The following is another e-mail exchange back and forth between Bear Report Publisher John Crist and Scout.com NFL Draft expert Chris Steuber. Today's subject? Potential risers and fallers on defense during the upcoming NFL Combine in Indianapolis ...
John Crist: Alright, we pretty much covered the offensive talent yesterday, so let's take a closer look at the defensive prospects who will be on display in Indianapolis at the NFL Combine.
The Bears had all kinds of trouble on defense this past season, and most of those troubles seemed to stem from injuries and ineffectiveness at the tackle position. Tommie Harris was voted to his third straight Pro Bowl, but he probably didn't deserve it after playing most of the schedule on a sprained knee. Dusty Dvoracek looked like a monster in the preseason and was able to hold off veteran Darwin Walker for the starting spot at nose tackle, although he tore an ACL in Week 1 and has now missed 31 of 32 career games due to injury. Both Anthony Adams and Matt Toeaina played well when called upon and will be in the mix as backups, while Walker was cut Monday after a disappointing year coming over from Philadelphia. Antonio Garay is nothing more than an occasional fill-in, and former first-round bust Jimmy Kennedy did very little after being signed off the scrap heap.Even though Dvoracek is way ahead of schedule in his rehab and could still turn into a pretty good player, GM Jerry Angelo needs to find an insurance policy in a hurry. Ideally, he drafts a versatile D-tackle who can play on the nose and also at the three-technique since Harris has been injury-prone himself the last two seasons. Glenn Dorsey of LSU and Sedrick Ellis of USC will be long gone by the 14th pick in the first round, but I've seen a few mock drafts that have the Bears going with Kentwan Balmer of North Carolina at that spot. Aside from those three names, Pat Sims of Auburn, Dre Moore of Maryland, and Andre Fluellen of Florida State appear to be the best prospects available. Is Balmer worthy of No. 14, or, if Angelo goes another direction, would you consider Sims, Moore, or Fluellen at No. 44 in the second round?
And even though this team is loaded at defensive end despite getting nothing in 2007 out of second-rounder Dan Bazuin, is there any player who might be too good to pass up – like Mark Anderson two years ago – if he starts to slip on Day 2?
Chris Steuber: There will certainly be some top defensive line prospects on the board when the Bears make their selection in Round 1, but most of those prospects will be defensive ends.
DT Andre Fluellen
Grant Halverson/Getty Images
You're right. Glenn Dorsey and Sedrick Ellis will be long gone when the Bears make their pick, and the next best DT is North Carolina's Kentwan Balmer. Taking Balmer with the 14th pick is a bit of a reach, and if the Bears look to upgrade their defensive line, they'd be better off drafting a DE at that selection. Players like Derrick Harvey (Florida), Calais Campbell (Miami), Phillip Merling (Clemson) and Lawrence Jackson (USC) are all enticing.
It would be much wiser for the Bears to look for a DT in the second or third round. You mentioned a few players that will be available in Round 2: Pat Sims (Auburn), Dre Moore (Maryland) and Andre Fluellen (Florida State).
Two other names to remember are Joseph "Red" Bryant (Texas A&M) and Frank Okam (Texas). Bryant and Okam are two of the biggest DTs in the draft, get good penetration up the middle and would take pressure off of Brian Urlacher and Tommie Harris.
JC: As far as the linebackers go, GM Jerry Angelo has stockpiled some good young talent that will most likely be called into action now since Pro Bowler Lance Briggs is expected to leave via free agency.
With former fourth-rounder Jamar Williams and last year's third-rounder Michael Okwo both drawing rave reviews from management so far, it would be silly – not to mention quite contradictory – for Angelo to spend a high draft pick on a potential replacement for Briggs on the weak side. Assuming his recent neck surgery is no big deal and team doctors can quell any lingering issues with the back arthritis that bothered him at times this past season, Brian Urlacher is still as good as it gets in the middle. Strong-side `backer Hunter Hillenmeyer is far from a human highlight reel, but he never misses an assignment and set a career high in tackles in 2007. Brendon Ayanbadejo could also leave as a free agent, although he's only a special-teamer and doesn't contribute on defense. Backups Rod Wilson, Darrell McClover, and Nick Roach are also in the mix and have all played well on the coverage units.If Angelo does entertain a linebacker in the draft, it will most likely be another speedster who can play on the outside and contribute right away on special teams. Of the three-star rated prospects currently listed at Scout.com, Ali Highsmith of LSU is the most recognizable name. Where do you see him getting drafted in April, and could he potentially develop into a weak-side defender in Lovie Smith's Cover-2 scheme? If not Highsmith, which of the under-the-radar LBs could make a name for himself at the Combine and move up a round or two? Of the players rated four stars or higher, who might be in danger of failing to impress in Indy?
