Mullin's 2011 draft capsules: Defensive line

Mullin's 2011 draft capsules: Defensive line

Wednesday, April 27, 2011
Posted: 10:39 p.m.

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

Fifth in a series

The Bears defensive line got two major talent infusions in 2010. One was the signing of Julius Peppers to the largest contract in franchise history. The second was the emergence of Israel Idonije, who was allowed to settle in at defensive end and produced eight sacks, matching his total for the first six years of his career.

But the pass rush was not at the level that coach Lovie Smith and coordinator Rod Marinelli wanted and something will be done. The question is whether or not the Bears can afford to wait for some form of free agency or do they need to address needs in the draft.
The Bears

Peppers and Idonije have the edges secured and 2010 fourth-rounder Corey Wootton is first-alternate after a quiet rookie season. There is always room for another edge rusher, and Idonije and Peppers are both 30-plus, but the Bears can win with their current ends.

Tackle is another matter. Tommie Harris Chicago career effectively ended several years ago and ended officially this offseason with his release. Henry Melton was a bright light that came on throughout the year, he is now above 290 pounds, and coaches believe he can be Harris replacement at the three-technique.

Anthony Adams in an unrestricted free agent but expected back once a signing period opens, and 2008 third-rounder Marcus Harrison is getting a last chance inside. Matt Toeaina played well enough to take Harris job and receive a contract extension but not well enough to project as more than quality depth.
Need: Green Bays Cullen Jenkins is expected to be targeted when free agency opens and he would be another 30-something force at tackle. But defensive tackle could well be the Bears first choice in the draft as GM Jerry Angelo is adamant about keeping a strength strong.

The 2011 draft

The draft class is considered one of the best in recent memory on the defensive linemen, so the Bears will have options at No. 29 if they elect to address that side of the ball sooner rather than later.

The trouble for the Bears is that the defensive line depth is at end rather than tackle, and the number of potentially elite interior players is small. What that means is that if the Bears do not move on one of the top few, their chances of finding a true Tommie Harris-type diminish significantly. Temples Muhammed Wilkerson had 9.5 sacks last season and may be the type of player the Bears can find after the first round.

Ends and at least two tackles, probably three, will come off the board early and probably before the Bears are within reach.

The Best Bets:

(Because the Bears emphasis is on defensive tackles, ends are not included in this Neither are Marcell Dareus from Alabama, Nick Fairley from Auburn, considered virtual locks to go within the first 10-15 picks, well before the Bear select.)

1. Corey Liuget, Illinois The Bears would love the draft to fall such that this interior disruptor came within range for them. Its unlikely but Liuget projects as an immediate starter in the Tommie Harris mold.

2. Marvin Austin, North Carolina Austin has moved up on most draft boards as teams look past his 010 suspension for contact with an agent. He has first-round talent and is another fit at the three-technique if he decides to play every down.

3. Stephen Paea, Oregon State Among the strongest DL in this draft and a reasonably productive inside force (6 sacks, 10 TFL in 010).

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.

Fast Break Morning Update: White Sox, Cubs both win; Bears finish draft

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View from the Moon: Rift among Bears brass? Not based on what Ryan Pace, John Fox showed

View from the Moon: Rift among Bears brass? Not based on what Ryan Pace, John Fox showed

Trying to sort through some Halas Hall draft mysteries…. well, one big one, anyway.

Now that it’s all done: Were GM Ryan Pace and the personnel staff really in phase with John Fox and the coaching staff? Because that really is the franchise-grade question and one with the broadest possible ramifications.

The gut feeling is, yes. That’s really based just on watching the two of them together Saturday during the post-draft debriefing. If there was tension, frustration or a fracture in the relationship, the two were as good at masking it as they were concealing their draft plans.

Which they could be. Maybe reading John Fox’s face is no easier than Jay Cutler’s. They wouldn’t be the first to put up a fraud façade or public face.

But regardless of any taffy pulls or disagreements that may have played out during the draft, the jokes, asides and other responses to queries suggested otherwise. It wasn’t just what they said; it was how they said it.

“How would you grade your draft?” the pair was asked.

“I’ll tell you in three years,” Pace said.

“I’m sure we’ll get some ‘input,” Fox said, laughing, for a media corps that will provide more than a little of that “input.”

This was their third draft together. Fox has worked with myriad personnel guys and draft rooms, so how has Pace changed? Gotten bossier?

“He’s been the same guy,” Fox said. “We talk about that in this building, whether that be players, coaches or personnel people. I think he has done a terrific job and he’s got great people skills. You listen, but then you have to go with your gut, too… . After three years, every year you have convictions on players and everyone kind of keeps track of that. We have been in this spot three straight years and we’ve even been in this spot with high picks. I think he’s done a terrific job.”

