Jerry Angelo insisted he wasn't simply dipping in to the good 'ole boys network when he brought in Tim Ruskell, former Seattle Seahawks GM and president of football operations, as the Bears' new director of player personnel last April.
Yet Ruskell – who essentially replaced fired college scouting director Greg Gabriel and pro personnel director Bobby DePaul – did work together with Angelo for 13 seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Ruskell first served as a regional scout and then as director of college scouting for the Bucs, while Angelo was the club's director of player personnel until he left Tampa Bay to join the Bears in 2001.
"He brings a plethora of knowledge," Angelo told ESPNChicago.com. "He's worked at every level ... scout, director, general manager. So he's done a lot of things that will be a great asset to the club and [I'm] real excited to have him on board.
"Irrelevant of our friendship, which had nothing to do with this, this is about making us a better organization. [I] feel very good about him. [I] would never have brought anybody in here just to bring somebody in. I feel real good about what he brings in terms of experience, his work ethic."
Ruskell's hiring might have flown under the radar, as it came on the heels of the club making a big splash in free agency with the signings Julius Peppers and Chester Taylor. So if you happened to be asking "Tim who?" as Ruskell's name was being bantered about before, during and after the 2011 draft, let's bring you up to speed on his background.
In addition to serving as a regional scout and director of college scouting in the Bucs' organization, Ruskell took over as Tampa's director of player personnel after Angelo's departure and worked in that capacity for three seasons.
Ruskell helped build a Buccaneers' squad that won a franchise-record 12 games in 2002 and won Super Bowl XXXVII.
He then joined the Atlanta Falcons in 2004 as the team's assistant GM. That year, the Falcons won the NFC South title and advanced to the NFC title game after going 5-11 the previous year.
Ruskell left the Falcons to become general manager and president of football operations for Seattle in 2005. In his first year, the Seahawks racked up a franchise-best 13 victories and gained a berth in Super Bowl XL. During his five seasons in Seattle (2005-2009) Ruskell oversaw a club that won three division titles and took part in four playoff games.
Since Ruskell's primary job is spearheading the Bears' efforts in the draft, what have been his drafting tendencies?
Let's take a look. Back in February, 2009 – Ruskell's final season with the Seahawks – Seattle Times reporter Danny O'Neil put together a blog titled: The Comprehensive Tim Ruskell Draft History.
In it, O'Neil stated that, "Tim Ruskell's teams tend to go for defensive linemen in the first round, and those defensive linemen tend to be from the South. Go back to 1992 when Ruskell was promoted to director of college scouting in Tampa Bay. Ruskell's employers – the Bucs, the Falcons and the Seahawks – have used 15 first-round choices since then."
O'Neil provided a breakdown of those 15 first-round picks:
• Nine were used on defensive players;
• Six were used on defensive linemen;
• Six came out of Florida colleges;
• Three came from west of the Mississippi River: Quarterback Trent Dilfer (Fresno State, 1994, Tampa Bay), defensive end Regan Upshaw (California, 1996, Tampa Bay) and defensive end Lawrence Jackson (USC, 2008, Seattle).
Overall, Ruskell has a good track record of drafting defensive linemen in the first round. Seattle's first-round pick, Jackson, ended up getting traded to Detroit, but Jackson did record six sacks in a reserve role for the Lions last fall.
In 1999, the Bucs made DT Anthony McFarland its first-round pick. McFarland played on two Super Bowl teams – the Bucs in 2002 and the Colts in 2007.
The Bucs had two first-round picks in 1996 – Upshaw, the 12th overall pick and DT Marcus Jones, who went 22nd overall. Upshaw, who called himself the "Modern Day Gladiator," didn't quite live up to his billing, but he had two good years in 1996 and 1997, combining for 14.5 sacks. Jones, meanwhile, played seven seasons with the Bucs, averaging 3.5 sacks per season.
His only real bust among first-round defensive linemen was defensive end Eric Curry, the sixth overall selection in the 1993 draft. However, Ruskell more than made up for that pick two years later with Warren Sapp, the seven-time Pro Bowler who is considered to be one of the greatest d-linemen of all time.
