By Dan Bernstein-
CBSChicago.com Senior Columnist
(CBS) We still know little about Phil Emery, but the guy knows how to buy himself the benefit of the doubt, and quickly.
He’s been little talk and all action since taking the job in January, using trades and the free-agent market to grab a star wide receiver, an overqualified backup quarterback, a running back capable of starting, special-teams help at multiple spots, veterans to bolster the offensive line, secondary and linebackers, and did so while holding firm – as he should — in the Matt Forte negotiations.
He may look like the guy who just sold you term life insurance and sound like your high-school driving instructor, but in three months he’s moved the Bears closer to winning the Super Bowl.
Now he’s on the cusp of the first draft he will oversee, holding picks at #19, #50 and #79 in the material rounds. And it will be nearly impossible to quibble with the selections, considering all that his roster still needs, any way you look at it.
Fans are conditioned to roar with disapproval when names are called, rock-solid certain that that’s the wrong position or the wrong guy, based on whatever handful of highlights they’ve seen or blurbs they’ve heard or read. And that will happen this year, too.
But if we really play it out, Emery could not be better positioned for a positive response.
Pass-rusher from the edge? Great idea. Complete the pincer attack with Julius Peppers. Stout nose-tackle or three-technique gap-ripper? Love it. The last time this defense really, truly clicked was when Tommie Harris was the main disruptor. Linebacker? Sure, since Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs are on the back end of their careers, and the strong side can be upgraded immediately.
How about offensive tackle? Anybody actually believe all the puffery from Halas Hall about J’Marcus Webb? I don’t either. With Gabe Carimi returning from injury, it could be like having two new, first-rounders as bookends. A rangy cornerback could be ideal, too, especially given the division’s opposing passing offenses.
Johnny Knox’s return from injury is questionable, so another receiver would be welcome. Wacko Mike Martz has been launched back to his home planet, the offense is being simplified and presumably, Jay Cutler’s talents maximized. By all means, give him something more to exploit.
So Emery will look reasonable by drafting anything other than a quarterback or running back with those three picks. You can differ with him on the actual player selected, but those arguments take time to resolve. We won’t even know how good the Bears themselves think the new class is until midway through training camp, when practice reps are allotted and depth-charts published.
The idea of “grading” a draft at first blush is silly, of course, but we can look to see if it makes sense as conceived and executed. There can be evidence of clear thinking and multi-range planning, even if we don’t know yet which players are actually any good.
From one perspective, Jerry Angelo’s failures have given Emery little margin for error. The missing resources in the pipeline have the Bears scrambling to cover the positions lacking younger, developing players. There are infrastructure-repairs to the roster going on, something Emery seems to be trying to do already via shrewd free-agent choices.
But for right now – this year, this weekend’s draft – Emery’s in the interesting situation of being largely inoculated against criticism, due to his freshness on the job, his sensible early activity, and his predecessor’s failures.
If you go shopping when you’re hungry, everything looks good.
Dan Bernstein joined the station as a reporter/anchor in 1995, and has been the co-host of Boers and Bernstein since 1999. Read more of Bernstein’s columns, or follow him on Twitter: @dan_bernstein.
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