Beneath all of the analyses of whether Mitch Trubisky is really the franchise quarterback the Bears have sought since Jim McMahon couldn’t stay healthy 30 years ago, or whether lesser-fete’d college programs (Ashland, Kutztown, North Carolina A&T) will produced NFL-grade talent for the Bears, lurks the deeper and arguably more significant assessment of what the 2017 draft means for the futures of Pace and Fox, jointly and individually.

The vulnerabilities are obvious; a combined 9-23 record in their two Bears seasons puts a lot of jobs over a “vulnerable” trap door in an organization that has never retained a coach after three straight losing seasons – even if the last thing Chairman George McCaskey wants on his watch is a situation in such steep decline that it even continues to lose even after a regime change, as it did after three-season-losers Jim Dooley, Abe Gibron and Dave Wannstedt.

Irrespective of specific 2017 draft choices, the surest course toward cataclysm would be a divide between coach and GM, which some want to believe has begun, fueled if by nothing else but Chris Mortensen’s report Thursday that Fox only found out about the decision to pursue and make the Trubisky deal a short time before Pace made it. Mort walked back from the claim, and Pace ripped it as “so false” later on Friday.

Pace was adamant that he and Fox were in lock step on the move for a quarterback who ideally doesn’t see the field a lot this season. As a first-rounder the Bears do have him for as much as five years if they elect to pick up the option for the fifth year of his rookie contract.

Would Fox have wanted a defensive force? Probably. But he went 3-13 last season in no small part because he had to use three different quarterbacks and two of them were bad.

“I think the quarterback position was obviously a need position as well,” Fox said. “That became pretty clear as we went out in free agency and got Mike Glennon. I think you're always trying to add depth at every position.

“Unlike what some people think, quarterback is key, too. If you look back at a year ago, we went through three quarterbacks, due to injuries, so I think building depth is really important. I think Mitch is a quality, quality player. I think if you did research and we need to do that, I'm going to say that a lot of people had him ranked very high, and us no different.”

[MORE BEARS DRAFT COVERAGE: Trust the tape: Bears feel confident in Division II draft picks Adam Shaheen, Jordan Morgan]

One cynical view making some rounds is that Pace has set Fox up to fail specifically by not giving him defensive help that would translate into win-now prospects for a coach who obviously needs to. But that doesn’t quite square somehow.

Pace and the draft powers were promising Fox a real shot at something even better than a quarterback. All they needed was for Cleveland to opt for Trubisky, which was in discussion over in Ohio until not long before the draft. Then the Bears, who’d talked over scenarios with San Francisco GM John Lynch over recent weeks, would have made that trade, but for Myles Garrett.

The Bears at No. 3 had tabbed three possible options for themselves, but with every intention of trading up unless the 49ers were blown away by a trade offer the Bears couldn’t match.

“I would say there were probably two of the three that we’d be willing to go up for,” Pace said, with a sly smile but without naming Garrett.

Which makes it reasonable to conclude that Fox knew the GM would get him the projected best edge rusher in the draft, unless their projected best quarterback was there. Which is what happened.

“We knew [Trubisky], obviously, was our top quarterback,” Pace said. “At one point in time – you don’t know what to believe – but up until the last second, there was speculation that Mitch could go 1. So then there’s even talks: ‘Wow, if he goes 1, and Myles goes to 2, what are we going to do?’

“And so all these scenarios are being played out. And there’s just so many of them. And we talk them all out. But the idea of ‘If Mitch is there at 2, and it’s realistic for us to go get him,’ that was something we discussed.”

The Bears were expected to prioritize the secondary, even as high as LSU’s Jamal Adams in some first-round scenarios. They didn’t get draft help for one of the poorest takeaway secondaries in NFL history until well into the fourth round. Was Pace undercutting his defense-based head coach and a staff boasting some of the top mentors in their areas?

Really?

Pace guaranteed $20 million of Bears money to cornerbacks Prince Amukamara ($7 million) and Marcus Cooper ($8 million) and safety Quintin Demps ($5 million). To have then used a high pick for a defensive back could conceivably have had McCaskey calling over and asking just exactly how Pace figured he needed to give his coaches a viable secondary. In the final analysis, Pace’s view of upgrading the secondary was more than draft-centric.

“We added a lot in free agency, so that was the plan,” Pace said. “We signed three corners in free agency and a safety and now we just drafted a safety. Part of our free agency plan was to attack the secondary and we accomplished it there. And that kind of allowed us to draft best player available when this moment came.”

If Fox had a problem with any of that, it was not apparent Saturday night after their third draft together.