DT a priority for Bears even before Harris' departure

DT a priority for Bears even before Harris' departure
March 1, 2011, 3:23 pm
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Tuesday, March 1, 2011
9:05 a.m.

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

Observations in the wake of the Bears Tommie Harris release:

If there were not already tremendous need for them to score big in this years draft, the Bears now have just three of their No. 1 draft choices over the past decade still on the roster: Brian Urlacher (2000), Greg Olsen (2007) and Chris Williams (2008), and Urlacher was under the administration of the late Mark Hatley, Jerry Angelos successor.

They have just two from the drafts since Lovie Smith arrived.

Their chief target and standard for the NFC North, the Green Bay Packers, have that many from the 2009 draft alone: nose tackle B.J. Raji and linebacker Clay Matthews, plus tackle Bryan Bulaga from the 2010 draft.

And the footsteps coming up behind the Bears are from the Detroit Lions, who had that many in the 2010 draft alone as well: defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and running back Jahvid Best. Add oft-injured quarterback Matthew Stafford and the Lions have as many in the last two years as the Bears in the last 11. Cause for additional concern is that since 2006 the Lions also have hit on wide receiver Calvin Johnson, tackle Gosder Cherilus and tight end Brandon Pettigrew.

The Bears do get a slight pass (literally) when you factor in a significant score from the 2009 draft in which they gave up their No. 1 in the deal for Jay Cutler. And their de facto No. 1 in the 2010 draft was Julius Peppers but they had to commit 91 in free agency for him.

But the Bears also have just three of their second-round picks under Jerry Angelo at this point: Charles Tillman (2003), Devin Hester (2006) and Matt Forte (2008), plus Danieal Manning (2006) if he is re-signed once the free agency rules are established. The death of Gaines Adams left the Bears with nothing from their 2010 No. 2 as well as a deep hole in spirit.

The Packers have wideout Jordy Nelson, running back Brandon Jackson, guard Daryn Colledge, wide receiver Greg Jennings, safety Nick Collins, and defensive end Mike Neal from 2010. That is all of the ones they made since 2004...

A player in the spotlight for the Bears now becomes Henry Melton. The 2009 fourth-round pick missed his rookie season on IR and showed flashes last season, with 2.5 sacks. He has enough speed and quickness to have worked at defensive end and is expected to be given a longer look inside as the three-technique. But he has played at no bigger than 280 pounds and unless he has playmaker abilities in the mold of John Randle, the undersized Minnesota Vikings DT now in the Hall of Fame, the Bears are at risk of being overpowered at the point of attack.

Matt Toeaina showed enough for the Bears to sign him to an extension last year. But he was edged back out of the starting lineup by Harris for the final six games, including the postseason.

And Marcus Harrison will need a dramatic reversal of trend to make the roster in training camp after slumping from nine-game starter in 2009 to 11-game inactive last season.

The Bears may be able to manage with another shuffling on the offensive line, moving Chris Williams back to right tackle, JMarcus Webb to left, Frank Omiyale to left guard, and either re-signing center Olin Kreutz or getting more out of Edwin Williams as Kreutzs replacement.

But defensive tackle, already a draft priority with Harris, just became an even bigger one without him.

Harris speaks

In the long run, Harris did need a change of team and he knew it as this season played out. Its one of those bittersweet moments but its something that Ive been prepared for for a long time, Harris told host David Kaplan Thursday on Comcast SportsNets Chicago Tribune Live".

He never had the baggage issues of Tank Johnson, Cedric Benson, Cade McNown or other players whose time in Chicago was cut short for more reasons of perception and PR as well as performance.

But his relationship with Lovie Smith wasnt in a good place and hadnt been for a several years. Frankly Harris had some growing up to do and at the same time, he hadnt felt that Smith saw him as growing up when he did.

It was more like father and son, Harris said of their relationship.

And sometimes you just have to move out of the house. For both sides sakes.

John "Moon" Mullin is CSNChicago.com's Bears Insider, and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information.