Time to Find Kreutz's Successor?

Olin Kreutz is still arguably the best center in the NFL and signed a contract extension back in November, but he can't play forever. And with Anthony Oakley being the only other player on the roster at that position, it's not beyond the realm of possibility that the Bears could look for a future replacement in this year's draft. Most centers can also play guard, so who is worth their attention?

THE CREAM OF THE CROP

Ryan Kalil, Southern California (6-2¾, 299)
Fourth-year senior…His father Frank was a tight end for the Buffalo Bills and played in the USFL in the early 1980s…Spent his freshman season as a backup to Vikings practice squad center Norm Katnik…Started his last 39 games at center over the last three years…Very good quickness who blocks well in space when asked to get to the linebackers on the second level…Smart player who makes the line calls and can immediately read and respond to blitzes…Excellent technique…Good hand punch…Good combination of speed and strength as shown at the Combine …NFL ready…Added weight for the Combine to get up to 299 but usually weighs 10 pounds or more less…Doesn't dominate big DTs and nose tackles…Can get neutralized by tackles that pop him with their hands as he's getting set…Viewed by some as a 'system' center that needs an offense like they have in Denver and Indy…Made a huge impression at the Combine with a position-best 4.96 40, tied for first by doing 34 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press, had a 26-inch vertical jump and tied for second with an 8-8 broad jump.

PROJECTION: As technically sound a center that has been in the draft in some time. He wowed scouts at both the Senior Bowl and the Combine and pushed his stock to the top of the pure centers in the draft. His weight and inability to keep weight on during the season will concern some, but the upside on him is enormous.

Josh Beekman, Boston College (6-1¾, 309)
Fifth-year senior…State champion shot-putter in high school…Three-year starter who spent two years at right guard before starting three games at center as a senior…First-team All-America in 2006 and winner of the Jacobs Blocking Trophy for the best offensive lineman in the ACC…Very wide base and huge, strong lower body…Has a bubble butt and can hit the anchor on pass-rushing defensive tackles…Gets out of his stance quickly and gets after the tackles…Good footwork and moves nicely when pass protection needs to hold up longer than planned…Durability is a concern after starting three years without missing a game…Viewed by some as too short for an NFL lineman, especially at guard since he's less than 6-2…Also has short arms that make a difficult to lock onto taller, longer-armed DTs…Is emotional and can get his head taken out of the game at times…Gets rag-dolled a little too often for a top-line player…Has limited experience at center…Ran a 5.45 40 at the Combine with 24 reps of 225 pounds, a 25½ -inch vertical jump and a 7-9 broad jump.

PROJECTION: He proved at the Senior Bowl practices that he has the potential to be a solid NFL center. He has some athletic limitations that might drop him into the later portion of the second round or early in the third, but he has the required skills to be a starting center in the NFL for years.

Samson Satele, Hawaii (6-2¾, 300)
Fifth-year senior…Started all 14 games as a freshman (one at left tackle, 13 at left guard), 13 as a sophomore (10 at left guard, three at center), 12 at left guard in 2005 and 14 at center in 2006…Had 123 knockdown blocks in three years as a guard…Very strong and aggressive…Gets a good burst off the snap and gets onto tackles early…Adept at pulling in either direction…Good lower leg strength to anchor vs. power rushers…Brings position flexibility having played center, guard and tackle…Helps out other linemen in pass protection blitz pickup…Short arms that make it hard to lock onto big, long-armed DTs…Isn't as effective in space taking on linebackers…Doesn't have true NFL lineman bulk…Will go backwards when DTs deliver a hand punch at the snap…Came out of a gimmick offense that had him in a two-point stance and will need refining…Ran a 5.24 40 at the Combine with 25 reps, a 33½-inch vertical jump (second-best among all centers) and an 8-5 broad jump.

PROJECTION: Satele is another top center prospect that is viewed as undersized. That seems to be a theme this year, which will drop him late into the latter stages of the first day if not Day 2.

