With their first draft pick the Bears addressed their greatest need. They selected Vanderbilt's Chris Williams 14th overall in the hope that he can step into the starting spot at left tackle very soon if not immediately.
"We went into this with our No. 1 need as left tackle after we discussed our team at length," Bears general manager Jerry Angelo said. "We wanted to get a tackle, and obviously if we had our choice, it would be a left tackle."
The 6-6, 315-pound Williams received high marks from scouts for his athleticism and especially his nimble footwork, which may make him the most natural left tackle in the draft – able to handle the burden of protecting a right-handed quarterback's blind side. Williams was not rated nearly as highly for his run blocking, where his strength and physical play weren't as impressive as his agility.
After starting the past three seasons at Vanderbilt, the last two at left tackle, Williams is confident he can do the same for the Bears, although he doesn't consider himself the left tackle starter yet.
"I don't know if I anticipate that, but I feel like they drafted me to come in and fill that need," Williams said. "I'm definitely coming in and trying to start, and I'm assuming that's why they picked me in the first round. Most teams don't waste first-round picks on guys that don't play, so that's my intention coming in."
It's head coach Lovie Smith's intention, too.
"He's played at a high level in the SEC for a long time at the left tackle position, which he'll play for us," Smith said. "Chris is pretty driven to be one of the better players to play the position."
John Tait has been the Bears' starting left tackle for the past three seasons, but he's 33 and might be more effective moving back to right tackle – where he started from 2002-04. The Bears cut last year's right tackle Fred Miller and didn't offer a new contract to left guard Ruben Brown, so they have a major renovation project up front. Tait and journeyman John St. Clair, who ended last season starting at guard after Terrence Metcalf flopped, are the only tackles on the roster who have played in an NFL game.
Not just because the 6-1, 217-pound Tulane product is similar – more of a tough, power runner than a breakaway threat – but because Benson's coming off a fractured ankle. The organization is disappointed in his production and injury history since he was the fourth-overall pick in 2005.
"I felt like our running game obviously was one of the weak spots on our football team," Angelo said after tabbing Forte 44th overall. "He gives us a big back, a three-down back. He's got enough speed to get to the outside, and he has the ability to make people miss at the second level. Those two areas where we could really never find any consistency, which made us an easy team to defend."
Forte bounced back from left knee surgery in 2006 to rush for 2,127 yards last season, second best in the nation. He averaged 5.9 yards on 361 carries, scored 23 touchdowns and also caught 32 passes for 282 yards.
RB Matt Forte
Pat Sullivan/AP Images
Forte doesn't have top-end speed and ran a pedestrian 4.59 40-yard dash at his Pro Day, but he has been timed as low as 4.46. He has good vision and run instincts with good cutback ability, and he is also an effective receiver with soft hands although not great run-after-the-catch ability.
Benson, Adrian Peterson and Garrett Wolfe combined last season for the lowest average gain per carry in the NFL (3.1 yards), and the Bears were 30th of 32 teams in rushing yards. Benson, who averaged 3.4 yards per carry last season, didn't have a run longer than 16 yards until the 10th game of the season, and he suffered the season-ending injury in the next game.
"Maybe he's not the featured back we thought he'd be," Angelo said of Benson. "He's had those injuries. When we thought we were starting to see a little something, then he breaks his ankle. I and the coaches felt we needed to make sure that we protected that position."
Forte will have every opportunity to take the No. 1 job because the Bears see him as a complete, every-down back.
The Bears started the second day of the draft staying with the formula of bolstering a weak offense with a record-setting wide receiver, and then they took a gamble on a defensive player to provide defensive line depth and did the same for the safety and cornerback positions.
Earl Bennett, the Bears' first third-round pick (70th overall), caught 236 passes in just three seasons at Vanderbilt, more than anyone in Southeast Conference history. Before leaving school a year early, the 5-11 1/2, 209-pound Bennett caught at least 75 passes in each of his three seasons – the only player in SEC history with at least 75 receptions in more than one season. He finished with a total of 2,853 receiving yards and 20 touchdowns.
Bennett has been compared to Steelers' standout wide receiver Hines Ward because of his strength, toughness and compact build.
"That actually was discussed in our meetings," Bears offensive coordinator Ron Turner said. "It's probably because of the size and the way he competes and the production he has. I just know he's a good player – very productive and very competitive."
