The Monsters of the Midway have been long overdue for an injection of youth along the offensive line, and that's still the case despite selecting Chris Williams with a first-round draft pick last April.
Williams went down for the count with a bad back on the second day of training camp and eventually needed surgery to fix a herniated disc, although he did return around midseason – he's still yet to start an NFL game, however. But the coaching staff is convinced nonetheless that Williams is fully healthy and ready for 2009, as the former Vanderbilt Commodore will be atop the depth chart at left tackle when minicamp opens Mar. 17. His reputation coming out of college was that of a dominant pass protector, although he needs to get a little nastier on the ground.
The bigger concern, believe it or not, is on the other side of the line at right tackle, where John Tait is retiring a year or so earlier than expected, Fred Miller will likely do the same, and John St. Clair remains unsigned as an unrestricted free agent. While general manager Jerry Angelo did make a move on the first day of free agency, inking Frank Omiyale, the ex-Panther is slated to compete at guard – at least initially. Omiyale has started a grand total of one game since entering the league in 2005, so handing him the keys at right tackle might be dangerous.
Chicago had a formal interview with Baylor's Jason Smith at the Scouting Combine, and even though he's one of the top talents available and should be off the board well before the Bears select at No. 18 overall, we enlisted BearsIllustrated.com publisher Chris Bullajian for his insider's take.
Bullajian Says: His top traits are his footwork and mobility. As a former tight end, Smith is a big man that can move. Now at tackle, he is still able to maintain weight while keeping those quick feet. Smith needs to get better at taking over a game. He showed signs of that ability his senior year at Baylor, but he needs to become the absolute terror that he can be one day. Overall, he is a class act and a guy that any NFL organization should be proud to have on its roster – a high-character and also a high-integrity individual. On the field, he's about as solid as you can get. Smith should be a long-term fixture at tackle for any team that selects him.
JC's Take: If the Bears want to make a play for Smith, they have to put together a package of picks to get into the top five in Round 1.
Some mock drafts have Smith going as high as No. 2 to the Rams, plus his stock will only be elevated further by the Curious Case of Andre Smith during his (brief) stint in Indianapolis. It's never been Angelo's style to trade up because of the inevitable cost associated with that high of a choice, which was hammered home just last year when the team cut ties with Cedric Benson. Not to mention the fact that Angelo covets second-day draft picks, as he's had success in the past finding quality contributors on the defensive side of the ball in later rounds.
Whether or not Angelo changes his stripes and pushes for Smith depends greatly on the status of St. Clair, who wants to return but remains on the open market.
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Insider Analysis: OT Jason Smith
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