THE NEXT LEVEL

Leroy Harris, North Carolina State (6-2½, 302)
Fifth-year senior…Three-sport athlete in high school who completed in the shot put and discus on the track team and was a state champion heavyweight wrestler…Four-year starter…Has played primarily at center but has also started at both right and left guard when the team needed it…Is married…Very good heart punch off the snap…Holds his ground against pass rushers and is quick to pick up delayed blitzes…Good when pulling on sweeps and keeps his balance when running in space…Very smart…Is undersized and doesn't look like he could find the NC State weight room if asked…Has trouble with quick, bull rushers…Has been injured at some point in each of the last three seasons with shoulder, hand and ankle injuries…Will struggle in short yardage because he doesn't push defenders back and move the pile…Ran a 5.33 40 at the Combine with 29 reps of 225 pounds, a 24½-inch vertical jump and an 8-0 broad jump.

PROJECTION: Scouts are torn on Harris. Some love his versatility, while others think he's more flash than substance. Needs some refining of his game but should be taken somewhere late on Day 1 or early on Day 2.

Doug Datish, Ohio State (6-4¼, 302)
Fifth-year senior…His father Mike played for OSU in the mid-1970s…Three-year starter who moved to guard and tackle because the Buckeyes had 2006 first-rounder Nick Mangold at center…Played nine games at guard and one at center in 2004, 11 games at left tackle in 2005 and 13 games at center in 2006…Had surgery on his left shoulder after the 2005 season…He's big and has the type of frame that could add 15-20 pounds without losing flexibility…Has good footwork and solid lateral movement…As versatile as any center candidate in the draft, he could back up at either guard position at the next level…Durability not a question and hasn't missed a game in his career…Is more of a stand-your-ground center and doesn't burst off the snap and push back defensive tackles…Falls off too many blocks and allows DTs with quickness to make plays…Doesn't have top-end quickness that will translate to the next level…Ran a 5.14 40 at the Combine with 31 reps, a 26-inch vertical jump and an 8-6 broad jump.

PROJECTION: Simply being from a program that has produced so many good NFL linemen should be enough to get Datish selected perhaps higher than we have him ranked. He will need some time and a patient coach. He could be a solid player, but whomever takes him will have to commit to putting him at one spot and keep him there or may become a journeyman-type who can play all positions but doesn't master any of them.

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Enoka Lucas, Oregon (6-3¾, 301)
Fifth-year senior…Came to Oregon after having surgery on both knees in high school…Three-year starter…Has an injury history that includes missing time with a broken hand and a knee injury…Very wide lower body…Makes all the line calls and is adept at reading defenses and reacting…Can stand tall against much bigger nose tackles and DTs…Has shown he will play through injury…Picks up late blitzers well…Gets knocked down a lot because of his own aggression…Doesn't have great pop off the snap…Has good strength, but it doesn't seem to carry over consistently into success on the field…Gets called for a lot of penalties…Got dominated at times at Hula Bowl practices when playing guard…Ran a 5.37 40 at the Combine with a position-tying-best 34 reps of 225 pounds, a 27½-inch vertical jump and a second-best 8-8 broad jump.

PROJECTION: Lucas has some of the intangibles you look for in a lineman but doesn't seem to play with a nasty streak and will get frustrated by smothering nose tackles. He's a project that will likely land somewhere in the fourth or fifth round.

THE BEST OF THE REST

Scott Stephenson, Iowa State (6-3¼, 295)
Fifth-year senior…Played his first two seasons at Minnesota as a backup defensive tackle…Moved to center when he enrolled at ISU…Started all 24 games in which he played…Had left shoulder surgery before the 2005 season and right shoulder surgery before the 2006 season…Good quickness and hand punch off the snap…Has very good agility to get to linebackers at the second level of the defense…Intelligent player who reads and reacts quickly…Only has two years experience in his entire career at center…Looked like a horrible mistake as a junior but came on strong as a senior…Not able to push the pile and move people and is more of a seal-off type…Doesn't have good upper-body strength…Had an up-and-down Combine…His 40 time of 5.11 second was second among centers as was his 30-inch vertical jump, but his 22 reps were the second-lowest totals of centers who have a shot at being drafted.

