Smith recently used two of his first three picks in the NFL Draft to select players from – get this – Vanderbilt. He took offensive tackle Chris Williams No. 1 and wide receiver Earl Bennett No. 3. When a coach in the ultra-competitive world of pro football is willing to invest premium picks in guys from Vandy, historically the SEC's least talented team, that shows what tremendous respect he has for the conference's overall skill level.
Incredibly, the Bears now have three former Commodores on their roster. Hunter Hillenmeyer is one of the team's better linebackers.
Although he raised a few eyebrows by selecting Williams and Bennett, Smith wasn't through raiding the SEC cupboard just yet. He was just getting started, in fact. He tabbed LSU safety Craig Steltz in Round 4 and added Arkansas receiver Marcus Monk in Round 7. Then, for good measure, Smith convinced team brass to sign Georgia guard Chester Adams and Arkansas defensive tackle Marcus Harrison as free agents.
Smith's fascination with SEC talent is not unprecedented. You may recall that Steve Spurrier loaded up on SEC grads when he left Florida for the Washington Redskins in 2002 and that Nick Saban did the same when he left LSU for the Miami Dolphins following the 2004 college season.
Lovie Smith seems to be taking things a step further than either Spurrier or Saban, however. I don't have the exact figures but I suspect the Bears have more SEC alumni on their current roster than just about any other NFL team. In addition to the rookie draft picks and free agents mentioned above, their mini-camp roster also included the following veteran players:
Defensive end Mark Anderson (Alabama), defensive end Alex Brown (Florida), quarterback Rex Grossman (Florida), cornerback Trumaine McBride (Ole Miss), guard Terrence Metcalf (Ole Miss), punter Glenn Pokulak (Kentucky) and linebacker Rod Wilson (South Carolina).
Does Lovie love SEC talent?