Ruskell held true to form in his first draft with the Bears. The team made a deal with Washington to trade up – a rare occurrence in the Jerry Angelo era, as the Bears often have traded down to get more picks – and use the team's second-round pick to land Oregon State 3-technique defensive tackle Stephen Paea, the strongest player at the NFL Combine.
Paea could very well be Tommie Harris' replacement.
"We had an opportunity to work with the Redskins to get up and we thought there were a couple chances for him to go in the next few picks and we didn't want to risk that, so we got him," Ruskell said.
"He is a guy that is very strong and very quick, two different traits when you are looking at those positions. But this guy gets off the ball; he is a high motor player. He was the kid that benched 49 times on the bench [press] which I believe was a record, not just on the bench but he is a very strong player. You see that in his play in addition to what he did."
Among other first-round selections on Ruskell's watch:
• Linebacker Derrick Brooks (1995), an 11-time Pro Bowler with the Bucs and a one-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year award winner;
• Running back Warrick Dunn (1997), a three-time Pro Bowler who is one of only 10 running backs 5-11-and-under who have rushed for 10,000 career yards;
• Cornerback DeAngelo Hall (2004), a three-time Pro Bowler who tied an NFL record with four picks in one game last October against the Bears.
Interestingly, Ruskell has never drafted an offensive lineman in the first round of any draft with which he's been associated. But that changed this year when the Bears made 6-7, 315-pound Wisconsin tackle Gabe Carimi the team's No. 1 pick. Everything points to the Bears plugging in Carimi as their starting right tackle for 2011.
The selection of Carimi certainly has Bears fans excited, and singing Ruskell's praises.
"Thank you Tim Ruskell for Carimi," said one post on the official team Web site's message board.
As both Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs start to get up in years, the Bears will be looking to replace them at some point, likely through the draft. Bears fans should take heart because although Ruskell doesn't pick linebackers in the first two rounds very often, he's hit some home runs—especially in recent years.
Brooks, of course, is Ruskell's most noted linebacker draftee. But in 2005, considered to be one of Ruskell's best draft classes, the Seahawks grabbed future Pro Bowl middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu in the second round and Leroy Hill in round three. They've started ever since and were key components their rookie years to Seattle gaining a berth in Super Bowl XL.
In 2009, Ruskell's last draft as part of the Seahawks' organization, Seattle made Aaron Curry its first-round pick. Curry started every game for the Seahawks last season and, combined with Tatupu and Hill, gives Seattle one of the best young linebacker corps in the league.
Chicago Tribune football writer Dan Pompei believes Angelo and the Bears also hit a home run hiring Ruskell.
"The authority Ruskell is being given, as well as the length of his contract – three years – indicate he was not brought to Chicago just to stick his finger in a dike for a year," Pompei wrote shortly after Ruskell joined the team. "Ruskell's impact on this organization can be significant and lasting."
Ruskell, however, does have his naysayers. One Web site, footballinsiders.net, labeled the Bears' hiring of Ruskell a "huge mistake." The site went on to critique not so much Ruskell's draft picks, but his transactions.
• Trading the Seahawks' first-round pick in 2006 to the Patriots for wideout Deion Branch. Branch didn't put up lofty numbers with the Seahawks and eventually ended up back in New England. Meanwhile, Seattle passed up future Super Bowl MVP Santonio Holmes in the '06 draft and chose cornerback Kelly Jennings with its No. 1 pick. Jennings has had bouts with injuries and confidence while being in and out of Seattle's starting lineup.
• Not putting a franchise tag on guard Steve Hutchinson, who ended up signing with the Vikings. "The Seahawks run game was never the same after this," the site said.
• Signing Shaun Alexander to a big contract when Alexander, the site noted, was "past his prime." Alexander was cut two years after inking the deal.
• Designating Jim Mora as the successor to Mike Holmgren as head coach before Holmgren's tenure with the club was completed. Mora was fired after one season.
Nevertheless, the Bears are confident Ruskell's history of success in terms of draft picks and personnel moves far outweigh his critics' list of shortcomings.
"First and foremost, Tim brings a wealth of knowledge to the organization, both in personnel and how things are done at every level," Angelo told Chicago Bears.com shortly after Ruskell's hiring. "He's experienced everything.
"He's been in three different organizations and had success in all of them. We worked together for 14 years, and I think the commonality that we share in terms of how to build a football team will bode well not only for me, but for the organization."
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