PROJECTION: If you looked at film on him as a junior, you wouldn't even consider drafting him. But he turned things around in a big way at midseason last year, and by season's end, he looked like a legitimate prospect that could grade out with the top centers in the class. But his inexperience and lack of long-term success will drop him into the middle of the second day.

Herbert Taylor, TCU (6-4, 296)
Fifth-year senior…Four-year starter who played his first three years at right tackle and his senior year at left tackle…Never missed a game in 49 starts…Conference USA All-Freshman Team selection…Very quick off the snap…Elite body control…Good upper-body strength to neutralize D-linemen…Doesn't stop until the whistle blows…Makes good adjustments when blocking on the second level…Thin for a lineman and doesn't have the ideal frame to add much more weight, although he did add almost 10 pounds between the East-West Shrine Game and the Combine to prove he could get bigger…Tends to have a lot of stalemates with defenders instead of pushing them around…Is not ideally sized to play tackle at the next level and has no functional experience at center…Ran a 5.19 40 at the Combine with 26 reps, a 27-inch vertical jump and an 8-4 broad jump.

PROJECTION: An offensive line ‘tweener, so if he's to be successful, he will likely have to move to center because he's viewed as too small to play right tackle in the NFL. That will take time, which is why he will likely stay on the board until the fifth or sixth round at the earliest.

Lyle Sendlein, Texas (6-4½, 284)
Fifth-year senior…His father is Robin Sendlein, a former Texas linebacker taken on the second round by the Vikings in the 1981 draft…Two-year starter who started the last 26 games of his college career…Fights hard and plays with a mean streak…Gets out of his stance quickly and delivers a decent hand punch…Can hold up against mammoth nose tackles without bending…Has the quickness to get outside on student-body sweeps…Doesn't have functional game strength or huge pop to dominate…Struggles against fast defensive tackles that have the speed to blow by him…Needs to add about 15 pounds for the NFL…Ran a 5.25 40 at the Combine with a 32-inch vertical jump and an 8-9 broad jump, but he may have hurt his draft status by opting not to lift.

PROJECTION: To be a starter at Texas, you have to possess some good skills. Sendlein has them but is limited in his playing experience. Viewed as a developmental guy who may have to spend a couple of years on a practice squad and maybe do a tour of NFL Europa, which makes him a guy who should be on the board late in the draft.

Dustin Fry, Clemson (6-2¾, 314)
Fifth-year senior…Two-time state wrestling champion who also won a state title as a shot-putter…A two-year starter who had 25 straight starts to end his college career…Has a wide base and big calves…Has endured shoulder and knee injuries but played through them…Good strength and arms like a pro wrestler…Pushes around nose tackles with his strength and agility…Shoots arms well and can neutralize defenders off the snap…Is solid in run protection…Doesn't play with athleticism and gets beat by quick, athletic DTs…Is best just holding his position and has trouble sustaining blocks in pass protection…Ends up on the ground too much…Ran a 5.12 40 at the Combine (third-best among centers) with a position-tying best 34 reps with 225 pounds, but he opted not to jump.

PROJECTION: A classic ‘tweener, he is likely going to be a career reserve that has a shot at being drafted late. But more likely will be an undrafted free agent called in the minutes after the draft is completed.

OTHERS TO WATCH

Mark Fenton, Colorado (6-4¼, 281)
Chris White, South Carolina (6-3, 321)
Drew Mormino, Central Michigan (6-3¼, 299)
Nick Jones, Georgia (6-1¼, 287)
Kyle Young, Fresno State (6-5¼, 345)


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