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Bears dilemma is trying to form a stronger defensive line
NFL draft preview: Defensiv line
By Bob LeGere | Daily Herald Staff

Alabama quarterback John Parker Wilson .


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Published: 4/18/2009 8:44 AM

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The Bears' leading sacker last season was Alex Brown, who had just 6.

Clearly that's not good enough for a team whose style of defense relies on a strong pass rush.

The dilemma for the Bears in trying to address that problem in the upcoming NFL draft is that they have just two picks in the first 100 - No. 49 and 99.

That doesn't mean, however, they can't get a rookie capable of putting some pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

Utah's Paul Kruger is a unique player with pass-rush potential who could be available at No. 99. Kruger is a survivor who has dodged death twice. Even though Kruger is coming out early as a third-year sophomore, he'll be a 23-year-old rookie.

It's not that he has had trouble with academics; he redshirted in 2004 and then served a two-year Mormon mission, working with underprivileged children in Kansas and Missouri. He wasn't able to lift or do much conditioning at all during those two years, but he doesn't regret it.

"As far as advantage or disadvantage, physically it was most likely a disadvantage," he said. "You're not working out too much or staying in very good shape. But mentally I think it helped me a lot. It helped me grow up and mature in a lot of ways. In the long run, I'm really glad I went. It was an awesome experience and something I reflect upon a lot."

Several years earlier the 6-foot-4, 263-pound Kruger had his spleen and one kidney removed after being involved a car accident. He was 13 when it happened.

"We were four-wheeling up in the mountains," he said. "The jeep flipped, rolled over my stomach and it smashed my spleen and my kidney, so I lost both of those."

In January of 2008, Kruger nearly lost a lot more. While walking to the Sundance Film Festival in Salt Lake City with a brother, a sisters, a teammate and two friends, Kruger and his crew were attacked by 15-20 gang members. Kruger attempted to defuse the situation but wound up in critical condition after he was punched in the face with brass knuckles and stabbed twice in the abdomen.

He underwent four hours of surgery, which revealed a collapsed lung, nicked artery and chipped rib, after his bowel, intestines and stomach were temporarily removed to check for damage. He experienced internal bleeding for three weeks, lost 20 pounds and missed spring drills, including weight lifting.

"I learned a lot from that," Kruger said. "That life is short. Especially being a football player, you kind of think the world revolves around you. That mindset is definitely cut short once you experience something like that.

"You always want to watch out where you are, who you're around, what kind of setting you're in. I've learned how to avoid situations like that. Every day I think, 'You're lucky to be alive,' and I don't want to go through something like that again because I might not be here."

Kruger recovered in time to start all 13 games for the undefeated Utes last season. He had 61 tackles, 16.5 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks.

Some NFL teams will shy away from drafting him because he's missing a kidney, although he wears a pad on the football field to protect himself. But he has a frame capable of carrying another 20 pounds, and he intends to carry himself like the role model that he was for single-parent children during his church mission.

"I'm a reliable guy," he said. "I'm not a person who's going to have issues off the field. I'm very coachable. I have high goals for myself in the league. I plan on bettering a team wherever I go, and being a leader. I would like the coaches to know I'm a person who's going to bring good favor and good rapport to the team."

Bob LeGere breaks down the Bears' depth, draft history and top prospects in the April 25-26 NFL draft.

Bears depth chart: Starting defensive ends Alex Brown and Adewale Ogunleye aren't spectacular, but they're both solid two-way players who can rush the passer and play the run. Brown has never had more than 7 sacks, although Ogunleye had 9 as recently as 2007. Behind them, Mark Anderson's performance has plummeted for two straight seasons after a 12-sack rookie campaign in 2006. So, an elite pass rusher, even if he's only a situational player, would be welcomed.

Inside, Tommie Harris is an elite player when he's healthy, and Marcus Harrison showed promise last season as a rookie. He could beat out Dusty Dvoracek as the starter at nose tackle. Dvoracek started strong but tailed off, and then got hurt again. Veteran Anthony Adams provides solid depth and can play the nose or the 3 technique. Current Grade: B-minus.

Bears 10-year draft history at DL

2008 Marcus Harrison
Ervin Baldwin
2007 Dan Bazuin
2006 Dusty Dvoracek
Mark Anderson
2004 Tommie Harris
Tank Johnson
Claude Harriott
2003 Michael Haynes
Ian Scott
Tron LaFavor
2002 Alex Brown
2001 Karon Riley
2000 James Cotton
1999 Russell Davis

Best pick: Alex Brown/Tommie Harris

Worst pick: Michael Haynes

Rating the top DLs

LeGere's draft grade for the 2009 DLs: C-plus. There appears to be a lot of first-round talent at tackle and end, but there are character concerns about several of the top players. Pass rushers are always overvalued at draft time, which means many of the top ones wind up being boom-or-bust type picks who can make your draft or break your heart. This group is significantly stronger if some of the OLB/DE players wind up playing on the line in the NFL.

**Aaron Maybin Penn State 6-4⅛ 250 4.74 Elite pass rusher; must mature physically to be every-down player
B.J. Raji Boston College 6-1½ 337 5.15 Top NT, disruptive and stout vs. run but motor runs hot and cold
*Everette BrownFlorida State 6-1½ 256 4.67 Might work best as 3-4 rush LB; could be impact rusher in 4-3
Tyson JacksonLSU 6-4⅛ 296 4.97 Experienced. Big enough to play DE in 3-4 and could play LE in 4-3
Peria JerryMississippi 6-1¾ 299 4.98 Quick, disruptive 3 technique; needs to work hard and stay healthy
Robert Ayers Tennessee 6-3⅛ 272 4.82 Great senior season; may be one of most overrated players in draft
Michael JohnsonGeorgia Tech 6-67⅞ 266 4.73 May never be more than situational pass rusher but could be great
Evander Hood Missouri 6-2⅞ 300 4.87 Works out better than he plays; disruptive force in one-gap scheme
Ron BraceBoston College 6-3 330 5.55 Stout run-stuffer who can occupy two blockers but lacks agility
Fili Moala USC 6-4 305 5.12 Has the ability to play inside or outside if he's willing to work at it

*Junior; **third-year sophomore