What Do Bears Have in Unga?

Will the Bears selection of running back Harvey Unga in last year's supplementary draft pay dividends this season? One thing is for sure: he'll have every opportunity to make the roster.

In the seven rounds of this year's draft, the Chicago Bears selected just five players. The team traded its fourth-round pick to move up in the second to draft Stephen Paea. Its seventh-round pick was used last summer in the NFL's Supplementary Draft on former BYU running back Harvey Unga.

The Supplemental Draft is designed for underclassmen that did not opt for early entry in the NFL Draft but are yet, for one reason or another, unable to finish out their collegiate careers. It's a way for those players stuck in limbo after the regular draft to still find a way on to an NFL team. It is held after the main draft but before the start of the following season.

Based on how teams finished the previous year, a weighted system is used to prioritize the 32 teams. If a franchise wants to select a supplemental player, it submits to the league the player's name and the round in which he is to be drafted. Teams must then forfeit the corresponding draft pick in the following draft. Any player not drafted immediately becomes an unrestricted free agent.

Just four players were eligible for last year's Supplemental Draft. One of them was Unga, whom the Bears saw work out a few weeks earlier at his pro day, where the 6-1, 240-pounder apparently ran a 4.60 40-yard dash. The team was sufficiently impressed and chose to spend a draft pick on him. Bears brass were so high on him, they didn't want to chance him signing elsewhere and felt him worthy of a draft pick. So the team has made a substantial investment in Unga.


RB Harvey Unga
Douglas C. Pizac/AP

Yet no one is sure what role he'll play on the team in 2011 and beyond. He came into training camp last year and immediately pulled his hamstring, which landed him on the injured reserve list for the rest of the season. Assuming he stays healthy, Unga will have his first real shot at making the roster this season.

Unga is BYU's all-time leading rusher with 3,455 yards, amassed in just three seasons. He broke the university's honor code for having pre-marital relations with his girlfriend and was kicked off the team before his senior season – thus his entry in the Supplemental Draft.

While he's a big back, Unga is not the type of player his body type suggests. He is surprisingly light on his feet and is more apt to make a defender miss than run him over. He has the speed to reach the corner and the quickness to make defenders miss in space. He's not afraid to lower the boom when he needs to, but he doesn't pack all the great of a punch – which is why it's hard to see him developing into a goal-line back.

Where Unga is really valuable is in the passing game. He has very soft hands, which is rare for a back of his size. BYU often lined him up in the slot, where he was able to exploit linebackers and safeties. His route running needs a lot of work, but he's able to easily catch slants, outs and fly patterns from the slot, as well swings and screens from the backfield. On film, his ability to catch the ball, even in traffic, is his greatest asset.

Last season, the Bears carried three running backs on the active roster – Matt Forte, Chester Taylor and Garrett Wolfe. The fourth running back was Kahlil Bell, who was recently tendered a restricted free agent offer by the team before the lockout. Wolfe, while outstanding in special teams, doesn't appear to be in the team's future.

Running backs coach Tim Spencer has said publicly that Unga will have to earn his way onto the roster by playing special teams, which he did not do a lot of in college. It remains to be seen if he can perform well enough to make Dave Toub's unit, but a player with his size and athleticism should be able to adapt.

But is there room for Unga on the roster? The Bears will most likely stick with Forte and Taylor as the top two backs in 2011, which will create a competition between Unga and Bell for the third running back spot come training camp. Bell has not shown a whole lot since being signed to the practice squad in 2009 – he was unable to make the active roster for a single game last season.

Unga has a lot to learn about playing in the NFL, but if he can remain healthy and demonstrate to the coaches his ability as a receiver, there's not reason he can't beat out Bell. Athletically, he has all the tools to succeed. If he can make the roster and can continue to progress, he could take over Taylor's backup role after this season.


Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport com To read him every day, visit BearReport com and become a Chicago Bears insider


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