INDIANAPOLIS - Without a first- or second-round pick this year, the Bears can't realistically expect the kind of improvement through the NFL Draft that will get them to the playoffs in 2010 and prevent a thorough house-cleaning at Halas Hall that a fourth straight non-playoff season will produce.
They can, however, expect more from their first four draft picks of 2009, who contributed next to nothing as rookies last year.
Fifth-round wide receiver Johnny Knox did more to help the Bears last season than the four players drafted ahead of him.
Third-round picks Jarron Gilbert and Juaquin Iglesias and fourth-rounders Henry Melton and D.J. Moore were essentially red-shirted last season, and the hope is that each will have a measureable impact after a year in the system. That would be especially helpful in a year in which the Bears don't have a draft choice until the 76th pick.
Gilbert and Melton are being counted on to bolster a defensive line that may lose Adewale Ogunleye to free agency after the unfortunate death last month of Gaines Adams, who could have been his successor.
"It hurts us," coach Lovie Smith said. "Of course, it's tragic to lose a guy like Gaines, forgetting the football part of it. For our ball club, the plan was for Gaines to have a bigger role this coming season. We are one defensive lineman down. It's as simple as that. Our philosophy in general is you can never have too many defensive linemen, especially outside pass rushers. That has affected us. We realize what we need to do."
Much more than last season, Gilbert and Melton need to be a bigger part of the program. Gilbert played very briefly in four games and Melton was on injured reserve all season with a knee injury. Last year's defensive line coach Rod Marinelli is now the defensive coordinator, and he expects to see more than potential from that pair.
"Rod liked what he saw (of Melton) in training camp prior to his injury," Smith said. "Gilbert, when we drafted him, it was to play inside, (but) he's got the frame to play end. We saw him as a pass rusher, (based on) what he did in college from the inside."
Gilbert had 9½ sacks and 22 tackles for loss in his final season at San Jose State after switching from end to tackle.
Iglesias, who caught 142 passes for 2,057 yards in his final two seasons at Oklahoma, got lost in the Bears' shuffle at wide receiver and didn't play until the final game of the season. Undersized cornerback Moore saw just a handful of snaps in three cameo appearances.
"Some of the players who didn't play last year, we didn't get a chance to see," Smith said. "None of those players really contributed a lot - some of them not at all. But we are excited about them."