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-foot-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 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-foot-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," Bears general manager Jerry 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.
Forte doesn't have top-end speed, and he 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 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, three-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 took a gamble on a defensive player to provide defensive line depth and do 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-foot-11 1/2-inch, 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 the 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 general manager Jerry 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 season. 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 unsettled for the past four seasons because of frequent injuries to Mike Brown, a standout player when healthy.
COULD SURPRISE: Nebraska CB Zackary 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 feet tall and 197 pounds and ran a 4.44 40 at the Combine.
A closer look at the Bears' picks:
Round 1/14 — Chris Williams, OT, 6-6, 315, Vanderbilt
With two other quality offensive tackles still on the board, the Bears had a chance to trade down, but Williams was the guy they really wanted. Has the athleticism and footwork to step in right away at left tackle and was a three-year starter in the SEC, including the past two seasons at left tackle. Isn't considered overpowering as a run blocker and lacks some upper-body strength but has more than enough size and a frame to get bigger. Shows all the skills necessary to be an excellent pass blocker and has the smarts to learn a system quickly.
Round 2/44 — Matt Forte, RB, 6-1, 217, Tulane
Was second in the nation last season with 2,127 rushing yards on 361 carries for a 5.9-yard average and 23 touchdowns. Rushed for 4,265 yards on 833 carries in four-year career for a 5.1-yard average. Not a home-run threat, running around 4.5 in the 40 and lacking a second gear in the open field, but he is a strong runner with some make-you-miss ability and toughness. Also is a solid receiver with soft hands who caught 103 passes for 985 yards.
Round 3/70 — Earl Bennett, WR, 6-0, 209, Vanderbilt
Caught 236 career passes, more than anyone in Southeast Conference history before leaving school a year early. Bennett never caught fewer than 75 passes in any of his three seasons, the only player in SEC history with at least 75 receptions in more than one season, and he finished with a total of 2,853 yards and 20 touchdowns. Does not possess great speed (4.51) and struggles to get separation, but ha some quickness, makes acrobatic catches and is strong and physical with the courage to work the middle and ability to break tackles. More of an underneath weapon than a home-run threat.
Round 3/90 — Marcus Harrison, DT, 6-3, 317, Arkansas
Had knee surgeries in 2006 and '07, a scope first and then a procedure to repair a torn ACL the following year during spring practice, but returned to start 10 games. Was suspended for the first game last season after an arrest, when he was charged with speeding and felony possession of a controlled substance (ecstasy). Returned ahead of schedule last season, even though he wasn't at full strength, but still had 76 tackles and 10 batted passes. Showed flashes of his early 2006 form late last season and in postseason work. Has good athleticism and agility. More suited to the "three technique," although he isn't a threat as a pass rusher. Also has enough size to play nose tackle.
Round 4/120 — Craig Steltz, SS, 6-2, 213, LSU
One-year starter, but he made an impression with 101 tackles. Missed Combine workouts because of a fractured right shoulder. Big, strong, physical hitter who plays smart and with good instincts but can be an inconsistent tackler because of technique flaws. Speed is average at best (4.62) and might be more effective as an in-the-box, extra-linebacker type than in coverage, although he has good hands and had 11 career interceptions. Has a special-teams mentality and should contribute immediately in that phase.
Round 5/142 — Zackary Bowman, CB, 6-0, 197, Nebraska
Tore ACL in his left knee during spring practice in 2006 and missed that season. Tore the patellar tendon in his right knee in 2007 spring practice but returned in time to start four games last season. Has good size for a corner and still runs very well (4.44 in the 40) despite the knee surgeries. Has the athletic ability and enough tools to eventually compete for a job if he can stay healthy. Has good cover skills but is not much of a factor in run support and isn't very physical. Bowman attended Bartlett High School in Anchorage, Alaska, where his father was stationed at Eielson Air Force Base. Bowman also played basketball and was teammates with Kansas superstar Mario Chalmers.
Round 5/158 — Kellen Davis, TE, 6-7, 262, Michigan State
Has a reputation as a consummate underachiever who doesn't possess a strong work ethic and hasn't shown much interest in blocking. Is an excellent athlete who looks the part with great size, strength and build and is capable of becoming a better-than-average blocker. Has always shown talent as a pass catcher and had 32 receptions for 513 yards (16.0-yard average) and six touchdowns. Was placed on 18 months probation in the fall of 2006 for his involvement in a fight at an off-campus party when he was charged with aggravated assault and suspended for four games.
Round 7/208 — Ervin Baldwin, DE, 6-2, 270, Michigan State
Started all 25 games in MSU career. Finished third in the Big Ten with 18.5 tackles for loss and also had 8.5 sacks. Honorable mention All-Big Ten last season. Had two sacks against Purdue and Indiana last season. As a junior led MSU linemen with 35 tackles. Undersized but could factor as a situational pass-rushing project. Good speed (4.75 in the 40) for the position.
