Bears combine notebook

INDIANAPOLIS _ In the event the Bears fail to re-sign free agent center Olin Kreutz, they explored what the NFL draft will offer at the NFL scouting combine in the RCA dome.

General manager Jerry Angelo offered Kreutz a multi-year deal Friday at the annual NFL scouting combine, but no agreement was reached with agent Mark Bartelstein. Kreutz will look elsewhere in free agency for a deal that could be bigger even than the seven-year, $31 million deal paid by Minnesota to center Matt Birk.

In the event of a worst-case scenario with Kreutz, there are few high quality centers in the draft. One player Bears coaches and personnel officials did talk to here is considered a middle-round pick by some and also a project -- guard Edward Ta'amu of Hawaii. He played college football at Utah. Ta'amu is ranked by draft expert Joel Buchsbaum as the fourth best player at his position.

``I hope to learn how to play center and hopefully get a career playing center,'' said Ta'amu, who is of Samoan decent.

Ta'amu, who played defensive line in high school, said Kreutz's name is legendary in Hawaii.

``He was a great athlete in his day, in high school, and still is,''Ta'amu said. ``He's done some great things for himself and his family. I know he's going to get a big pay day(in free agency).

``In Hawaii they still talk about Olin Kreutz even though I was (prep) defensive player of the year in '97. Olin Kreutz's name in football will probably live going on for a little while longer.''

Ta'amu said he thought frequently in high school about leaving a legacy bigger than Kreutz's.

``That's all I could do was just dream about beating Olin's reputation,'' he said.

Ta'amu readily accepts the challenge of representing Samoans in college and soon in the NFL.

``Every time we hear about our people making a name for ourselves, that's big because no one really knows about Samoa,'' he said. ``It's just being able to put Samoa on the map and letting everybody know that we're good people and that we can be somebody.''

He knows the transition to center will not be easy.

``Probably the biggest transition from guard to center would be having to know all the plays and making the line calls,'' he said.``Obviously I know all the plays already, but you need to know what to do against different (defensive) fronts -- just being able to identify one front to the next and being able to be a leader on the line for everyone, to make sure everybody gets their assignments right.''

If Ta'amu came to the Bears, he'd still be following Kreutz's legend. And he already has personally felt the ramifications of this. One of the coaches he met with was Bears offensive line coach Bob Wylie. He learned how much the Bears' line coach thinks of Kreutz.

``He said `Olin,' that's my boy, that's my son,'' Ta'amu said.

Ta'amu has more apparently in common with Kreutz than his home state and desire to play center. Like Kreutz, he manages to get into some difficult situations due to his temper.

He was suspended for the first three games last season when he allegedly punched a man who had fired off fireworks that landed near Ta'amu and some friends. Ta'amu told the man to stop repeatedly, and punched him after the alleged victim kicked the can he used to fire the rockets right into Ta'amu's chest.

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