Yesterday, we discussed the offensive tackles the Chicago Bears should consider in the early rounds of this year's draft. While upgrades on the edge would be nice, the interior of the offensive line is a much bigger area of need.
Last season, the Bears started four different players at left guard and three at right guard. All together in 2012, the club used five different starting guard combinations. The problem is that not a single pairing was effective. In fact, one could make the case that Chicago is need of two new starters at guard.
Things aren't as desperate at center, where Roberto Garza has held down the fort the past two seasons. Yet he'll soon be 34 and he's entering the final year of his contract. It's very likely next season will be his last in Chicago, so the club must start making contingency plans.
As a result, expect Bears GM Phil Emery and head coach Marc Trestman to have interior offensive linemen high on their list of priorities come draft time in late April. Bear Report breaks down the first three rounds of guards and centers to decipher who will fit best in the Navy and orange.
**Editor's note: The Bears don't have a third-round pick due to the Brandon Marshall trade but we will still include third-round prospects, in case the team trades up or down into that round.**
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Chance Warmack, Alabama (6-2, 317)
Warmack is absolutely the perfect cure for what ails Chicago's offensive line. He was a three-year starter at left guard for Alabama. He's a thick, powerful player with a nasty on-field temperament. His initial punch, which he uses to rock defenders off the ball, is the best of all the offensive linemen in this draft. He's a mauler who would lead the way for the Bears' rushing attack. Many believe he's the best player in this draft and have him slated as a Top 10 pick, so it's unlikely he lands in Chicago other than through a trade.
Projected: Round 1
Jonathan Cooper, North Carolina (6-2, 311)
Cooper was a four-year starter for the Tar Heels, mainly at left guard, who racked up numerous conference awards during his collegiate career and was named a first-team All-American his senior season. Cooper is very athletic. He plays with quick feet, while his wrestling background has helped him develop strong, active hands. Those two aspects make him nearly impossible to beat in pass protection. He can also move defenders as a run blocker but many questioned his strength heading into the 2013 NFL Scouting Combine. He squashed those fears by posting 35 reps in the bench press, second most amongst offensive lineman in Indianapolis. Cooper is arguably the most well-rounded guard in this class. There is talk he could climb into the Top 20, with a team like St. Louis snatching him up before the Bears. But if he is there when it's Chicago's turn to pick in the first round, Emery will be hard pressed to pass up an offensive lineman that will keep defenders out of Jay Cutler's face. Projected: Round 1
Barrett Jones, Alabama (6-4, 306)
Jones started all four years at Alabama: guard his freshman and sophomore seasons, left tackle his junior year and center as a senior. His versatility will be extremely valuable at the next level, although he projects best as a center. He's a two-time All-American who won the Outland Trophy as a junior. Jones isn't an outstanding athlete but he's a great football player with toughness and nastiness to spare. During the BCS National Championship game, he shoved his mouthy quarterback in the chest after a timeout was called. He'll be an NFL starter for the next decade, yet he's hurt right now, having undergone Lisfranc surgery on his foot six weeks ago. He said at the combine, where he did not participate in any drills, he should return in four months. That means he also won't have a Pro Day. As a result, his stock is dropping, which would be perfect for the Bears. If Chicago can land Jones in the second round, it would be the steal of the draft. He could contribute at guard his rookie year before taking over for Garza in 2014, where he would likely stay until at least 2020.
Projected: Round 2-3
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Larry Warford, Kentucky (6-3, 332)
For a really terrible team, Warford had a very impressive senior season. Facing SEC competition nearly every week, Warford dominated. At the Senior Bowl, he again put on a show and was one of the most impressive blockers in Mobile. Athletically, though, he leaves a lot to be desired. He doesn't have the quickest feet and he's not very explosive. His combine performance was sub-par as well, as he failed to crack the top 10 amongst offensive lineman in any drill. Because of that, he'll likely fall into the second or third round, but make no mistake, Warford can play. He's not the sexiest pick but the Bears should be very happy if he falls to them at 50th overall.
Projected: Round 2-3
Travis Frederick, Wisconsin (6-4, 312)
Frederick started 31 games at Wisconsin at both guard and center. Lacking ideal footwork, he projects best as a guard at the NFL level. He comes from a program in Madison that churns out offensive linemen, one of which, Gabe Carimi, is already in Chicago. Frederick is a tough, thick-bodied player that uses great leg drive to move defenders. Technique-wise, he's one of the best interior linemen in this draft, and the reason he's considered a second-day selection. Yet he's not very athletic and can plod at times. He also lacks agility, has short arms (33 inches) and posted just 21 bench-press reps at the combine, fifth worst amongst offensive linemen. Frederick isn't flashy but his sound fundamentals and experience at center and guard would make him a solid third-round pick. If he drops into the fourth, he should be a no-brainer for the Bears.
Projected: Round 3
Brian Schwenke, California (6-3, 314)
Schwenke started 36 collegiate games at both guard spots and center. He's versatile and explosive, with arguably the quickest first step of any incoming offensive lineman. He understands the value of leverage and keeps his pads low. He answered questions about his strength by posting 31 bench-press reps at the combine. His fast hands, intelligence and quickness make him best suited as a pro center. He'll likely go in the third round, where the Bears are without a pick. If he falls to the fourth, the Bears should snatch him up.
Projected: Round 3
Justin Pugh, Syracuse (6-4, 307)
Pugh started three years at Syracuse at tackle yet, due to his short arms (32 inches), he projects best as a guard in the NFL. He's a mobile player with very good range and foot speed. He plays with great body control and balance. Yet he's not a mauler and struggles against big bull rushers. He's good in pass protection, as well as at the second level and could fit well Chicago's zone run schemes. Yet overall, he may be nothing more than a swing guard in the pros. If he puts on weight and adds strength, he has the potential to start in the pros but it likely won't happen right away. Projected: Round 3
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Follow Bear Report on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Bear Report Web site or magazine, click here.