Draft Brings Rare Opportunity

The Bears are perfectly willing to go into the 2006 season with the same starters that helped them go 11-5 last season, so they won't be driven to draft a player who has to be an immediate starter or even a major contributor.

General manager Jerry Angelo and coach Lovie Smith believe the team will be better with the same roster because most of the core players are young. They also expect to get more than two games out of starting quarterback Rex Grossman, and even if they don't, free-agent addition Brian Griese is a much better backup quarterback than they've had in a long time.

The Bears insist they don't have needs, just wants.

"A need is (when) you're playing without a player that you (need to) win with," Angelo said. "We feel we have 22 players we can put out there that we can win with."

According to Angelo, that gives the Bears tremendous flexibility in dealing with teams desiring to move up or down into their spot at No. 26. More than a week before the draft, the Bears' general manager said he had already received more interest than he anticipated, and he enjoys the confidence of knowing that he can play last year's hand and is operating form a position of strength.

"It's great because you can listen to those phone calls and you could maybe get another player to go along with a player that you would take (anyway) but now you can take him more at his value," Angelo said.

"That would be obviously on a trade down. Or there might be a player there that gets on the radar screen that's close to you, and you know you have enough ammunition pick-wise that you can move up."

Still, the Bears do have areas that need an upgrade in talent or greater depth.

The Bears still could use another corner with speed even after signing Ricky Manning away from Carolina.

"We want to look at another corner; we've said that," Angelo admitted. "The draft is pretty good this year (at corner). I wouldn't be surprised to see 7-8 defensive backs go in the first round. It may be the most at that position of any of the positions in the first, so it's a good year for cornerbacks, and a pretty good year for safeties as well."

But Angelo is adamant that he doesn't have to get his corner in the first round. The Bears stole Nathan Vasher in the fourth round two years ago, and he's worked out pretty well. Charles Tillman came in the second round of 2003, and Jerry Azumah, a running back at New Hampshire, was snagged in the fifth round in 1999.

So the Bears might give Grossman another weapon with a much-needed tight end before they bolster a defense that was one of the best in the league last season.

However, this is considered a very strong draft at tight end, and the members of the Bears' brain trust are unanimous in their belief that there will be productive tight ends taken all the way through the fourth round and perhaps beyond, so the sense of urgency isn't there.

Drafting a linebacker would give the Bears leverage with Pro Bowl linebacker Lance Briggs, who becomes a free agent after this season. Or it might give the Bears' Briggs' successor. Angelo has also proven he can find a gem at linebacker later in the draft. Briggs was a third-round pick in 2003.

Having a set starting lineup for this season also affords the Bears the ability to draft players who might be more talented but in need of more development since they won't be asked to contribute right away. They have the luxury of waiting a while for this year's draft class to bloom.

"This year, whether we have five picks or six picks (they have six after trading Mike Green), we think that we're going to be potentially getting six starters," Angelo said. "These players we've evaluated for our football team will be starters in year two or three.

"I really like this draft for us. I like the second day of this draft for us. I'm talking about our football team, what we look for within the framework of our schemes."

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