The Chicago Bears took four offensive skill-position players with their first four choices in the 2005 NFL Draft. Rookie quarterback and fourth-round pick Kyle Orton started 15 games and posted a 10-5 record, but he was the only major contributor of the bunch. Tailback Cedric Benson (first-round) and two wide receivers - Mark Bradley (second) and Airese Currie (fifth) - missed a total of 32 games among them.
In the 2006 draft, GM Jerry Angelo surprised most everyone by concentrating heavily on the defensive side of the ball despite having an offense that ranked 29th overall the previous season. His first five selections were defenders - safety Danieal Manning (second), cornerback Devin Hester (second), tackle Dusty Dvoracek (third), linebacker Jamar Williams (fourth), and end Mark Anderson (fifth). A very good defense became a very deep one overnight.
Despite some head-scratching from the Monday morning quarterbacks, Angelo proved once again that he knows what he's doing.
Manning quickly replaced Chris Harris as the starter at free safety and contributed 70 tackles and two interceptions. Hester was an All-Pro on special teams and set a much-balleyhooed NFL record by scoring six times on returns - three punts, two kickoffs, and one missed field goal. Anderson came out of nowhere to lead the team with 12 sacks and was the runner-up to Houston's DeMeco Ryans for Defensive Rookie of the Year.
And despite the wild success of the class as a whole, it has a chance to get even better in 2007 with the return of the redshirts - Dvoracek and Williams.
Dvoracek missed the entire 2006 season after being placed on injured reserve Aug. 29 with a foot injury. Williams played in just three games as a rookie and found himself on IR after hurting his shoulder covering a kickoff in a victory at Minnesota. Both are expected to make a full recovery and be back next season, and despite their inexperience, both will be needed.
Dvoracek was a four-year letterman at Oklahoma and started 26 of 48 games played. He totaled 131 tackles with 16 sacks, 45 tackles-for-loss, one interception, three fumble recoveries, and two pass breakups. The former Sooner ranks fifth all-time in tackles-for-loss and 12th on OU's career sack list.
Dvoracek believes he's going to come back in 2007 better than ever thanks to his work with strength and conditioning coach Rusty Jones.
"Rusty Jones has been a tremendous help to me in the rehab process," Dvoracek wrote back on Dec. 1 in his BearReport.com Rookie Diary. "We've worked together on every aspect of my physical well-being. He's altered my diet, which was necessary because I wasn't burning all those calories out on the field. Then he devised a rigorous strength and conditioning program that would maximize what I am able to do while still protecting my ankle."
He may have missed out on his chance to play in Super Bowl XLI, but Dvoracek remained in good spirits down in Miami.
"I've got sandals and shorts in my locker," Dvoracek said on Tuesday of Super Bowl week, soaking up the warm weather. "I can't wait to go put them on."
Williams was a four-year letterman at Arizona State and started 35 of 48 games played. He recorded 256 career tackles, 25 tackles-for-loss, seven interceptions, and six sacks and twice was an honorable mention All-Pac-10 selection. The former Sun Devil was a co-recipient of the Bill Kajikawa Freshman of the Year Award right out of high school and a co-recipient of the Pat Tillman Valor Award as a junior.
His shoulder is almost back to 100%, but Williams still needs to remind himself to be patient.
"I'm doing good," said Williams on Media Day during Super Bowl week. "I'm healed up. Everything's pretty much back to where I was. I'm just trying to get my strength back to where it was, and that's the hardest part because it's kind of a slow process."
Dvoracek seemed to enjoy just being on the sideline for the title game, but Williams admitted that it was hard for him to sit back and watch.
"It's very bittersweet, man," he said. "This is a dream come true, but I wish I could play in it so bad. I'm blessed to just be here, and I just try to take everything as it is and just learn from every experience."
Dvoracek and Williams will be expected to contribute next season because subtle changes in the depth chart are inevitable.
Along the defensive line, both Alfonso Boone and Ian Scott are unrestricted free agents and most likely will not return. Tommie Harris and Tank Johnson will be the starters once again, although Harris must prove that he is ready to go after having surgery to repair a torn left hamstring he suffered in Week 13 against Minnesota. Johnson's future is also somewhat uncertain as he continues to deal with his much publicized legal issues.
As for the linebackers, middle man Brian Urlacher obviously isn't going anywhere. Lance Briggs was recently franchised by Angelo, and although it appears that he will be back in a Bears uniform at a hefty $7.2 million price tag in 2007, there have been grumblings that he is being shopped around. Hunter Hillenmeyer signed a five-year contract extension this past June, although his play on the strong side has left a little to be desired.
Williams predominantly played on the strong side as a senior at ASU, but he is athletic enough to play on the weak side, as well.
Neither Dvoracek nor Williams will be asked to start, but both must provide depth and make in impact when they get the chance if this defense wants to remain one of the best in football.