Michael Okwo played his college football at Stanford in the PAC-10, was also drafted in the third round, and wore No. 55 on Saturdays.
Coincidence? Perhaps not.
Briggs is still a member of the Chicago Bears despite rampant speculation that he would be traded before the NFL Draft, and since he is still threatening to hold out as long as possible until he gets the new contract he wants, the team is putting its contingency plan in place. Briggs is unhappy about being slapped with the francise tag in the offseason even though it guarantees him a one-year tender at $7.2 million, about 10 times what he made in 2006. A proposed trade with Washington fell through when the Redskins refused to include Rocky McIntosh in the deal.
Believe it or not, GM Jerry Angelo did not field any other phone calls on draft weekend concerning Briggs once his potential move to our nation's capital was nixed.
The Bears added a young linebacker in Jamar Williams in the fourth round a year ago. The former Sun Devil was already making an impact on special teams but hurt his shoulder in Week 3 against Detroit and finished his rookie campaign on injured reserve. Williams has made a complete recovery and been running with the first team at Briggs' spot on the weak side during the offseason program.
Williams has the look of a Cover 2 linebacker with his speed and quickness, but Angelo covered his bet by drafting Okwo with his second pick in the third round two weekends ago.
"He is a good player," director of college scouting Greg Gabriel said of Okwo, "and we were looking to get another linebacker in the system. There are not a lot of guys who can play in the system the way we want. He was one of the few that we thought was a good fit."
When asked to compare Okwo to Williams, Gabriel acknowledged that they are both cut from the same template.
"Similar," he said. "Maybe a little quicker twitch. Similar instincts. About the same speed. Not a big difference in their size as far as height. Jamar is just over six foot, and [Michael] is just under six foot. But I think he gives us flexibility too with those guys. There are two good young players in the system."
Angelo was very pleased with the addition of Okwo but still has plenty of confidence in Williams, as well.
"I like Okwo," Angelo said. "I think Okwo is a very good player. I thought Williams in the fourth round last year was just coming on with special teams for us. I thought he was just ready to take that step, and then the injury [happened]. So we have a good player in Jamar Williams, and I am really interested to see how he progresses."
Perhaps Angelo is already making plans to be without Briggs in 2007 because he sees Okwo as a Briggs clone.
"This Okwo is a very, very good player and, in fact, he reminded me a little bit of Lance," he said. "They played in the same conference. [He] did some things like Lance [and was] highly productive. This guy makes all the plays like Lance did, so there are some characteristics there that I saw with Lance and am very, very happy with him. It was just someone that we felt strongly about."
Head coach Lovie Smith puts a high priority on special teams, an area where Okwo feels he can contribute right away.
"I came in here as a special teams player especially," Okwo said via conference call shortly after being drafted, "and I am definitely willing to do those things and work hard for my position, wherever it will be. I am coming out there with bright eyes, ready to do whatever is necessary to help this team."
Smith is very particular about finding players that fit into his Cover 2 scheme, and it appears that Okwo knows it pretty well.
"We played the Cover 2 pretty often in our defense [at Stanford]," he said. "We sort of ran pretty similar defense to the Chicago Bears, except we ran the Cover 2 out of the 3-4 primarily. I know the Bears do a lot of three linebackers [and] Cover 2 stuff. In terms of the coverage, I am very familiar with it."
Nobody is suggesting that Okwo is going to step right in and make the kind of impact that Briggs did. The Bears placed the franchise tag on Briggs as a tip of the cap that he was indeed one of the top five players in the NFL at his position. Pro Bowl linebackers don't grow on trees, but it has been suggested that he would not be nearly the same player if he didn't line up next to All-Pro Brian Urlacher every snap or play in Smith's LB-friendly system.
Maybe Briggs will play this season for the Bears and maybe not. Either way, the Monsters of the Midway now have not one by two insurance policies in place with Okwo and Williams.
|John Crist is the Publisher of Bear Report and Editor in Chief of BearReport.com. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.|