Mullin: Don't close the door on anything


Mullin: Don't close the door on anything

Sunday, May 1, 2011
Posted: 9:43 p.m.

By John Mullin
The Bear may not be able to have contact with their draft choices now that the selection ritual is finished. But those draft choices have something to say to or about the Bears.

What the Bears and did not address with their 2011 draft, the first time since the 1993 start of free agency in which the draft preceded a free-agency signing period, now begins to bring some situations into focus.

We are not shutting the door on any position, said general manager Jerry Angelo. The only position I would think we would do that to is the quarterback position. Other than that, we are going to look, no more than that.

Taking the offensive

The line was unsettled most of training camp and early last season for a variety of reasons, most of them bad. This year there is some uncertainty but at least with some considerably greater positives.

No. 1 pick Gabe Carimi leaves the Bears appearing amply set at tackle. Carimi and JMarcus Webb as the front-runners for the starting jobs and Chris Williams in competition for one of the offensive-line jobs, possibly back inside at guard. And Frank Omiyale served at right and left tackle last season so there is depth at this point.

The Bears still do not have center Olin Kreutz re-signed, nor a quality left guard, given that Omiyale right now may have the inside track on starting despite struggled badly in that new (for him) position in the 2009 season. Omiyales play at left tackle, like Williams at guard in 2010, was not good enough to keep the Bears from making the position their highest priority.

We still want to look at the offensive line, Angelo said.

Look for the Bears to pursue a veteran guard in free agency, although finding a quality player at an affordable price close to the season is problematic.

Putting it on the line
By selecting Stephen Paea out of Oregon State, the Bears addressed the interior of their defensive line, the No. 2 priority going into the draft. That may dial down urgency to pursue Green Bays Cullen Jenkins as a tackle, particularly with the way coaches are looking at a newly upsized Henry Melton.

But where does Paea play?

He has the power to play nose tackle, which could mark an end to unsigned free agent Anthony Adams time in Chicago. If Paea is slotted at the nose, then Jenkins as a three-technique becomes an intriguing thought.

But 4-3 teams do not often trade two draft choices for purposes of moving up to grab a nose tackle. What the Bears gave themselves with Paea is options in the form of someone who could play either tackle position. A nickel unit with Melton and Paea paired inside is potentially a better interior rush tandem than the Bears have had in several seasons.

It is not easy given the fact that if they are athletic and they rush, it is hard for them to do the nose tackle job in terms of the dirty work, Angelo said. It is more mental toughness than it is an athletic trait, so he has very good toughness.

If the Bears do pursue Jenkins, 31, he also can play end, but Julius Peppers is set, Israel Idonije gave the defense impact plays and eight sacks at the other end, and Corey Wootton was a fourth-round draft choice last year whose development continued through the season. Wootton was active for each of the final four games and registered the final sack of Brett Favre.

Paeas role models are speedquickness players John Randle and Warren Sapp rather than plodding power players.

I feel like Randle is exactly what I want to play like, and Warren Sapp, the quickness, not much of a ball rush type of person, Paea said.

Scheming advantages

While some critics ceaselessly pound the defensive scheme of Lovie SmithRod Marinelli as passe and hopelessly out of NFL fashion, indications continue to be that the trend of teams toward 3-4 defenses is helping the Bears defense.

The obvious has been the type of defensive linemen the Bears want: smaller, speed preferred over bulk. Fronts in 3-4s typically employ space-eaters, 320 pounds or bigger, even the ends.

That then leaves a talent like Paea, at 6-1, 305 pounds, available for a scheme like the Bears. Same with a Melton, who now is up to more than 290 pounds.

Mike Riley, Paeas coach at Oregon State, coached in the NFL and specifically called Marinelli about Paea. Rod I know hes the perfect guy for what you guys are looking for, Riley told Marinelli.

A misperception among critics is the amount of time Smith, Marinelli and the Bears use the Cover-2 scheme. But the Bears do use their safeties in throwback styles and frequently use a free safety in the traditional role of someone expected to be able to tackle but primarily able to defend the deep middle in pass coverage.

