Bears general manager Phil Emery said on Thursday that he and his staff are arriving at a cluster of six players they would take with their No. 14 pick of the first-round. He also said that he would be happy if two of the six were still available at 14, “ecstatic” if three were.
Meaning: Emery and the Bears are aiming very high in a draft marked with deeper talent on offense, where the Bears are not shopping except by accident.
Presumably one of the six is not South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, not because of a low grade obviously, but because Clowney is expected to be the first player announced by commissioner Roger Goodell next Thursday.
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Of the three or four Emery does not expect to be available, Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald falls in the group. “I wouldn’t count on that one,” Emery said, with a slight smile.
The Bears made upgrades on the defensive line the top priority throughout the offseason. What they succeeded in doing was re-signing Jeremiah Ratliff and adding Lamarr Houston, the former the projected starting three-technique, the latter with the ability to move inside to tackle as a pass rusher.
But teams do not pass up potential stars, particularly on the defensive line.
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“To myself and to our staff, the defensive line has more impact overall in the defense than any single position, because that’s where it all starts,” Emery said. “That’s where it starts in terms of stopping the run and that’s where it starts in terms of rushing the passer.” Which is what Donald does best.
As many as half of the six are believed to be safeties, the one position group not addressed this offseason with a move bringing in or re-signing a certain starter.
The safety situation “is wide open,” Emery said. “That’s exactly what I told every one of [players signed] when they were signed, this is a wide-open competition, best player wins.”
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At least two of the Bears’ elite six are safeties Ha Ha Clinton-Dix from Alabama and Calvin Pryor, the Louisville strong safety widely rated as the No. 1 safety in the draft. The Bears also brought in Washington State strong safety Deone Bucannon, a physical player with six interceptions in 2013, 211 pounds and with 4.49-sec. time in his 40. Bucannon does not carry the grade of Clinton-Dix or Pryor but is unlikely to last until pick No. 51, the Bears’ selection in round two.
The Bears are open to the idea of converting a college cornerback with size to safety. That raises the prospect of Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert standing among the Bears’ six, at 6-feet, 202 pounds and 4.37 speed – faster and as big weight-wise as both Chris Conte and Major Wright. Charles Tillman is coming off injuries and is on a one-year contract at cornerback opposite Tim Jennings.
Virginia Tech cornerback Kyle Fuller also made a Halas Hall visit and at 6-feet, 190 pounds with 4.49 speed, rates as a sixth strong prospect at No. 14 using Emery’s criteria.
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“I would say in the draft, yes, you want to fill what your perceived needs are,” Emery said, “but you also want to fill what could be needs down the road… .
“I’m not going to say it’s going to be all defensive picks but the picks that we do make on defense are obviously ones we feel can help us win this fall and in the future.”