Draft time is usually the second opportunity any football team has to improve itself through the acquisition of new talent. But there's more to this time than just adding new talent - the draft can tell us about what direction a team feels it needs to move in, how comfortable it feels about certain units of the team, and what areas it feels important to develop young talent in. It also tells us what the front office is looking for at that particular moment in developmental players. Let's subject the 2012 Bears to this exercise and see what lessons we Bears fans can learn about our team from the latest draft.
Lesson One: The Pass Rush Became The Team's Biggest Priority
The unit clearly needed an adjustment in talent, but let's step back and examine the team's defensive line for just a brief moment. Last year's defensive unit ranked 21st overall (okay, tied with four other teams) at four sacks below the league average. It gets better. By sack percentage (sacks over pass attempts and sacks), the Bears tied with New Orleans... for fourth... worst. Needless to say, well below the league average. For as many pass attempts as the Bears faced, the pass rush just wasn't there.
So, not good. But let's also take a look at the defensive line, which is defensive "guru" Rod Marinelli's specialty. Julius Peppers had 11 sacks and Israel Idonije had five. But the three defensive tackles combined had 13 - Henry Melton with seven, Amobi Okoye with four and Stephen Paea with two. All well and good for the tackles, but with the defensive line, ideally you've got the ends picking up the sacks - Melton's seven sacks are a huge contribution, but even in Tommie Harris' three Pro Bowl nods, he only topped that seven sack number once, in 2007 with 8. The three-tech needs to be a disruptor, but the ends need to step up, which Idonije did not.
I'm not telling you anything you don't already know, but the reason this pick was made is because there was no production behind Idonije. Midseason pickup Chauncey Davis had a sack... and that's it; about what we should have expected, since for Atlanta in six prior seasons, he only had ten sacks. The Bears only had three sacks from non-DL positions, which shows how badly they need line rush. In this first year, Shea McClellin will compete directly with Idonije for playing time, and at the minimum, should provide a pass-rush specialist role, with an eye on growing into the starting end, if not taking it outright in preseason.
Lesson Two: Gabe Carimi is a Right Tackle
We can talk all we want about replacing J'Marcus Webb at left tackle, and there's no hiding it, he was bad. But if the Bears were looking to replace him with Carimi, you'd think they'd try to take one of the several right tackle prospects, including a crack at Riley Reiff in the first or even a Jonathan Martin or Mike Adams in the second. But such was not to be the case. The Bears might try to solve left tackle internally, but if they keep Webb at left, there are several reasons that he can improve.
First, let's not forget how demanding the Martz offense is on tackles, who have to make a ton of deep drops themselves into pass protection. Not to say Mike Tice won't call many deep drops, he very well could, but he should be able to make some improvements in his deep protections.
Second, let's consider he was trying to start at the NFL level on a condensed offseason. Left tackle at Texas West A&M is one thing, but left tackle for the Mike Martz offense is another. He was a seventh round pick for a reason - he's got the requisite size and other physical attributes to play the position, but clearly needs development. He didn't get any of that without being on the NFL field. Even high round offensive line picks struggle with NFL schemes immediately, and he's coming into his third year, which is when the most offensive line development occurs.
So like I said in the comments sections earlier this week, feel free to be hard to Webb for being bad, he clearly was. But let's not back the bus over him completely, as he's still young and still can improve. It'll be a new offensive scheme, but I can't imagine Tice will suddenly change all the line calls.
Lesson Three: The Bears Don't Want a Competent Offense. They Want a Great Offense.
The Bears already picked up Brandon Marshall in the trade market and added Michael Bush, the team's third attempt at a second running back. So why draft Alshon Jeffery and Evan Rodriguez?
Jeffery gives the team a receiver depth chart of Marshall, Jeffery, Bennett, Hester, and any of Dane Sanzenbacher, Eric Weems, or Devin Thomas. Rodriguez slots in behind Kellen Davis and Matt Spaeth, and might even take time away from Tyler Clutts. Rodriguez won't start immediately but has the tools to compete on offense; the Bears now have two completely new receivers to start; the extra attention to kick returners should improve starting field position as long as the kickoff rules still allow returns; and the team's added a significant backup running back piece to the equation. The weapons are all there; Phil Emery's completely renovated the offensive toolshed. Whether it's stocked with chainsaws or trowels is another thing.
If the offensive line gives the Bears competent play, the Bears' 2011 17th ranked offense in points just got a whole lot more dangerous.
Lesson Four: Competition at Safety and Corner is Still Important
The NFC North has some of the most feared weapons in football, beyond the top wide receiver (Calvin Johnson), arguably the top quarterback (Aaron Rodgers) one of the top tight ends (Jermichael Finley) and one of the top running backs (Adrian Peterson) in the league.
So size is important, considering the size of some of these players. Hence why the Bears drafted a big safety (Brandon Hardin) and a good-sized cornerback that can develop into a starting spot, if he pans out (Isaiah Frey). Hardin gives the Bears an immediate special teams contributor and probable starter should Major Wright fall out of the team's graces, and Frey will be in competition immediately with Kelvin Hayden and Jonathan Wilhite, the team's cornerback additions in free agency.
Lesson Five: Special Teams Still Matter
Just because a player can contribute on special teams doesn't mean he's only a special teamer. Julius Peppers isn't a special teams player - I rest my case.
But the Bears had some voids on special teams. Corey Graham's important gunner position is vacant. Behind Johnny Knox, the Bears needed another kick return option beyond Hester, who's being limited to punts only. Hardin or Frey should be able to provide the gunner position, and Greg McCoy adds very solid kick return skills to the mix.