His 40 time of 4.51 is not outstanding for a wideout, but Bennett made a career of excelling as an underneath receiver and shows good run-after-the-catch ability by breaking tackles downfield. Bennett also impressed scouts with his ability to adjust to poor throws. As a freshman he was fortunate to have Jay Cutler as his quarterback, but in the past two seasons he was just as productive without a standout quarterback. Bennett didn't impress anyone with his great speed, but his production was undeniable.
"If you watch the tape, he comes up big every game," said Bears director of college scouting Greg Gabriel. "He was their go-to guy. Everybody knew that was who they were going to throw to, yet he still came up with big catches. He's great in traffic. He's great after he has the ball in his hands. He's got good concentration. He has very good hands. He's a very good route runner."
With the Bears' wideout situation unsettled, Bennett will have a legitimate chance to compete for a starting job as a rookie.
"We see him as having starter talent," Gabriel said. "Whether he becomes a starter as a rookie, that remains to be seen."
BEST PICK: The Bears picked LSU safety Craig Steltz in the fourth round (120th overall), but according to Angelo, there was complete agreement in the war room that he had the ability to become a starter. Steltz was only a full-time starter for one season at LSU, but he had 101 tackles and six interceptions last year. He's big enough to play effectively in the box but also has the instincts to play free safety, so he could be a factor very soon in an area that has been troubled for the past four seasons because of frequent injuries to Mike Brown – a special player when healthy.
COULD SURPRISE: Nebraska cornerback Zack Bowman's two seasons in Lincoln were hindered by a pair of knee surgeries that limited him to nine starts. But Bowman, who lasted until the fifth round (No. 142 overall) because of the injuries, is very close to 100 percent and on the verge of regaining the elite talent he flashed before he was hurt. He's 6-0 and 197 pounds and ran a 4.44 40 at the combine.
NEWS & NOTES
"[We're] disappointed, obviously, that he's behind," Angelo said. "We got a hold of him the last few days, and he says he's on it. We've talked to his legal counsel, and we're going to get more involved in the process to make sure that all the follow-up is done. And Lance assured us that he's going to take care of it. He's a little bit behind, but he'll get it done and we're on it, too."
"I enjoy the outdoors, and I enjoy scuba diving and fishing," he said. "I'm up for anything."
The Bears believe Steltz has the skill set to play either safety position.
"He can play the deep middle third and he can play up in the box," defensive coordinator Bob Babich said. "He's big, tough and instinctive enough."
Steltz also has a special-teams personality, which is where he's likely to make his initial impact as he battles for playing time at a crowded but unspectacular safety position.
"I love it," the 6-1 1/2, 213-pounder said of special teams. "That's where I started at LSU. I'm just trying to find a place to help the team win. That's what comes from LSU players, guys who how to win and do anything possible to get out on the field and make a difference."
CB Zack Bowman
Joe Mixen/Big Red Report
The corner had 10 interceptions and 22 pass break-ups in junior college before an injury-plagued career at Nebraska that included major surgeries on both knees. He started just nine games in two years in Lincoln, but says his knees are fine now.
"After the combine, they were really good," he said. "They're fine. I just want to keep them that way."
Gabriel said Bowman was not 100 percent during his senior season, but he is now.
"He had a great combine," Gabriel said. "We took him with the idea that he's 100 percent recovered."
"It's the only blemish on his record," said Gabriel.
The 6-6 1/2, 262-pound Davis is a physically-gifted player with great talent, but he has a reputation for being an underachiever who lacks a strong work ethic and is a less-than-enthusiastic blocker. Despite that, he caught 32 passes for 513 yards and 6 touchdowns last season.
"We got phone calls from several people, and they were very, very aggressive," Angelo said. "But we really felt strongly about Chris. We thought he fit the prototype of what we were looking for intangibly. And we felt [good] obviously [about] his skill level and his position.
"Not many times do you set your course to target a guy and/or guys, and we had a choice of them, but we didn't want to look a gift horse in the mouth, and we don't want to get cute on draft day. We're very happy with our selection. Maybe we could have gotten him later, but if we didn't, then we wouldn't have felt as good as we [do] right now."
"Basically, what I learned form them was my work ethic," said Forte, who rushed for 4,265 yards in his college career. "My dad told me nothing is going to come easy to you, and you are going to have to work for it. I have always had that mentality since I was a young kid, and that has helped me along with my God-given ability to play football."
Forte also caught 103 passes for 985 yards at Tulane.
QUOTE TO NOTE
"We are in the business to win football games. This isn't an angelic game, and we certainly aren't going to get all angels. But we are not going to prostitute character. We do not put winning in front of character. It doesn't work that way here." – GM Jerry Angelo
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