During his short tenure so far as Chicago Bears general manager, Phil Emery has made all the right moves. His first splash, as free agency commenced, made serious waves throughout the league by acquiring 3-time Pro Bowl receiver Brandon Marshall for two third-round picks. This reunited Jay Cutler with his guy whom he hooked up with for 206 receptions, 2,590 yards, and 13 TDs in their last two years together in Denver. Emery upgraded the backup Quarterback position immensely by signing former Raiders and Redskins starter Jason Campbell and boosted the running game’s dynamic adding Michael Bush. The acquisitions of WR/KR Eric Weems, WR Devin Thomas, and linebackers Geno Hayes and Blake Costanzo are also worthy moves of note for not just adding depth to their respected positions but also being key to an already feared special-teams squad. The Bears re-signed or added 15 players since free agency opened, but Emery’s grade as general manager for this offseason is still incomplete.
Prior to being hired to his current job title, Emery was the college scouting director to the Kansas City Chiefs. His boss and general manager in Kansas City was former New England Patriots architect Scott Pioli. When Emery was named a finalist for the Bears job, Pioli gave his scouting director a ringing endorsement. “The things that stand out are his work ethic, his work habits, how detailed he is, and how meticulous he is,” Pioli told Sean Jensen of the Sun-Times. “He’s a very good teacher, and he’s a very good listener…I think those things are valuable in that position. I also feel that he’s a good evaluator of talent.” Emery was described by many as a “grinder” and a key voice on draft days. Pioli also added about Emery, “You only find out if you’re ready when you get into it. I do believe he’s ready. He’s a strong decision-maker.” Some of the notable selections in Kansas City with Emery in the draft room include safety Eric Berry (first round, 2010), CB/returner Javier Arenas (second round, 2010), tight end Tony Moeaki (third round, 2010) and linebacker Justin Houston (third round, 2011). Those attributes noted by Pioli will be put to the test this weekend starting with the 19th pick in the first round tonight.
The Bears are in a fortunate position this year which they haven’t experienced in a long time having picks in every round for the draft. They will have the 19th, 50th, and 79th overall picks that should translate to either impact or strong contributing players for the upcoming season. In my opinion, Emery’s moves have put the team in a comfortable situation to draft the best available players as they fall. That doesn’t mean the Bears don’t have needs. They have PLENTY of needs. But the Bears aren’t stressing over being committed to drafting one position to upgrade the roster instantly. In his press conference this past Monday, Emery told reporters that he and his staff are targeting “a core of about players” with the 19th overall pick. ''We can draft into a perceived strength so that we make sure we get the player that's going to help us win a championship the quickest way possible. Or we can go and fill maybe what we perceive as a need. So it has given us great flexibility.''
So what are these “perceived” needs? From an outsider’s perspective there are a lot, and some more glaring than others. The first step is to identify those needs and the next would be to prioritize them. I would like to take this time to do both since it is still a very good mystery as to who Phil Emery will select will select tonight.
Defensive End – In mock drafts all over, defensive end continues to be a position of emphasis for the Bears and rightfully so. Despite having one of the NFL’s most notorious pass rushers in Julius Peppers putting his hand down one side of the line of scrimmage, the Bears ranked just 19th in a four-way tie for sacks with the Falcons, Saints, and Seahawks. After a breakout 2010 season attacking the quarterback for converted defensive end, the Bears watched Israel Idonije’s sack totals drop from 8 to 5 last year. The expectation was that whoever gets in their stance on the opposite end of Peppers, they should feast on the opportunity presented while he is being double and triple teamed by half the offensive line. An effective pass rusher doesn’t just bring the quarterback down, but also forces hurried bad passes and can hopefully knock some down. The Bears defense ranked 28th in passing yards allowed and 17th in opponents completion percentage. Luckily there seems to be a lot of depth in the defensive end prospect crop, especially in those projected to be drafted in the Bears’ range. (Players to Watch: Quentin Coples - North Carolina, Whitney Mercilus - Illinois, and Nick Perry - USC)
Offensive Tackle – Last season, Bears quarterbacks desperately needed protection. J’Marcus Webb was not the answer. He and the rest of the rotating offensive line gave up the 5th most sacks in the league. While the Bears will be returning 1st round offensive line picks Gabe Carimi and Chris Williams, they are still weak on the left size. Webb proved to be extremely soft against opposing pass rushers and undisciplined on the snap count ranking 4th in the NFL in penalties, many of which being false starts. As much of a red flag as this may sound, the departure of Mike Martz should count as an improvement. No more seven-step-drops! Newly promoted Offensive Coordinator Mike Tice has emphasized the importance of keeping Cutler upright and is confident his schemes will be much more “O-line” friendly. If Tice wants to be even more confident in his offensive line, it would be nice to have a dependable and polished left tackle to anchor it. (Players to Watch: Mike Adams - Ohio State, Bobby Massie – Ole Miss, Jonathan Martin – Stanford)
Defensive Back (CB/S) – I’ve already listed some of the Bears’ passing defense woes. However it should be noted that the key to Lovie Smith’s Tampa 2 defense is not generally focused on preventing yards and completionsbut rather takeaways and keeping teams out of the end-zone. The Bears still allowed 21.3 points per game which was 14th in the NFL and were 13th in allowing passing touchdowns; still middle of the pack. And while I previously accredited the pass defense issues to the defensive line, obvious blame can go to the secondary. Pro bowl cornerback Charles Tillman was the only player making significant plays among the defensive backs while Tim Jennings was dropping easy picks, Zach Bowman was getting burned for touchdowns, and safeties continued to play out of position and get their tackles broken. If a difference maker at defensive back is available in the first two rounds, the Bears would not be wrong to take one. (Players to Watch: CB Stephon Gilmore – South Carolina, CB Dre Kirkpatrick – Alabama, safety Mark Barron – Alabama, safety Harrison Smith, Notre Dame)
Wide Receiver – While the Bears do have Marshall, have added Weems and Thomas, and still have Bennett and Hester, they still need another impact wide receiver. I have no doubt that Cutler to Marshall will be a dangerous combination. But who among the rest of the receiving core will step up when teams plan to blanket Marshall? Johnny Knox’s return after his dangerous back injury is still very questionable. When Cutler went down for the season, where was Earl Bennett? And Hester can be a fantastic down field threat, but how many times have we seen that game-breaking pass just go right through his hands? I’m not suggesting the Bears should spend their 1st round pick on a wide receiver. There is a lot talent outside of the position to be had at the #19 pick. So unless Notre Dame’s Michael Floyd miraculously falls , the second round would be perfect to select a player from this class that is very deep at the position. (Players to Watch: Rueben Randle – LSU, Brian Quick – Appalachian State, Alshon Jeffery – South Carolina, Mohamed Sanu – Rutgers)
Other positions that should be considered are defensive tackle, tight-end, and continued depth at linebacker. Lance Briggs and Brian Urlacher aren’t getting any younger and the possible heirs to their valued positions could be considered. We are going to learn a lot about Emery tonight. Does he want to trade up or down? Are there veterans to be acquired with picks during the draft? Who can he find in the later rounds? When he was hired, we didn’t know how Emery would approach free agency. By many accounts, he exceeded in that regard. Before we pat him on the back for this offseason though, he is going to have to get it done in the draft…which is what he was brought in to do.
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