Bears keep rebuilding
Chicago looking for best available player in first round
LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) -- Piece by piece, the Chicago Bears are filling the gaping holes left by several years of bad personnel decisions.
They picked up a franchise linebacker with last year's draft. Resurrected a game-breaking receiver from the scrap heap. They've added a couple of free agent defensive tackles here, a punter there.
So when personnel guru Mark Hatley and coach Dick Jauron huddle for the NFL draft Saturday, there won't be any 'must haves.'
"That keeps the pressure off of you from trying to reach too much in the draft," Hatley said. "If the guy's there that we feel good about and helps our needs, that's great. If the guy's there that is so much of a better player that happens not to be a need area, we're still going to take him.
"When you start reaching is really when you get in trouble in the draft."
That's not to say the Bears don't have needs. They were 5-11 last year and are picking eighth overall Saturday, so there are obviously problem areas.
But when it comes time to pick, they'll have the luxury of taking the best player available, not the best of what's left at "fill-in-a-position-here."
"It allows you to go in and draft with a little more flexibility than thinking, 'We have to address this issue,'" said Greg Blache, the Bears defensive coordinator. "The more you do to prepare yourself beforehand takes some of the pressure off."
Teams can get in trouble when they're committed to getting a certain player. Just look at Chicago two years ago. The Bears needed a quarterback of the future and ended up taking Cade McNown with the 12th pick. Or three years ago, when they needed a running back and took Curtis Enis with the fifth overall pick.
Enis is now with the Cleveland Browns and McNown might go into training camp as the third-string quarterback after a dismal sophomore season.
So who will the Bears get this weekend?
"We're really looking for a playmaker," said Bill Rees, the director of college scouting. "We're just going to have to wait and see what's there."
Well, it's a little more thought out than that. The Bears love running back LaDainian Tomlinson, the country's top rusher the past two seasons at TCU. But a few other teams want Tomlinson, too, and odds are he'll be long gone by the time the Bears pick.
So look for Chicago to take Mississippi running back Deuce McAllister; Wisconsin running back Michael Bennett; Michigan receiver David Terrell; N.C. State receiver Koren Robinson; or California defensive end Andre Carter.
While Jauron and new offensive coordinator John Shoop say they're confident James Allen is sturdy enough to carry the Bears' running game, they could use some depth at the position now that Enis is gone.
Though McAllister is big (6-foot-1 1/4 and 220 pounds) and speedy, he's been hobbled by injuries. Hatley called Bennett, a sprinter who qualified for the Olympics, "probably the fastest guy I've seen in football since Bo Jackson." But Bennett has really only played one year, backing up Ron Dayne his sophomore season and leaving Wisconsin after his junior year.
The Bears could also use some help at wide receiver. Though Marcus Robinson is one of the league's best young receivers and Bobby Engram is consistently solid, both missed parts of last season with injuries.
But as the top two receivers in the draft, Terrell and Robinson might be gone by No. 8.
The Bears also could add to their defense, which they upgraded in free agency with the addition of veteran tackles Ted Washington and Keith Traylor. Carter, who had a whopping 13 sacks last season, would be a big boost to the Bears' pass rush, a weakness the past few years.
"I don't know that there's a team in the NFL that can say they're set at pass rush. You can always use another guy to help you rush the passer," Blache said.
But Blache said he'll be content if the Bears make an offensive player their first-round pick, too.
"You know what else helps make you a great defense? When you have an offense that keeps you off the field," he said. "If we can improve our offense, that's going to help us defensively. Anything that improves the Bears and gets us to the playoffs, that's all that's important."
"I just want to get an impact player that can help us get over the hump," he said. "We're getting closer to what we need to do and we just need a guy that can get us over the hump, be productive and help us win some games."