That safety position has great value now because our game has really changed, Angelo said. You cant take just the down-in-the-box safety. So, its hard to find a guy. He has to be a real good tackler, have good cover skills and he has to have better than average speed.

Its very demanding in terms of the traits that qualify someone to play the position. In a long version, we just felt like, because he is that hard to find, lets not look a gift horse in the mouth.

John "Moon" Mullin is's Bears Insider, and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information.

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Hub Arkush (Pro Football Weekly/670 The Score), Mark Grote (670 The Score) and Mark Carman (WGN Radio) join Luke Stuckmeyer on the panel. Quenton Nelson works out at Notre Dame’s pro day. If he’s still on the board at 8, should the Bears take him? Plus the panel talks about the Cubs outfield heading into 2018 and if it’s time to shut down both Jonathan Toews and Lauri Markkanen.

Could Quenton Nelson increase his value by playing tackle?

USA Today

Could Quenton Nelson increase his value by playing tackle?

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Quenton Nelson hasn’t met with the Bears yet during this pre-draft process, and doesn’t have a local visit scheduled with them. But maybe that’s not too surprising.

Harry Hiestand has better intel on him than anyone else after coaching him for the past four years at Notre Dame, after all. 

“Coach Hiestand, he’s known me since I was an immature freshman that wasn’t good at football, until now being a lot more mature and responsible and doing the right thing and a good football player,” Nelson said. “He knows everything about me.”

Could part of that intel provided by Hiestand be that Nelson has the ability to eventually play tackle?

Nelson might be the closest to a “sure thing” prospect in this year’s draft, with his reams of dominant film and off-the-charts work ethic projecting him as an All-Pro for years to come. But that he plays guard is a stumbling block, given interior positions generally don’t hold as much value as tackles in the NFL.

So here’s a potential scenario for the Bears: They draft Nelson at No. 8 — which is still "high" for a guard — and plug him at left guard in 2018. They then, under the careful watch of Hiestand, slide him to tackle in 2019. 

“I’m pretty convinced that Q could do whatever he sets his mind to,” Mike McGlinchey, a first-round tackle in his own right who's Nelson’s ex-Irish teammate and workout buddy, said. “If that’s what teams want him to play, I’m sure he’ll take that head on and perform to the best of his ability.” 

Nelson, to his credit, is confident he could make the switch to tackle (he was recruited by Hiestand as a tackle, and began his college career backing up Zack Martin at tackle). He said the only team that’s asked him about it so far is the Cincinnati Bengals, though it’s unlikely he’ll still be on the board when they pick at No. 21. 

But maybe the thought of guards being significantly less valuable than tackles is slowly becoming antiquated in today’s NFL. Four of the top 10 highest paid offensive linemen, by total contract value, are interior linemen. Three of the top 10 offensive linemen with the most guaranteed money are guards, led by Andrew Norwell, who inked a five-year, $66.5 million deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars earlier this month with $30 million guaranteed at signing. Only one offensive lineman — Nate Solder, who just signed with the New York Giants — is guaranteed more money. 

Following the money, if teams are willing to splash down loads of cash for the best guards in the league, a team may be willing to spend a top-10 pick on a guard who could immediately be among the best at his position in the NFL. Or the calculation for whatever team drafts him may be this: Would you rather have him as a perennial All-Pro guard or "merely" a solid-to-good tackle? 

Regardless of where he ends up playing, though, Nelson is one of those supremely-talented players who takes the right approach to his craft — in other words, one of those guys you just want to get in your building. And while Nelson said he’d love to play for his hometown New York Giants — who could be interested in him with the No. 2 pick — he said getting to link back up with Hiestand would be an incredible opportunity, too. 

“That would be amazing to play for him,” Nelson said. “He’s the one that made me into the player I am today. I wouldn’t be here without him or be in any conversations in the draft without him, so it would mean a lot to play for him again.”