The following is an e-mail exchange back and forth between Bear Report Publisher John Crist and Scout.com NFL Draft expert Chris Steuber. The subject? Potential risers and fallers on offense during the upcoming NFL Combine in Indianapolis ...
John Crist: Just like it has been ever since Sid Luckman hung up his leather helmet in 1950, the Bears are in the market for that proverbial quarterback of the future.
If I had to guess right now, I'd say Rex Grossman is re-signed for reasonable money, Kyle Orton comes back as the No. 2, and then Brian Griese is pink-slipped. That means there would be an open spot on the roster for a third-stringer that could develop into the starter in a year or two. While there are some pretty good signal-callers available in this year's NFL Draft, nobody truly stands out as a can't-miss prospect. At the Senior Bowl, team officials spent a lot of time with Colt Brennan of Hawaii, Joe Flacco of Delaware , and Chad Henne of Michigan. As a matter of fact, I've already reported that the Bears have scheduled a private workout with Flacco after the NFL Combine.
And since you and I will be headed to Indianapolis later this week to check out many of the aforementioned players up close, what do you expect to see from the QBs during workouts? Who is most likely to up their stock, and who is most likely to fall? Which prospects are you beginning to like more and more, and which prospects are you starting to like less and less?
Chris Steuber: Personally, I was very impressed with Chad Henne all week long at the Senior Bowl. He came into Mobile with a lot of momentum stemming from Michigan's Capital One Bowl victory over Florida. In Mobile, Henne displayed great footwork, velocity and accuracy and showed that he could play in miserable weather. Not only did he play in miserable weather at the Senior Bowl, but playing in the unpredictable weather at Michigan is very comparable to what he may face in Chicago. If Henne runs well and continues to display a strong arm and accuracy, don't be surprised if the Bears are tempted to move up in the second round to grab him.
QB Colt Brennan
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
I think Colt Brennan is going to surprise a lot of media members – not scouts because I think they know he's talented – this weekend. He weighed in at 185 pounds in Mobile, and that was the big news surrounding Brennan. He took that to heart and has worked extremely hard. Currently, he's up to 206 pounds and is working on every aspect of his game. I expect Brennan to shock a lot of observers and make the doubters eat their words.
One QB that has to impress at the Combine is Kentucky's Andre Woodson. He has to work on his long release and somehow shorten it. Also, his decision-making is questionable and scouts will be critical of him during drills. Woodson may run well in Indy, but it's his throwing many are concerned with.
I'm interested in seeing Brian Brohm and Matt Ryan work out at the RCA Dome. The top two QBs in the draft decided to skip the Senior Bowl, much to the disgust of NFL personnel. Scouts are interested in seeing Brohm and Ryan up close to determine who the top QB in the class really is.
JC: The Bears were fortunate a year ago in that they really had all 22 starting positions locked down and ready to go. But this time, GM Jerry Angelo needs to fill a couple of needs as opposed to simply taking the best player available.
Since Cedric Benson was such a disappointment and Angelo has promised more competition in the backfield, he'll have to consider a running back in the draft. The only ball-carrier Bears officials spent noticeable time with was Chauncey Washington of USC, but he's hardly a highly-rated prosect. Angelo won't want to spend too high a pick at that position with the investment he's already made in Benson, so who do you think could be a late-round bargain? Who will help himself tremendously at the Combine, like Chris Henry of the Titans did a year ago? Conversely, he could be in danger of slipping a round or two, like DeShawn Wynn of the Packers did?
Wide receiver is another spot of interest for the Midway Monsters, especially since Bernard Berrian could walk in free agency. Team scouts spent a good deal of time with both Limas Sweed of Texas and Early Doucet of LSU at the Senior Bowl, the two top wideouts in Mobile. That tells me they are contemplating a pass-catcher on Day 1. This is a very deep class of receivers in 2008, so who do you see rocketing up draft boards after the Combine, and who might suffer a freefall?CS: This year's running back class is significantly deep. The infusion of young talent has made RB one of the more intriguing positions in the draft. I think a lot of teams could wait until the second, third and fourth rounds to address their need for a back. The Bears may address their need in the second or third round, although they did spend a third-round pick on Garrett Wolfe last year.
