The Chicago Bears often use individual workouts to get closer looks at prospects the team has been unable to scout up close. In this way, Bears brass can put together an in-person evaluation to refer to on draft day. Yet when Chicago is able to see a player on tape, at an all-star game and at the Scouting Combine, and then still brings the player in for an individual session, the team's interest moves beyond mere curiosity.
Such is the case with former East Carolina offensive tackle Willie Smith. The Bears have seen plenty of tape on him, saw him play live at the Texas vs. The Nation All Star game and were on hand for his combine performance. Yet the team felt it necessary to conduct an individual workout with Smith, a projected sixth- or seventh-round prospect.
Smith is a former defensive tackle that also played tight end his sophomore season before being moved to left tackle, where he started the last 27 games of his collegiate career. NFL teams are intrigued by his size (6-5, 310-pounds) and athleticism. He was named first-team All-Conference USA in 2010, helping an offense that ranked seventh nationally in passing (319.3 ypg) and 12th in scoring (38.2 ppg).
He is a raw prospect with only two years experience at left tackle, yet many analysts feel he has the most potential of any incoming offensive lineman. He has an ideal frame for left tackle with long arms and strong hands. He has a powerful upper body and outstanding lateral quickness and footwork. Shows an ability to sink his hips, anchor and generate power in the run game.
Smith's biggest knock is his inconsistency. He can dominate on one play then complete disregard his fundamentals the next. As such, he's often caught bending at the waist and playing too high. Stronger defensive ends have had their way with him when they are able to gain leverage. In addition, he often becomes confused in blitz recognition and will miss his assignments.
Yet none of those flaws are incurable. He was impressive at the combine. His 30 1/2 reps in the bench press were third best amongst offensive tackles, while his times in the shuttle and 3-cone drills were above average. He was great in the classroom and has never had any significant injuries.
There is a buzz generating around Smith, which leads one to believe he'll come off the board in the sixth round, or possibly the fifth. He won't be able to start for a few years and may be better suited as a right tackle. Based on the players Chicago has chosen to work out individually, it's obvious the team is looking for a developmental offensive lineman in the late rounds. With his body type, quick feet and athleticism, don't be surprised if Smith is that player.
Three other teams have held personal workouts with Smith: Green Bay, Jacksonville and Carolina.
S Colin Jones
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Bears work out former Horned Frog
Not much was expected from former TCU safety Colin Jones at the team's pro day. Most of the 26 NFL teams on hand were there to see QB Andy Dalton, and Jones was an afterthought. That was until he ran a 4.34 40-yard dash and displayed a 37-inch vertical jump, a 10-4 broad jump and posted 20 reps in the bench press. With that performance he instantly flew onto the radar of many NFL teams, including the Bears, which recently put him through an individual workout.
Jones (5-11, 201-pounds) is a late bloomer who did not become a starter at safety until his senior season. Before that, he excelled in special teams. He earned second-team All-Mountain West honors in 2010 and was projected by many as an undrafted free agent before the TCU pro day. He now could sneak into the late rounds.
On film, Jones is an extremely athletic player who flies to the ball and does a good job of reading the eyes of opposing quarterbacks. He played more of a roaming safety at Texas Christian: the third safety in TCU's 4-2-5 defensive alignment. As such, it's hard to say whether Jones would make a better fit at strong or free safety.
"The teams that have worked me out [Bears and San Francisco 49ers] have done so at free safety," he recently told FOXSports.com. "And they're looking at me as a special teams gunner. I know I can contribute right away on special teams.
"I was a strong safety at TCU, we ran the 4-2-5 (scheme). Our strong safety, there really wasn't that position in the NFL, it was just like an extra safety, so these teams wanted to see how well I moved. They're looking at me as a deep safety to see if I can do that."
Jones is about as raw as they come but he's very gifted. If he goes undrafted, it wouldn't be surprising for the Bears to grab him off the free agent heap. He could come in and be a contributor at special teams right away. And if he's able to grasp the NFL game, his natural abilities could help turn into a productive player at the NFL level.
Washington State punter gets look
Brad Maynard is a free agent. While he is an outstanding directional punter, his 40.1 yards per punt were the lowest of any punter in the league in 2010. As such, Chicago recently signed Richmond McGee, most likely to compete with Maynard for the starting spot in training camp. Yet the Bears aren't stopping there, having recently put former Washington State punter Reid Forrest through a personal workout.
Forrest averaged 45.4 yards per kick in 2010, good for seventh best in the nation, earning him All-Pac 10 honorable mention honors for the second-straight year. He has a booming leg and gets good hang time on his kicks. Last year, he punted a ball 84 yards. He's not bad as a directional kicker either, dropping 19 balls inside the 20 his senior season.
The Bears are obviously in the market for a new punter. While they most likely won't be drafting Forrest, expect them to offer him a chance to compete for the starters position in 2011.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.