Jay Cutler's absence from the second half of the 2010 NFC Championship game garnered much public scrutiny. Yet after being sacked 52 times last season, 12 more than any other QB, it's surprising the injury didn't come sooner.Whether the criticism of Cutler is fair or not, it's obvious a better front five is needed for him to take the next step. So when it comes time for Jerry Angelo and company to make their first round pick in this year's draft, it would only make sense for them to grab a blocker who can make an immediate impact. Here are five offensive linemen Chicago should be targeting come April 28.
C/G Mike Pouncey, Florida
6' 5", 309-pounds
Pouncey is rising on many boards, mainly due to name recognition, as his twin brother made the Pro Bowl last year as a center for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Some mocks have him going as high as 20, while others have him falling into the second round. One has to believe the twin brother of a player who excelled as a rookie last season holds at least some of the same talent.
G/C Mike Pouncey
Pouncey began his career at Florida as a defensive tackle before moving to the offensive side of the ball his sophomore year, so the athleticism is there. He appeared in every game during his career as a Gator and started 45 consecutive games dating back to 2007. He was a second-team All-SEC selection his senior year and a second-team AP All American in 2009.
He is great with his hands and packs a powerful initial punch, and shows an ability to recover if put out of position by a double move. He's displayed good lateral quickness, which should help him fend off three-technique defensive tackles. He does not always finish blocks well, and can be overpowered by bigger interior linemen.
Yet what he lacks in technique he makes up for with outstanding awareness. Pouncey was great at identifying defenders and blitzes at the line of scrimmage, and was very disciplined against twist moves and interior blitzes. His intelligence makes him an ideal candidate for an NFL center.
Chicago would only consider Pouncey in the first round if it becomes clear before then that Olin Kreutz will not be back next season. If the Bears can't resign him, they may be forced to move Garza inside, which would leave a gaping hole at right guard, where Pouncey played for two seasons. If Kreutz leaves, Pouncey's ability to play any of the three interior line positions makes him a very attractive option in the first round. Yet the draft is guard-heavy, so Angelo could decide to hold off on the position until the later rounds.
Every mock draft available has offensive tackles Nate Solder, Tyron Smith and Anthony Castonzo -- the top three tackles in the draft -- being taken before the 29th pick, so we'll leave them out of this discussion. That leaves Carimi, the 2010 Outland Trophy winner -- given to the top offensive lineman in the country -- as possibly falling to Chicago.
T Gabe Carimi
Carimi redshirted his freshman year at Wisconsin, then went on to start all but three games the following three seasons. He underwent knee surgery before last season but fully recovered and showed no ill effects from the procedure, so durability should not be an issue. He was also a three-time Big Ten Academic All-American.
Carimi has above-average size for a left tackle. Opposing rushers really have no chance once he locks on. After contact, he uses good footwork to adjust to the defender. His long arms also help keep pass rushers from getting around the edge. In the run game, Carimi plays with much intensity. He uses great angles in the second level and has solid speed for a player of his size.
The knock on Carini is that he plays too high in both the pass and run games. He dos not sink his hips well enough off the line when pass blocking, allowing speed rushers an extra second to get upfield. In the run, he was often out-leveraged by smaller, quicker defensive linemen.
That said, he's outstanding against the blitz and shows great poise in pass protection. He also plays with a mean streak and often finishes off blocks by driving defenders 10 yard downfield. In Big Ten tilts this past season against Iowa and Ohio State, Carimi held his own against Adrian Clayborn and Cameron Heyward, two potential first round picks.
Carimi has the experience, strength and intelligence to come in and start right away in the NFL, something the Bears will desperately need. His agility is somewhat lacking, so he may be better suited on the right side. He has some flaws that need to be fixed, but his size and energy would make him a great fit for Chicago.
Sherrod moved up many draft boards with his performance at the Senior Bowl, where he was dominant. He earned All-SEC honors in 2009 and 2010, where he paved the way for a Bulldog rushing attack that finished 9th in the nation. He earned a degree in business with a 3.54 GPA, and was one of 16 players to earn the storied National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame (NFF) award. He also participated in numerous university sponsored charity events and organized a Thanksgiving food drive. Needless to say, his head is on straight.
T Derek Sherrod
Kevin C. Cox/Getty
Sherrod has the largest wingspan of any incoming tackle, which will allow him to easily grasp on to defenders while still keeping his body at a distance. He has great lateral agility and balance. He lacks an explosive punch but uses his hands very well once locked to an opposing rusher. As a run blocker, he is only average, and often comes off the ball to high to get leverage on opposing defenders. He has above-average speed, but struggles sometimes getting to linebackers at the second level. Additionally, he can often be fooled by complexes blitzes.
Sherrod has more work to do from a fundamentals standpoint than many of the other top-tier tackles in the draft, an area where offensive line coach Mike Tice excels. He lacks some size, but shouldn't have a problem gaining a few pounds before the beginning of the season. If all other tackles are off the board, Chicago would be wise to grab one of the last remaining game-ready tackles.
Watkins is one of the more intriguing prospects in the draft. He will be 27-years-old come April, making him one of the oldest NFL rookies since Chris Weinke. He is a former firefighter who has only been playing football for four years. He was also selected fourth overall in the 2010 CFL draft.
G/T Danny Watkins
Aaron M. Sprecher/Getty
Watkins played tackle in college, but most scouts agree he's better suited to play guard in the NFL. He moves very well laterally in the trenches, has good balance and is excellent at mirroring defenders. He bends too much at the waist instead of lowering his hips and speed rushers often gave him trouble coming off the edge. A move inside to guard would help make use of his talents as a powerful run blocker. He has the leg strength to move defenders with ease and is outstanding at the second level.
Watkins shows uncanny awareness for a player with so little experience. Under the tutelage of Tice, he could develop into something special. The problem is, for how long?His maturity and his sound fundamentals mean he can come in and produce right away. Yet a raw 27-year-old is a scary concept. If it takes him three years to truly develop into a top-flight lineman, that would make him 30, far too old to just be entering his prime. Watkins is a boom-or-bust pick, which could force Angelo to look elsewhere.
Projections for Ijalana are all over the board. Some mocks have him falling to the third round, while others have him picked as high as 25th overall. The biggest reason for that discrepancy is the school at which he played. Villanova is an FCS college, where players are not given the hype and publicity as similar players from bigger schools. But one things is obvious: the kid can play. Whether or not he would be a reach for the Bears at 29th overall is debatable, but if Chicago still wants to shore up its line after the other top tackle prospects are gone, they could do worse than Ijalana.
He does not have great size for an offensive tackle, which is why most scouts project him as a guard at the NFL level. He has a violent initial punch, often stunning opposing defenders, and has great strength, long arms and big hands. When he gets his hands inside, he can move any opposing lineman. He was often beat by speed rushers, which shouldn't be a problem if he moves inside, yet was a mauler in the run game -- absolutely dominant at the FCS level.
There are concerns about concentration and conditioning, as he was too often seen standing around late in plays and showed signs of fatigue as games wore on. He is not an outstanding blocker in the secondary, and would definitely need to improve his angles of attack.
If the Bears like what they see out of Ijalana at the combine, they'll surely take a long look at him at 29, as other teams will surely be looking to pluck him out of the early second round. Playing against FCS competition, it's hard to project him at the next level, but he has the talent to be a starter in the NFL. Chicago will need to see a lot out of him this week if he's to move onto their radar, but his raw talent could compel them to take the risk.
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