Smith Working Overtime

For the first time since becoming head coach of the Bears, Lovie Smith will not welcome talent from the upper portion of the draft. However, that didn't stop Smith from making more scouting trips than he has in previous years with the organization. What caused the change in heart?

"I love the process," Smith said. "I went out and worked out more guys this year than I ever have. It was great just to go to different colleges and get a chance to not only work guys out, spend a little bit of time with them. I feel like I know this class a lot better than I've known some other classes coming in."

Although Smith joked that he had "nothing else to do in the off-season," part of the reason for hitting the road could be the memory of the Cedric Benson situation from a year ago.

Benson cried the day he was drafted by the Bears with the fourth overall pick. The two Texas natives seemed to strike an instant bond, but when Benson missed all of training camp and the preseason because of a contract impasse the relationship took on a different tone.

While Smith won't admit it, there's a good chance he felt fooled into thinking Benson would do whatever it took to be signed by the time the team reported to Bourbonnais. Ultimately, Benson's rookie year left more questions than answers. He carried the ball just 67 times and missed nearly half the season with a knee injury.

The lack of knowledge on Benson's readiness to start has prevented general manager Jerry Angelo from seriously pursuing trade options for Thomas Jones. Now it appears Jones is the one that wants out of town, which hurts Angelo's ability to pull off the best deal possible. If the team opts to retain Jones the open competition in training camp would leave the runner-up feeling slighted and could cause problems in the locker room.

Even though the Bears are picking 22 slots later than a year ago, Smith has taken on more responsibility. He's been to pro days around the country and spoke with players one-on-one.

Only time will tell if Smith's scouting will have an impact on who is taken throughout the draft. He could add another voice of reason in the process or create division by fighting for a player he thinks will help him win now as opposed to going for the best available talent.

When taking a player in the top five of the draft, a miss can setback a franchise years. A bust at the end of the first round is not quite as detrimental because the team is obviously coming off a good year and the money is much less significant with each passing slot.

While Benson's story in Chicago has yet to be fully told, Smith's work may have come a year too late.

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