The Bears opened the 2006 season with Mike Brown, fresh off his first Pro Bowl selection, lining up alongside returning starter Chris Harris. That didn't last very long as Harris was replaced by more-talented rookie Danieal Manning and Brown would be lost for the season in Week 6 at Arizona. Todd Johnson also get a few starts before battling injuries of his own, and Harris would eventually be brought back to the starting lineup after moving from free safety to strong safety.
Manning played very well the first half of the season before becoming increasingly ineffective down the stretch, but he is young and skilled and should only get better in 2007. Brown is the inspirational leader of the defense in addition to being a sensational player, but it is becoming harder to depend on him seeing how he's missed significant time each of the last three seasons due to lower-leg injuries. Harris can provide some depth but probably doesn't deserve to be a first-teamer, and Johnson and Cameron Worrell are little more than backups and special teams performers at this point.
Manning was GM Jerry Angelo's top draft choice a year ago, yet at least one more safety is necessary.
Josh Gattis, the No. 4 free safety available according to Scout.com, projects to be a third- or fourth-round draft pick and could be a nice addition. A smart football player who enjoyed a wonderful career at a much-improved Wake Forest program, he measured just under 6'1" at the Combine, weighed in at a sturdy 213 pounds, and ran the 40-yard dash in 4.5 seconds. Gattis has excellent field vision and twice led the ACC in special teams tackles.
Another name to be on the lookout for could be Washington State's Eric Frampton, Scout.com's No. 13 strong safety who came out of nowhere to be a first-team all-Pac-10 selection as a senior.
An impact tight end would help
On the surface, the Bears appear to be in pretty good shape at tight end. Desmond Clark had the most productive season of his career, catching 45 passes for 626 yards and six touchdowns. Usually when he was heavily involved in the offense, quarterback Rex Grossman was at his best throwing the football.
Behind Clark, second-stringer John Gilmore caught two TD passes against Detroit in Week 2 but is primarily a blocker in the running game. Gabe Reid had four receptions on the year and even played some fullback when Jason McKie was nicked up, but he is a restricted free agent and may not be back in 2007. And even though Clark was in the conversation for a Pro Bowl berth, he will be 30 in April and has already maximized his ability.
This draft is not incredibly deep at tight end, but one player in particular was a star in Indianapolis.
Greg Olsen, Scout.com's top-ranked player at the position and yet another in a long line of talented tight ends from Miami, made himself a lot of money with his performance at the Combine. Originally projected to be a late first-rounder, he ran an eye-opening 4.51 in the 40 and looked strong with 23 reps on the bench press at 225 pounds. Not only does he have ideal size and plus speed, but he's a natural pass-catcher and played in a pro-style offense in college.
The Bears might have to trade up to get Olsen now because he shot up everybody's draft board, but Iowa's Scott Chandler, Scout.com's No. 4 tight end, might be a nice alternative in the second or third round.
Offensive line depth a must
Left tackle John Tait missed two games late in the year with a sprained ankle, but aside from him, the offensive line was remarkably healthy and productive in 2006. Center Olin Kreutz was named to yet another Pro Bowl, and veteran guard Ruben Brown made the trip to Hawaii after Philadelphia's Shawn Andrews backed out due to injury. Veteran Fred Miller continues to play relatively well at right tackle, and guard Roberto Garza has turned into a solid player.
The Bears could bring back that same starting unit next season and feel very good about it, but age is becoming an issue. Brown is 35 years old and a free agent at the moment, and Miller is 34. Garza may only be 28 in 2007, but Kreutz will be 30 and Tait 32. Tackle Mark LeVoir and guard Tyler Reed spent last season on the practice squad, but neither is considered to be a top prospect.
Kreutz & Company can't play forever, and Brown may not even be back.
Tackles are always higher regarded than guards on draft day, but two guards in particular are stating their case as first-round talents. Ben Grubbs from Auburn, Scout.com top-ranked guard, was very quick and explosive in drills at the Combine and showed great lateral movement. Tennessee's Arron Sears, Scout.com's No. 2 guard available, checked in at over 6'3" and 319 pounds but did not do a full workout and managed only 21 reps on the bench press.
If the Bears pass on Grubbs and Sears, Manuel Ramirez of Texas Tech helped himself in Indy and would make sense as a second- or third-rounder.