By Steve Silverman-
(CBS) The Chicago Bears may end up regretting that they did not select any offensive linemen on any of the three days in the NFL Draft.
Ignoring the offensive line is almost always a mistake for a team that has been as challenged as the Bears when it comes to protecting the quarterback. Even strong teams will try to add depth and players to develop at this position because the game is based on productive quarterbacks who can stay on their feet and find receivers open downfield. You can’t do it without top-of-the-line blocking.
Lovie Smith tried to explain his team’s attitudes towards the offensive line during the weekend.
“I know there have been a lot of questions about the offensive line and what we are going to do with it,” Smith said. “We like our offensive line. We have Chris Williams getting back out on the football field and Gabe Carimi coming back. We feel like we’re adding two more offensive linemen.”
Good luck there. Williams might be an above-average blocker at best if he can stay in the lineup. Carimi has had the pedigree since he was a No. 1 draft pick in 2011, but he hasn’t proven anything at the pro level.
While the selection of Boise State’s Shea McClellin seems to have all the overtones of a classic power struggle between Smith and Phil Emery – he is a 3-4 player in Smith’s 4-3 defense — some of the other draft picks appear to have the potential to help the team quite a bit. Second-round pick Alshon Jeffery from South Carolina may be good enough to be the Bears’ second-best receiver this season. That’s vital because if Jeffery can take a little pressure of Brandon Marshall, they will have a much better chance of becoming the explosive offensive team that would make them true contenders. Jeffery is big enough and strong enough at 6-2 7/8 and 222 pounds to get away from the jam. While he will need to get used to the physical play along the line of scrimmage, he has a sensational pair of hands. Jeffery is not going to drop the ball if he can reach it.
Third-round pick Brandon Hardin seemed like a question mark because he missed the 2011 season with a shoulder injury. However, this Oregon State safety is a tackling machine when he is healthy. He has the kind of athletic ability that may allow him to get the job done in pass coverage. However, he has never shown the ability to make plays on the ball and come up with the interception. That’s not a good thing when you are an NFL safety. This may be an area that he can develop in practice. If he can’t, he seems to be a depth player.
Fourth-round pick Evan Rodriguez should fit in the offensive gameplan for Mike Tice and Jay Cutler. Rodriguez is somewhat thin for the tight end position at 244 pounds, but the former Temple Owl knows how to get open. Rodriguez won’t be the primary receiver very often, but he should be able to get open against linebackers or safeties and give Cutler an alternative target.
Isaiah Frey of Nevada is a bit of a wild-card as a sixth-round choice. He’s not a physical corner at 5-11 and 188, but he has closing speed that allows him to make plays on the ball. He broke up 21 passes last year and also had five interceptions. He may be somewhat overmatched at the pro level.
Texas Christian’s Greg McCoy also has the kind of speed that the Bears have made a priority in the early stages of the Emery regime. Look for him to make a run at a kick returner position and he should also compete for playing time at the cornerback spot. However, at 5-10 and 181 pounds, McCoy may struggle to bring down receivers after the catch. McCoy had two kickoff returns for touchdowns last year.
The Bears may have helped themselves by signing free-agent offensive tackle James Brown out of Troy. Brown is strong and powerful at 6-3 ½ and 309 pounds, but his inconsistent technique kept him from getting drafted. Some of the top draft publications viewed Brown as a third- or fourth-round selection, so don’t be surprised if Brown has a strong showing in camp and makes the team. Brown is a powerful man who has an outstanding work ethic. With just a bit of improvement, he will have an opportunity to be a depth player on the offensive line.
Keep your eye on linebacker Adrien Cole in training camp. Cole was a solid player out of Louisiana Tech and could have been drafted, but his lack of height (5-11) and quickness turned off a lot of teams. However, he is built like a fire hydrant and he can tackle. He will not get outworked in training camp and if he can get off to a decent start, he could have an outside shot at sticking around.
Steve Silverman is an award-winning writer, covering sports since 1980. Silverman was with Pro Football Weekly for 10 years and his byline has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Playboy, NFL.com and The Sporting News. He is the author of four books, including Who’s Better, Who’s Best in Football — The Top 60 Players of All-Time. Follow him on Twitter (@profootballboy) and read more of his CBS Chicago columns here.