NFC North News: Bears Draft

The Bears needed to bolster their defense and did that early in the draft. Here's an in-depth look at the Bears' draft in our journey around the NFC North.

As a staff, the Bears are confident that any perceived behavior problems involving second-round pick Tank Johnson are in his past, a past they admit was difficult, dating back to his childhood in Gary, Ind.

"I'm not sure how much of a character issue it is, as much as it is his past history, his history growing up," defensive coordinator Ron Rivera said. "He had a rough life growing up."

While some NFL scouts expressed concern over Johnson's alleged involvement in a car theft as a teenager, he was never convicted of any crime, and the Bears received positive reports from people who were close to the player at Washington. But Johnson remains a mystery.

"One of the things we seemed to get a lot of when we looked at all the conversations and evaluations we had with people, was that it was hard to get to know this young man," Rivera said. "The people who do claim to know him said they would be really surprised if there was a problem. And these are people that we felt very comfortable having talked to about Tank."

DRAFT REVIEW — For a team desperate for help on the defensive line, the first round of the draft couldn't have gone any better for the Bears, who got Oklahoma's 6-foot-2 1/2-inch, 295-pound junior tackle Tommie Harris.

"We got a little luck," Bears GM Jerry Angelo said. "It just fell our way."

All of the top four defensive linemen were still on the board when the Bears' first pick rolled around at No. 14, and they chose Harris over Miami tackle Vince Wilfork and a pair of defensive ends, Southern Cal's Kenechi Udeze and Ohio State's Will Smith.

"Tommie was a guy that we had (rated) as our top defensive lineman," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "With that 14th pick, you were keeping your fingers crossed and doing a lot of praying, and we were able to get the guy that we really wanted."

The Bears went back to defensive tackle in the second round to get Washington's Terry "Tank" Johnson (No. 47 overall), gambling that he will utilize his considerable talents more fully in the NFL than he did in college, where he was considered an underachiever by some scouts.

In the third round, the Bears picked Fresno State's speedy, big-play wide receiver and return specialist Bernard Berrian with the 78th overall selection.

"If the players aren't the players we think they are," Angelo said, "that's on me. We got the guys we wanted."

On the second day of the draft the Bears continued what they began on Day One: seeking to become faster, quicker and more mobile on defense.

Last year the Bears were dead last in sacks, 22nd in points allowed and 21st in interceptions. Coach Lovie Smith believes increased speed will improve all those areas of weakness.

"That's what Lovie wants," Bears director of college scouting Greg Gabriel said. "Lovie wants speed."

He got it on Sunday, but he had to wait a little while. The Bears traded down six spots from No. 104 when the speed-rushing, undersized defensive ends they had earmarked - Auburn's Reggie Torbor and Purdue's Shaun Phillips - went with the first two picks at 97 and 98. But they claimed Texas cornerback Nathan Vasher at 110 and Maryland linebacker Leon Joe two picks later with the extra choice they acquired from dealing down with the 49ers.

Both players are significantly smaller than NFL prototypes, but they're also faster. So is 252-pound defensive end Claude Harriott, the Bears' first fifth-round pick who had 9.5 sacks in 2002 but wasn't nearly as productive last season. His role will be as a situational pass rusher.

"We have a different look to our defense now, especially our defensive line," Smith said. "Those three (Harriott, Tommie Harris and Tank Johnson) are exactly what we're looking for."

One pick after Harriott, at No. 148, the Bears added Ohio State quarterback Craig Krenzel, who has the smarts to learn the offense with limited reps as the No. 3 guy. Seventh-round Miami CB Alfonso Marshall (215th overall) is an extra DB with man-to-man cover ability.

BEST PICK: Oklahoma DT Tommie Harris was not expected to be there when the Bears picked at 14. It was assumed by most that they would have to settle for Miami DT Vince Wilfork, who did not fit the team's scheme nearly as well. While Harris did not put up tremendous stats last season at Oklahoma, he was frequently double-teamed and he won the Lombardi Award as the top interior lineman in the nation. He was a starter for the Sooners from the beginning of his freshman season without redshirting.

