Bears Sign Four Former First Rounders

The Bears are hoping the four former first-round picks the team signed through free agency can resurrect their careers in the navy and orange. It's a low-risk, high-reward strategy.

Besides rookie Gabe Carimi, the current Chicago Bears roster holds just one of GM Jerry Angelo's first-round picks: offensive lineman Chris Williams. Two of those first rounder's, TE Greg Olsen and DT Tommie Harris, were dispatched this offseason. Yet as far as other team's first rounder's, the Bears can't get enough.

In the past week, the front office has signed former first rounders DE Vernon Gholston, WR Roy Williams, C Chris Spencer and DT Amobi Okoye. The thinking is that these players, who obviously possess natural athletic talent, can resurrect their careers under the tutelage of Chicago's coaching staff.

Williams couldn't explain why things didn't work out in Dallas but feels he can rebuild his career with Mike Martz as his offensive coordinator.

"It's a blessing for me to go to a system that I already know, that I've had success in," said Williams.

In Detroit in 2006 Williams had his best season as a professional, catching 83 passes for 1,310 yards and seven touchdowns in Martz's offense. Because he's familiar with the system, Williams believes he can be an asset in Chicago's passing game.

"I think I have a head start at things, just knowing the offense, with coach Martz knowing me, knowing my strengths, play to my strengths," he said.

The Bears were in need of a big receiving target like Williams (6-2, 215) and believe he can be a weapon near the end zone.

"We like bringing in players like this that we know," coach Lovie Smith said. "Of course Mike Martz has a relationship with him as far as him playing in the system. He played for Rod Marinelli. Darryl Drake recruited him in high school and of course is his position coach. We feel like this would be a good spot for him but as much as anything, we feel like he can come in and help us win games."

DT Amobi Okoye
Bill Baptist/Getty

The team also signed former Texans defensive tackle Amobi Okoye, the 10th overall pick in the 2007 draft, to a one-year contract worth a reported $1.4 million. In four seasons with Houston, Okoye started 58 of 62 contests, recording 138 tackles, 11 sacks, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. In 2010, Okoye led the Texans' defensive line with 44 tackles, adding three sacks while starting all 16 contests for the second consecutive season.

Coming out of Louisville, he was expected to provide pass-rush penetration up the middle, using his quickness and explosion to get after the quarterback. He never developed into that player, be he's been a force against the rush. Coach Smith is excited about his prospects.

"[He's] an under tackle that fits the profile that we use as far as our defensive linemen," said Smith. "A lot of ability, quickness. It didn't work out for him in Houston but Rod [Marinelli] has liked him for a long time coming out of college."

Vernon Gholston, the sixth overall pick in the 2008 draft, is another defensive lineman the club feels good about. Gholston was drafted to play in the Jets 4-3, but the team switched to a 3-4 with the signing of head coach Rex Ryan in 2009. As such, he's never developed into the pass rusher he was at Ohio State. In the Bears' 4-3 system, it's expected that Gholston can regain the form that made him such a high draft selection.

"For us, he's a talented athlete," Smith said. "We're going to put him in a position that we think he'll have a little bit more success. He'll have his hand down instead of a stand up end position. He'll be in a three-point stance rushing the passer most of the time. So we're going to give him a shot."

Chicago will today finalize the contract of center Chris Spencer, the 26th overall pick in 2005 byt the Seattle Seahawks. He's expected to fill the hole left by the departure of Olin Kreutz. He's dealt with some injuries the past few years but played all 16 games last season. Tim Ruskell, Bears director of player personnel, drafted Spencer during his time as president in Seattle. The team believes his experience and ability as a run blocker can mitigate the effects of losing Kreutz.

"The thing I like about some of the players we have, in particular Roy Williams and Vernon Gholston, they could have had more money at other places," Angelo said. "I like players who like to bet on themselves. I respect that about them. It tells you a little bit about how they feel about our situation and how they feel about themselves. It's about competition, the best players play."

Yet just because these four players were once first rounder's doesn't mean they won't have to work for playing time, said Angelo.

"We don't base our evaluations on resumes. Resumes are how we evaluate them to get here, but once they're here it's up to them and the coaches to make those decisions."

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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit and become a Chicago Bears insider.

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