Lovie and Jerry: What We Learned

The Chicago Bears were well represented at the NFL Scouting Combine on Saturday, as both head coach Lovie Smith and Jerry Angelo addressed the media. What exactly can we take from what the duo had to say? Bear Report reads between the lines and puts together the five most important observations.

1. Orton is going to be the starting quarterback for this team
General manager Jerry Angelo couldn't have been more clear at his season-ending press conference that he wanted competition for quarterback Kyle Orton before next year, but head coach Lovie Smith reiterated Saturday at the Scouting Combine that the incumbent will be under center once again come Week 1.

Even if Angelo got his way and brought in a veteran signal caller to give Orton a run for his money, there won't be much on the open market in free agency. Jeff Garcia isn't a very good fit for Ron Turner's offense, Byron Leftwich still has that long injury history, and J.P. Losman is just Rex Grossman with more mobility. Smith indicated that both Caleb Hanie and Brett Basanez will be given a chance to compete for the backup role, plus the Bears have reportedly shown interest in Drew Willy of Buffalo in Indianapolis.

The Midway Monsters could very well add another passer through free agency or the draft, but that passer is going to be carrying a clipboard barring an Orton injury.

OT Chris Williams
Warren Wimmer Photography

2. Tait's retirement blew up the draft board
Last year's first-round draft pick, Chris Williams, is slated to start at left tackle even though he essentially redshirted as a rookie.

But the other side of the O-line is a mess right now, with veteran John Tait unexpectedly deciding to retire and leaving a huge hole at right tackle. John St. Clair, last year's starter at left tackle, could step in to take Tait's place, but he's an unrestricted free agent and would be foolish not to test the waters since there is a dearth of talent available at that position. The only other tackle within the organization is Cody Balogh, who spent all of last season on the practice squad.

There is room on the roster for a playmaking wide receiver and a pass-rushing defensive end, although don't be surprised if Angelo goes with another offensive tackle in Round 1 out of pure necessity.

3. Don't expect that impact pass rusher in the first few rounds
The front four had a miserable time putting consistent pressure on enemy QBs this past year, leading a lot of experts to believe that a defensive end could be selected in the first round.

But with former Lions head coach Rod Marinelli brought in to assist with the D-line, it appears that Alex Brown and Adewale Ogunleye both have job security heading into 2009. According to Smith, Marinelli is the best pickup the Bears will make this offseason no matter who gets inked in free agency or selected in the draft. Not only do Brown and Ogunleye need to get some more sacks, but Mark Anderson must rediscover the magic he had back in his rookie campaign of '06.

While a few of the mock drafts have Chicago going after Tyson Jackson of LSU or Michael Johnson of Georgia Tech at 18th overall, offensive line seems to be a greater need than defensive line currently.

S Danieal Manning
Darron Cummings/AP Images

4. The Manning experiment at safety is over
Bears fans won't be happy to hear that, like defensive end, the heads at Halas Hall just don't feel the safety situation is as dire as some think.

Team captain Mike Brown will not be back because of his constant injury problems, but Angelo is still high on 2008 fourth-rounder Craig Steltz and believes he's ready to step in and start next season. The name Danieal Manning, however, wasn't brought up at all, meaning he will probably remain the nickel back on obvious passing downs. Also, look for Manning to continue returning kickoffs.

When speaking of Devin Hester, Smith only referred to him as a wide receiver and a punt returner, so his kickoff-returning days could be a thing of the past.

5. Strong-side linebacker is completely up in the air at this point
If Brian Urlacher isn't going to perform at his previous Pro-Bowl level in the middle anymore, then it's reasonable to assume this defense needs more of a playmaker over on the strong side.

When asked about the position, Smith didn't favor old starter Hunter Hillenmeyer or new starter Nick Roach. As a matter of fact, Smith went out of his way to mention Jamar Williams and claimed he'll have a fair shot at the job, too. Williams would increase his chances to emerge victorious if he proves he can rush the passer, something that has been a weakness for this linebacking corps for a while now.

The Bears have had conversations with a few outside linebackers at the combine, with Zack Follett of Cal – he grew up a big Urlacher fan, by the way – and a few others on the list.

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.

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