RB Steve Slaton
Rogelio V. Solis/AP Images
With Wolfe in the fold, I'd think the Bears would target a bigger back to complement Wolfe's abilities. Here are some players that may fit what the Bears are looking for: Matt Forte (Tulane), Kevin Smith (Central Florida), Mike Hart (Michigan), Tashard Choice (Georgia Tech), Cory Boyd (South Carolina), Chauncey Washington (USC), and Xavier Omon (Northwest Missouri State).
The players I listed above can be had in Rounds 2 – 6 and would provide versatility in the Chicago backfield.
One player who I think will help himself at the Combine is East Carolina's Chris Johnson. Johnson is scary quick and will run a high 4.2 or a low 4.3 in the 40-yard dash. The RCA Dome is a fast track, and if he's timed at that speed he will be a first-round pick.
A runner who I think has a lot of talent but is faced with many questions is West Virginia's Steve Slaton. Slaton had an outstanding sophomore season and was very explosive. But he failed to show that same kind of explosion this past year, and I believe he should have returned to school for his senior campaign. He's talented, but his draft positioning will all depend on how fast he runs and how well he catches the ball during drills.
It's interesting that you named Limas Sweed and Early Doucet as players the Bears spent a lot of time with in Mobile. Sweed and Doucet got injured early in the week at the Senior Bowl and didn't participate in the game. I have questions about Sweed and his health. He missed a lot of time this past season at Texas due to a wrist injury, and he aggravated that same injury in Mobile. I think Sweed has a lot to prove in Indianapolis, and he has to show scouts that he's healthy. Doucet strained his hamstring and should be fine to work out in Indy. He's a more polished receiver than Sweed. He's a reliable, sure-handed wideout who will give a QB confidence to throw his way.
When the Combine is behind us, I think you will see Lavelle Hawkins (California), Harry Douglas (Louisville), Kevin Robinson (Utah State), Jerome Simpson (Coastal Carolina) and Devin Thomas (Michigan State) rise up draft boards.
JC: We can talk about the skill-position players all we want, but until the Bears straighten out this mess of an offensive line, they're not going to be a very good football team this coming season.
This group is in desperate need of a youth movement, both in free agency and the draft. While Jake Long of Michigan will be long gone by the time Jerry Angelo is on the clock at No. 14, there are a handful of tackle prospects who might be worthy of that selection. Ryan Clady of Boise State, Jeff Otah of Pittsburgh, and Chris Williams of Vanderbilt all have a first-round grade, as do a few others. Perhaps the Combine will be where one of these players can separate himself from the rest of the pack. What might differentiate these youngsters from each other, and who is the best bet to do well for himself in Indy? And could any of them be a potential slide candidate?
As for the guards, Oniel Cousins of UTEP appears to be the top player at the position. Since tackles are much more heavily sought after in the draft than guards, where might the Bears be able to grab an interior player who could step in right away as a starter? There are five or six guards all getting a four-star grade from Scout.com, but who do you think has a chance to make himself a little money this week? And is anyone in danger of being exposed?
CS: You're right. Jake Long will be long gone when the Bears are on the clock. But you mentioned three names that are very good prospects: Ryan Clady, Jeff Otah and Chris Williams.
OT Jake Long
Paul Sancya/AP Images
Of the three, I'd say Otah is the most intriguing. Otah is a massive, 6-foot-6, 340-pound tackle, who's still learning the game and may present a bit of versatility. At his size, if for some reason he doesn't work out at tackle, he could move inside and play guard. He'll have to bend his knees consistently, but he's an athletic lineman who can accomplish that feat. What's going to separate these three in Indianapolis is their laterally mobility, strength and technique.
As for the interior linemen, I'm always weary of drafting one in the first round. I feel the same way about drafting an offensive tackle in the first round, because I think you can always find quality in the later rounds if you do your homework. I think Oniel Cousins got exposed in Mobile. He has a short wingspan and didn't demonstrate proper technique. Plus, he was slow off the line.
A player who's starting to gain some momentum is Newberry's Heath Benedict. He's a nasty lineman who doesn't mind getting down and dirty. He will be one of the most hated linemen in the league, because he doesn't care how he blocks you just as long as he gets the job done.
If you'd like to read Tuesday's e-mail exchange, where Crist and Steuber took a look at the defensive talent that will be on display at the NFL Combine, Click Here.
John Crist is the Publisher of Bear Report and a member of the Professional Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.