COULD SURPRISE: CB Nathan Vasher wasn't considered in the same category as the top players at that position, so he fell to the middle of the fourth round. But the Bears were impressed at his production in a major conference, which included 17 interceptions in three seasons as a starter. Additionally, he never averaged less than 14.0 yards per punt return over the past three seasons, and could be an immediate starter at that spot.

A closer look at the Bears' picks:

Round 1/14 — Tommie Harris, DT, 6-2 1/2, 292, Oklahoma

Uses superior speed and quickness to disrupt opposing offenses and was sometimes dominant, but he was also somewhat inconsistent. Bears were extremely surprised that he was available, along with the other three top defensive linemen, at No. 14. According to Bears, his less-than-awesome stats are the result of constant double-teams. Has the size and style of play that new coach Lovie Smith covets and, at the very least, he should be an immediate contributor in a DT rotation.

Round 2/47 — Terry "Tank" Johnson, DT, 6-3, 305, Washington

Stock shot up after impressive performance at the Scouting Combine, which included a 4.69-second 40-yard dash, bench-pressed 225 pounds 31 times and had a 34-inch vertical jump. Inconsistent performer in college who flashed the ability to dominate and disrupt for short stretches but too often ran hot and cold. Had 35 tackles last season, including 18 1/2 for losses and 10 sacks and made second team All-Pac-10. Character concerns related to difficult childhood in Gary, Ind., may have scared off some teams, but Bears say they're convinced he won't be a problem.

Round 3/78 — Bernard Berrian, WR, 6-1, 183, Fresno State

Had a huge 2001 season as David Carr's go-to guy, catching 76 passes for 1,270 yards and 13 touchdowns and returning 39 punts for 552 yards (14.2-yard average) and 27 kickoffs for 668 yards (24.7-yard average). Had foot surgery after ‘01 season and then suffered a sprained knee in the ‘02 opener and redshirted. Came back full strength in ‘03 but missed Carr, although he still caught 63 passes for 668 yards and 4 TDs and returned 42 punts for 429 yards and 26 kickoffs for 631 yards. Ran poorly at the combine (4.59) but stock soared with impressive late workouts, which included 4.48 on grass at Fresno State's pro day.

Round 4/110 — Nathan Vasher, CB, 5-10, 182, Texas

Had 17 career interceptions, including 6 last season and 26 pass break-ups. One of the top punt returners in the nation, averaging 14 yards per attempt in each of the past two seasons and 15.0 in 2001. In 2001, playing strong safety, started 13 games and had 7 interceptions, tying a school record. He returned 37 punts for 554 yards, ranking sixth in the nation.

Round 4/112 — Leon Joe, LB, 6-0 1/2, 230, Maryland

Fastest linebacker in the draft, who was clocked in as low as 4.43 at Maryland. Best strength numbers ever for a Maryland linebacker: bench-pressed 475 pounds, vertical-jumped 41 inches. Starter for three years. Had 112 tackles last season, 103 in ‘02 and 76 in ‘01, but could be a workout warrior who tests better than he plays and is a better athlete than football player. Lacks bulk and football intelligence.

Round 5/147 — Claude Harriott, DE, 6-3 1/2, 252, Pitt

Former backup to Bears LB Bryan Knight at Pitt and succeeded him as the starter in 2002. All-Big East in first season as a starter, totaling 21 tackles for negative yardage, including 9 1/2 sacks. Regressed in ‘03 with 7 tackles for minus yardage and 2 sacks after spraining his knee in the spring. Let success in ‘02 go to his head and didn't play as hard or effectively, but he has demonstrated pass-rush ability in the past. At 252 pounds appears to be exclusively a situational pass rusher at DE.

Round 5/148 — Craig Krenzel, QB, 6-3 1/2, 228, Ohio State

Molecular genetics major who plans to attend med school in the future and follow in the footsteps of older brother Brian, who played football at Duke and is enrolled in Louisville's med school. Career record of 24-3 as a starter. Never put up great stats in a run-oriented offense and is considered streaky passer but an excellent leader and a winner. Completed 153 of 278 passes for 2,040 yards with 15 TDs and 10 interceptions last season and 148 of 249 passes for 2,110 yards, 12 TDs and 7 picks in ‘02.

