at least one for depth. The lack of a young, fast, physical defender capable of patrolling the secondary or blitzing had been obvious the final four seasons they used a 4-3, and nothing has changed.

“I think it’s a difficult position to evaluate because instincts are such a high priority with the safety position,” Pace said. “So, instincts, ball skills, ability to tackle in space, those are things that jump out to me.

“But we want passionate football players, guys that are physical, passionate football players.”

The defensive signings have actually put the Bears in a position to look offensive in the draft, if the best player available fits one of several needs. Possibly the most glaring need would seem to be wide receiver.

Signing Eddie Royal after Brandon Marshall was traded to the Jets didn’t entirely fill the void. The Bears already were short on wide receivers after their top three and they lacked someone who could take the top off the secondary, so to speak.

“There’s guys, honestly, on our own roster, that we could see have ascending roles,” Pace said.

Marquess Wilson comes to mind, but remains largely unproven and lacks the world-class speed possessed by a few of the receivers likely to be available in Round 1.

“We’ll add talent to our entire roster, but yeah, we are looking at receivers,” Pace said.

2014 Record: 5-11, 4th in NFC North

First Draft Pick: #7 Overall

BEST FIT: WR Kevin White, West Virginia

While defense is where the Bears have the most pressing need after struggling at it for two years, the hole caused by Brandon Marshall’s departure looks big enough and their desire to upgrade wide receiver speed is great enough to make this selection a natural. General manager Ryan Pace comes from a Saints organization that valued wide receiver selections, but the ideal move for a new Bears GM desperate for young talent would be trading down if a partner exists that allows them to maintain a good first-round position.

TEAM NEEDS

1. Outside linebacker: There are plenty of candidates lined up for this spot now, but Pernell McPhee looks like the only legitimate standup pass-rush threat. Besides that, they’re counting on Sam Acho, or unlikely conversion candidates like Jared Allen and Lamarr Houston.

2. Wide receiver: Even before they traded away Brandon Marshall, the Bears lacked the speed to stretch secondaries and frequently found safeties cheating up last year. Marshall and Alshon Jeffery were the big, athletic types. Eddie Royal is about the closest they have to pure speed, and he’s never fully developed into that type of threat. Actually, Jay Cutler in Chicago hasn’t had a bona fide deep threat receiver since Johnny Knox’s career-ending injury.

3. Safety: Mike Brown hasn’t been a Bear since 2008 and that’s the last time they had one legitimate safety. Ryan Mundy is only average and Antrel Rolle a stopgap type. They need an athletic, physical type to lead the secondary.


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