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Columnist
Bears would prefer offensive tackle, but defensive linemen are available
By Bob LeGere | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 2/19/2008 12:09 AM

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When this year's NFL scouting combine gets under way Wednesday at Indianapolis' RCA Dome, the Bears' biggest concern will be determining which of the biggest players are the best at the annual meat market.

Job One this off-season is an upgrade on the offensive line, especially at tackle, and fortunately for the Bears, there are six in this draft who get first-round grades from scouts.

But GM Jerry Angelo has shown little desire to address that area in his six seasons of running the Bears' draft. Not once in the last five years has Angelo selected an offensive linemen in the first three rounds, and he's taken just one in the first four rounds since 2003 -- Boston College guard Josh Beekman last year.

It's not that Angelo doesn't like big guys, it's just that, in the early rounds, he's been much more inclined to take one on the other side of the ball. In his last five drafts, Angelo has taken two defensive linemen in the first round, two in the second and another in the third.

This year, he'll at least be tempted to look at offense first.

Michigan's Jake Long, the unanimous top offensive lineman available, will be long gone by the time the Bears pick at No. 14, and Boise State's Ryan Clady is also expected to be off the board by then. But if the Bears have their pick of Vanderbilt's Chris Williams or Pitt's Jeff Otah, they could come away with a 10-year fixture at left tackle.

USC's Sam Baker and Boston College's Gosder Cherilus are also solid possibilities who might last until the end of the first round if the Bears trade down. But Cherilus' ability to play the more-important left side is questionable, and Baker had a disappointing senior season while battling injuries.

"Otah could be there for the Bears," according to an NFL draft/personnel expert, "but you can't count on it. There will be a run on offensive tackles at some point. If Otah's gone, then they're probably looking at Chris Williams, unless they go with a defensive tackle."

There are even more first-round prospects on the defensive line than the offensive line, although most of them are ends. But there are at least three tackles who might give the Bears an exceptional interior presence when teamed with three-time Pro Bowler Tommie Harris.

The Bears thought they had the interior defensive line well stocked last season. Nose tackle Dusty Dvoracek, a third-round pick in 2006 who missed his rookie season with a foot injury, showed great promise last preseason.

To be sure the D-line was deep enough, the Bears also traded for veteran Darwin Walker during training camp, even though they had already signed another solid veteran, Anthony Adams, as an unrestricted free agent.

But Dvoracek suffered a season-ending knee injury in the first game, and Walker, who was released Monday, was ineffective for most of the season while he battled nagging injuries.

Adams played well for much of the season, but he also fell victim to the injury epidemic that thwarted the interior of the line.

The Bears' problem on draft day, if they want to add an impact player at defensive tackle, is that the top two players, LSU's Glenn Dorsey and USC's Sedrick Ellis, will already be spoken for.

The consensus No. 3 defensive tackle, North Carolina's Kentwan Balmer, probably isn't worthy of being chosen until the end of the round because he didn't make much of an impact until his senior season, partly because of a questionable work ethic.

So, offensive tackle probably is the more likely choice for the Bears, unless there is an early run on that position, which is possible considering there are several teams ahead of them that could use help protecting a (right-handed) quarterback's blind side.

While Otah has great athleticism to go with exceptional size (6-feet-6, 339 pounds), Williams also has above-average athleticism and good size (6-6, 318) with room to grow on a sizable frame.

"The Bears like Williams," the NFL source said. "He's played left tackle (the past two seasons), he's one of the most natural athletes at the position, and he's smart (31 Wonderlic score)."

The Bears will try to determine this week if Williams is a smart choice for them.