Round 7/215 — Alfonso Marshall, CB, 5-11, 180, Miami

High school state champion in the 200 and 400 meters and 4X400-meter relay. Didn't become a starter until his senior season. Undersized player who lacks bulk but has good, not great, speed. Was not a quick learner in college but has the athleticism to become a decent man-to-man cover corner. Best bet appears as an extra DB in obvious passing situations and on special teams.


NOTES
  • Bears coach Lovie Smith refuted widespread rumors that the Bears would be a serious suitor for quarterback Kurt Warner if the Rams release him on June 1.

    "We have our quarterback," Smith said. "Rex Grossman is our quarterback."

    Although he has been replaced by Marc Bulger as the starter in St. Louis, Warner is a two-time NFL MVP (1999 and 2001) and three-time Pro Bowl pick who will be looking to be guaranteed a starting job or at least the opportunity to compete for one if he leaves. And, there is still a possibility the Rams will keep him at a reduced salary.

    "I know he hasn't been waived from St. Louis or anything like that," Smith said. "I assume if Kurt does leave, he wants to be the starting quarterback somewhere, which he should.

    "He's a friend of mine, so we have a personal relationship. But we have our quarterback here. We're very happy with him. I hope for Kurt if he does leave, he can go somewhere where he can be the (starting) quarterback."

    Thumb injuries have limited Warner's effectiveness the past two seasons, and he threw just 65 passes last season. He will turn 33 on June 22, but he could be a major upgrade for a team like the Oakland Raiders, who are hoping 38-year-old Rich Gannon can recover from last season's shoulder injury.

    "I think he can still play," Smith said of Warner. "He played at a high level not long ago. I don't think he'd lose it. I don't think he's lost it that quick."

  • The Bears probably wouldn't have had a chance to draft Southern Cal wide receiver Mike Williams at No. 14 in the first round because he'd have already been snapped up, and they weren't very interested in Maurice Clarett, but coach Lovie Smith still felt for both players.

    Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg denied Clarett's Supreme Court appeal on Thursday. She said she saw no reason to overturn a lower court's stay preventing the 20-year-old former Ohio State tailback from entering the draft. The NFL rule says a player must be three years removed from his high school graduation to be eligible. Williams was granted permission to apply for the draft after Clarett won his original court case.

    "It's just a big thing to those guys; two players with really no place to go," Smith said. "I hope they can get into the draft."

    Clarett has already filed a new emergency appeal with another justice. For now, both players are in limbo.

    "I've got a chance to meet Mike," Smith said. "I think he's a great guy. Do I feel bad for him? Yes. I think everybody deserves a chance. We're all working. I think everybody deserves a chance to do that."

    Clarett played just one season at Ohio State but helped the Buckeyes to the national championship and probably would have been a second or third round draft pick.

    "I did see the physical ability he has on tape," Smith said, (and) when you get a chance to know him, you can really see what people like about him."

  • Center Olin Kreutz and cornerback Charles Tillman were named the veteran and rookie winners of the Brian Piccolo Award Thursday at Halas Hall.

    The award has been given to a Bears rookie since 1970 and was expanded in 1992 to include a veteran winner. Teammates vote based on which players best exemplify the courage, loyalty, teamwork, dedication and sense of humor of former running back Brian Piccolo, who died of embryonal cell carcinoma on June 16, 1970 at the age of 26.

    "This is an honor for me," said Kreutz, who claimed he was wearing a tie for the first time in four years for the ceremony. "Just to be part of the Chicago Bears tradition has always been an honor for me, and to win this award, it's kind of overwhelming. Courage, loyalty, teamwork — that's what the offensive line is all about."

    Tillman watched the movie Brian's Song Wednesday night to familiarize himself with Piccolo's career and his fight with cancer.

    "The coolest thing about this award is that it's not voted on by the media or the fans, it's voted on by your teammates," Tillman said. "That means a lot to me because it means they think something special of me. I want to thank all my teammates for thinking I deserve this award."

    Piccolo played for the Bears from 1965-69 after joining the team as an undrafted free agent from Wake Forest.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "This particular year he was double- and tripled-teamed all the time. There were very few situations when you saw him in a one-on-one situation. When he was in a one-on-one situation, he generally dominated play. When he was put in a one-on-one situation, he was in the backfield all the time." — Bears college scouting director Greg Gabriel on first-round pick Tommie Harris.



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