|National Football League|
Bears seem to have options in Emery's first draft
By ANDREW SELIGMAN
CHICAGO (AP) From the moment the Chicago Bears hired him as general manager in January, Phil Emery has been a busy man.
His next task? The draft that starts Thursday night.
The Bears hold the 19th pick, and it seems there are a number of ways they could go in the first round and beyond. There are issues on both lines, a need for a young linebacker and holes at receiver even with Brandon Marshall in the mix.
The only certainty so far is this. The Bears will have a different look next season.
"What we've done in free agency really allows us the chance to go one way or the other," Emery said. "It's given us flexibility in terms of we can draft into perceived strength so that we make sure we get the player who's going to help us win a championship the quickest way possible, or we can go and fill in what we perceive as a need. So it has given us great flexibility."
Emery said the Bears have about seven players in mind for the 19th pick, and it's a good bet at least a few of them are defensive ends, considering Chicago tied three other teams for 19th last season with 33 sacks. Julius Peppers would love to see another end to take some of the double-teams away from him, and options could include Alabama's Courtney Upshaw, North Carolina's Quinton Coples and Illinois' Whitney Mercilus.
The Bears finished 8-8 last season following a late collapse. Coming off a run to the NFC championship game, they were sailing along at 7-3 until Jay Cutler broke his right thumb trying to make a tackle following a late interception against San Diego in the 10th game. The offense suffered another huge blow when Matt Forte sprained the MCL in his right knee against Kansas City on Dec. 4, and the late slump ultimately cost general manager Jerry Angelo his job.
Now, the Bears appear to be in a better spot.
"You want to have your roster as strong as it can be before the draft," coach Lovie Smith said. "We feel like we've done that."
Emery made a huge splash when he acquired Pro Bowl receiver Marshall from Miami, addressing Chicago's biggest need, but that isn't the only hole he addressed. He filled a big one at backup quarterback, signing Jason Campbell from Oakland, and beefed up the backfield by signing former Raiders running back Michael Bush to a four-year, $14 million deal to team with the unhappy Forte.
Emery also added special teams star Eric Weems, with Johnny Knox's status uncertain because of a back injury, along with guard Chilo Rachal and linebacker Geno Hayes. The Bears also took care of some of their own, most notably giving linebacker Lance Briggs an extension through 2014, even though he had two years left on a six-year, $36 million deal, but Forte's situation remains unresolved. He hasn't signed his $7.74 million franchise tender.
Even so, the Bears believe they have narrowed the gap with Green Bay.
"We got better," linebacker Brian Urlacher said. "On paper we're a better football team than we were last year at the end of the season, so I'm excited about that. Phil Emery knows what he's doing, obviously."
Emery did not mention any specific prospects during his news conference this week, but he did say wide receiver, defensive end and defensive tackle are strong positions in this draft and added there are several offensive tackles who will likely be interior lineman as pros.
"That mid-level is probably the toughest level because there's so many things that can happen in front of you," Emery said. "The further you get away from those top 10 picks the more you have a feel for the players that will be available from say 25 to 35, that are going to fall in that range and you can get it down to maybe three. In that middle range, so much can happen, trades."
Bears fans are eager to see what Emery can do. Emery was an area scout for the Bears from 1998-2004 and was the Kansas City Chiefs' director of college scouting when the Bears came calling.
The team will have a new look on the sideline, too.
Gone is offensive coordinator Mike Martz, who had an expiring contract, and quarterbacks coach Shane Day. Offensive line coach Mike Tice is the new coordinator following a promotion.
Emery was given one mandate from president Ted Phillips: Close the talent gap with Green Bay and Detroit in the NFC North.
During Angelo's 11-year run, the Bears won four division championships, reached the Super Bowl and got back to the NFC championship game last season. But he was undone on several fronts - especially when backup Caleb Hanie struggled after Cutler was hurt.
Updated April 24, 2012