Round 7/222 — Chester Adams, OG, 6-4, 323, Georgia
Nickname is "The Big Cheese." Two-year starter. Moved to right tackle and started 11 games in 2007 after starting 11 games at right guard in 2006, when he missed two games with an ankle injury. Projects to guard in the NFL because of a lack of mobility and athleticism. But he has very good natural strength and power and is not easily moved. More of a mauling-type run blocker than an agile pass protector.
Round 7/243 — Joey LaRocque, LB, 6-2, 235, Oregon State
Two-year starter after transferring from College of the Canyons. Had 86 tackles last season, including 58 solos, three sacks, 10 tackles for loss and two interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown. As a junior, he was 10th in the Pac-10 with 98 tackles, including 10 against UCLA and Hawaii. Had three tackles for loss in Sun Bowl victory over Missouri. Started all 27 games in his two seasons at Oregon State. As a sophomore, LaRocque had a team-high 103 tackles and added 11 1/2 sacks.
Round 7/247 — Kirk Barton, OT, 6-5, 310, Ohio State
Hobbled by injuries (left shoulder, right knee) in his first three seasons, including a redshirt in 2003, but he started 26 games at right tackle in his final two seasons. Well built specimen with excellent weight-room strength. Team captain who is serious about the game. Lacks athleticism, is stiff in his movements and lacks balance. Weight-room strength doesn't always carry over to the field. Could move inside to guard and has the smarts to catch on quickly at the next level.
Round 7/248 — Marcus Monk, WR, 6-4, 222, Arkansas
High school valedictorian. Missed the majority of his senior season because of a knee injury that required surgery. Started 25 games in his two previous seasons. Caught 50 passes for 962 yards (19.2-yard average) and 11 touchdowns as a junior. Caught 35 passes for 476 yards (13.6-yard average) and 7 touchdowns as a sophomore. Outstanding size creates mismatches. Doesn't have much speed (4.63 in the 40) or quickness for the position but is considered a high-character player.
—Linebacker Lance Briggs has completed just two of the 120 hours of community service that were assigned as part of his guilty plea for leaving the scene after he crashed his $400,000 Lamborghini on the Edens Expressway last summer.
"(We're) disappointed, obviously, that he's behind," Bears general manager Jerry 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."
—Fourth-round pick Craig Steltz is nicknamed "Surfer Boy" because of his long blonde hair, and he admits to being a free spirit, having skydived in the past and considered a career as an ultimate fighter.
"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 (free safety) and he can play up in the box (closer to the line of scrimmage)," 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 unsettled 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."
—Fifth-round pick Zackary Bowman was the No. 2 junior college recruit in the nation according to Rivals.com, when he left New Mexico Military Institute in Roswell to come to Nebraska.
The 6-foot, 197-pound cornerback 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."
Bears director of college scouting Greg 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."
—Michigan State tight end Kellen Davis, the Bears' second fifth-round pick (158th overall) still has a few months left on the 18 months probation he received for his role in a fight at an off-campus party in the fall of 2006, but the Bears are satisfied that that incident was more of an aberration than a pattern of behavior.
"It's the only blemish on his record," said Bears college scouting director Greg Gabriel.
The 6-foot-6 1/2-inch, 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 last season, a 16.0-yard average and 6 touchdowns.
"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."
—Second-round pick Matt Forte's father preceded him at Tulane, captaining the 1977 team, and brother Bryan played football at McNeese State.
"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." — Bears GM Jerry Angelo
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
FRANCHISE PLAYER: None.
TRANSITION PLAYER: None.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
—OG Ruben Brown missed the final eight games of the season with a shoulder injury that required surgery, which, after 13 NFL seasons, is probably a career ender.
—DT Antonio Garay is a bottom-of-the-depth chart player who finished the season on injured reserve with a fractured ankle.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: None.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: None.
—WR Marty Booker: FA Dolphins; $3.5M/2 yrs, SB unknown.
—WR Brandon Lloyd: FA Redskins; $645,000/1 yr, $40,000 WO; 2008 cap: $485,000.
—LB Lance Briggs: UFA; $36M/6 yrs, $4M SB/$3.75M RB; $4.75M RB '09, $3.3M RB '10.
—WR Rashied Davis: RFA; $5.86M/3 yrs, SB unknown.
—QB Rex Grossman: Potential UFA; $3M/1 yr, $1.5M guaranteed.
—S Brandon McGowan: RFA; $1.47M/1 yr.
—LB Brendon Ayanbadejo: UFA Ravens; $4.9M/4 yrs, $1.9M SB.
—WR Bernard Berrian: UFA Vikings; $42M/6 yrs, $$5M SB/$8M RB; $3M RB '09.
—TE John Gilmore: UFA Buccaneers; terms unknown.
—QB Brian Griese (traded Buccaneers).
—CB Ade Jimoh (released).
—DT Jimmy Kennedy: UFA Jaguars (Bears had individually negotiated right of first refusal and did not match); $655,000/1 yr, $50,000 SB.
—T Fred Miller (released/failed physical).
—WR Muhsin Muhammad (released).
—DT Darwin Walker (released).