Which position is the clear draft priority for Bears at No. 14?

Which position is the clear draft priority for Bears at No. 14?
February 27, 2014, 6:30 pm
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Through the season, “3 & Out” was a regular feature for me with Comcast Sportsnet Chicago/CSNChicago.com mates Chris Boden, Jen Lada and Kip Lewis, with the occasional David Kaplan talk-back thrown in. (That was only natural, since Kap is all about back-talk.)

So with the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine behind us, and free agency (Mar. 11) and the draft (May 8) ahead of us, this is the time for a “3 & Out” on the short-term Bears outlook:

Is there one position on this Bears defense that makes it the clear priority at No. 14?

Either defensive end or tackle, but it has to be a pass rusher. Period. The defensive line in general needs rebuilding, and unless that is taken care of, 2014 projects to be a holding action at best. If the line isn’t fixed, Chris Conte or whoever is at safety will be back in the role of “linebacker” dealing with Reggie Bush, Brandon Jacobs or whatever opposing running back needs a 100-yard game that week.

[MORE: Can a strong draft fix Bears' entire defense in one year?]

The Bears have a need at safety; if age-22 Ronnie Lott is there at 14, there’s your guy. They have a need at cornerback; if age-22 Deion Sanders is there, easy call. And with what the Bears invested at linebacker over the past two drafts (a 1, 2 and 4, plus the occasional D.J. Williams), this is not a crisis position group, the growing pains of Shea McClellin, Jon Bostic and Khaseem Greene notwithstanding.

But George Young, architect of the great New York Giants teams of the 1980s-90s, once dubbed the first 15 picks of a draft, “The Dance of the Elephants,” and he believed that you won with bigger people because a quick, big player generally beats a quick, smaller player. Besides, the big players last longer.

[RELATED: Can the Bears count on free agency for answers on defense?]

General manager Phil Emery has some similar thoughts, certainly along the defensive line: “I’ll just say that my personal preference is bigger is always better as long as you’re not sacrificing athleticism and speed. This is a fast game, but it’s a very physically tough, impactful game and you need bigger bodies over time to win those matchups.”

And the Bears are staying as a single-gap defensive front. That means defensive linemen who are disruptors, not just pluggers.