And don't tell anyone I asked you this, but would it be sheer lunacy for the team to think about a potential replacement for Urlacher at this point?
CS: I don't see the Bears spending a high draft choice on a linebacker either. They have too many other needs to worry about drafting a linebacker. But with Lance Briggs being a free agent and no highly-touted prospects waiting in the wings, the Bears may get desperate and opt for an early-round 'backer.
LB Shawn Crable
Reinhold Matay/AP Images
Realistically, I think they will pass and wait until the third or fourth round to grab an eventual replacement for Briggs. Remember, Briggs was just a third-round pick and there's usually quality at the linebacker position later in the draft.
Ali Highsmith will be a late first or early second-round pick. A lot of people have mixed reviews on Highsmith, mainly because of his size. But he's a playmaker who plays sideline to sideline. I think the Bears' best option would be to wait until the third round to select a linebacker. Florida State's Geno Hayes and Michigan's Shawn Crable are athletic defenders who would fit nicely into the Bears defense.
I don't think this is the year for the Bears to look for a replacement for Urlacher, but if the Bears have a high pick next year, they may have a shot at Ohio State's James Laurinaitis.
JC: Since the Midway Monsters signed both Charles Tillman and Nathan Vasher to lucrative contract extentions before last season, I'm going to do what Jerry Angelo should do in the secondary: Ignore the cornerback position altogether and focus on the safety spots.
With Mike Brown moving back to free in order to make room for the newly-acquired Adam Archuleta at strong in 2007, safety was supposed to be a strength for this defense. However, Brown once again got hurt and was forced to injured reserve, and Archuleta proved that his miserable display in Washington the year before was no fluke. While Brown will likely be back if he restructures his contract, Archuleta is little more than a special-teamer right now and could have very well played himself out of the league last season. Both Danieal Manning and Brandon McGowan are young players who have a lot of potential, but they have been plagued by inconsistency thus far. Angelo waited all the way until the fifth round to draft a safety last year, but Kevin Payne only played in three games before breaking his arm and heading to IR.
Bar none, the best safety in this year's class is Kenny Phillips of Miami. The Hurricanes have produced some top-notch players at that position recently, including Ed Reed and the late Sean Taylor. I know a lot of fans would love to see Phillips in a Bears uniform, but will he even be on the board at No. 14 after his performance at the Combine? And since offensive tackle – a much deeper position this year – is also a top priority for this team, does that mean Angelo has to grab Phillips if he can since a pretty good tackle will likely be available at No. 44? Is the dropoff too severe to risk?
Jonathan Hefney of Tennessee and Quintin Demps of UTEP look to be the second-tier prospects after Phillips, but who else do you think will do well in Indy and possibly earn a Day-1 selection come April?
CS: This is one of the weakest draft classes at the safety position I can remember in a while. Beyond Kenny Phillips, there are a lot of question marks. Some of the safeties behind Phillips are good players. For example, here are a few that can be had in Rounds 2 and 3: Simeon Castille (Alabama), Marcus Griffin (Texas), Jamar Adams (Michigan) and Jonathan Hefney (Tennessee).
S Jonathan Hefney
Phil Sandlin/AP Images
If the Bears are serious about upgrading at safety, I believe Phillips will be available at No. 14 unless he runs a low-4.4 40 and shows great cover skills during drills. If Phillips is gone and the Bears are looking to get value at No. 14, drafting a defensive end or offensive tackle makes sense.
The one safety I really like who didn't perform well this past season due to injury is Josh Barrett from Arizona State. He had a great junior year and received a lot of hype last offseason, but he suffered numerous injuries to different parts of his body and was unable to perform at a high level. If he's healthy and has a solid workout in Indy, look for Barrett to rise up draft boards.
If you'd like to read Monday's e-mail exchange, where Crist and Steuber took a look at the offensive 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.