ESPN NFL Draft Insider Mel Kiper Jr. projects Barr as being selected by the San Diego Chargers at No. 25 overall in the next month’s draft. Both Kiper and fellow ESPN Draft Insider Todd McShay rank Barr as the second best outside linebacker in the 2014 draft class.
Barr began his UCLA career in the Bruins’ offensive backfield where he lined up primarily at H back and appeared in 24 games and made 11 starts over the course of his freshman and sophomore year.
However, the 6-foot-5, 255 pound Barr made the switch to defense before his junior year and exploded with 13.5 sacks, 21.5 tackles-for-loss and 83 tackles in 2012. His 13.5 sacks were the second highest total in the nation behind only Georgia’s Jarvis Jones (14.5).
Barr followed up that effort with 62 tackles, 10 sacks, 20 tackles-for-loss, five forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries last season for the Bruins.
Most draft analysts consider Barr a better fit in a 3-4 defense where he can stand up and rush the passer, but the Bears have been known to make unorthodox selections the last two years. Few people predicted 2012 first-round choice Shea McClellin would be taken by a team that used a 4-3 defense, but the Bears snatched the hybrid McClellin up with the No. 19 overall pick.
On the surface, the Bears appear to have a greater need at inside linebacker, but Barr is an elite athlete, who ran a 4.41 40 yard dash in front of scouts at his pro day at UCLA.
The question now seems to be when. Holding the 14th overall pick, the Bears could go after Pittsburgh’s Aaron Donald, Florida State’s Timmy Jernigan, Notre Dame’s Louis Nix III or maybe even take a chance on the talented, but inconsistent Ra’Shede Hageman of Minnesota. The club could also opt to fortify another position with its first-round pick, and then address defensive tackle in the later rounds.
“I’ll say this: I think we have a history of we’re not afraid to take calculated risks, and we’ll continue to do that,” Bears general manager Phil Emery said at the NFL combine in February. “We’ll continue to find players that have upside skills, that have good ceilings in terms of athletically, speed and size, and we’ll piece it together. Obviously, there is a plan in place.”
Contingency plans, too, it appears, based on the way the Bears have conducted business in the weeks leading up to the draft. The Bears attended the University of Florida’s pro day recently to work out defensive tackle Dominique Easley, who worked through drills for scouts for the first time since tearing a right ACL and right meniscus. Interestingly, Bears defensive line coach Paul Pasqualoni put Easley through some of the drills. At this point, Easley is projected to be taken in the second round.
The club also recently brought in Nix -- projected to be taken late first in the first round or early in the second -- for an official visit at Halas Hall, and it has also spent time with Arizona State’s Will Sutton. It’s expected the Bears will meet with even more defensive tackle prospects. That’s understandable, given the struggles the defense experience last season in part because of injuries at various spots.
Chicago gave up 161.4 yards per game on the ground last season (32nd in the NFL), and responded in free agency with the signings of defensive linemen Jared Allen, Lamarr Houston, Willie Young, and reserve Israel Idonije. But even after those signings, Emery made it clear the club’s work wasn’t yet done.
The hope is it’s completed during the NFL draft.
“My personal preference is bigger is always better [in defensive linemen] as long as you’re not sacrificing athleticism and speed,” Emery said. “This is a fast game. But it’s a very physically tough, impactful game, and you need bigger bodies over time to win those matchups.”
Five potential targets
Player, School, Projected Round
1. Aaron Donald, Pittsburgh, 1
2. Timmy Jernigan, Florida State, 1
3. Louis Nix, Notre Dame, 1-2
4. RaShede Hageman, Minnesota, 1-2
5. Dominique Easley, Florida, 2
The next 5: 6. Will Sutton, Arizona State; 7. Ego Ferguson, LSU. 8. Kelcy Quarles, South Carolina; 9. Anthony Johnson, LSU; 10. Caraun Reid, Princeton
Position grade: B
Fresh off a 12-week stint in California with veteran performance coach Scot Prohaska, McClellin dropped 11 pounds and 8 percent body fat in the offseason in anticipation of his much-anticipated move from defensive end to linebacker.
McClellin currently checks in at 252 pounds with 10 percent body fat, while running a 4.5 40-yard dash and bench-pressing 365 pounds.
"He knew it was a big year for him and wanted to perform for his teammates, the fans and the organization," Prohaska told ESPNChicago.com on Monday. "He felt deep inside this [linebacker] is where he always belonged. He was really motivated to prove to everybody that this is where he belonged."
"I've known about Shea because his agent is a friend of mine and I actually help with some of his combine guys," Prohaska said. "I watched Shea this year and there was obviously a little concern about his performance. He struggled a little bit up and down the defensive line. I've been kind of eyeing him this last year but I've only known him for this offseason.
"So I evaluated him and took a look at a lot of his stuff in college at Boise State. I realized he was missing a couple of strengths or strength qualities you need for football. He's a springy guy, so in space he can get around you. But when he would lock in with a player, he didn't have the isometric strength or back strength to drive past the guy and disengage."
Prohaska said McClellin completely bought in to his program and moved to California with his wife for the three-month training session. The workouts ran five days a week for three hours a day, not to mention the nutritional part of the plan that McClellin had to adhere to.
McClellin never missed a workout.
"The first hour of the workout would be all movement-based stuff, linebacker stuff, drills -- really teaching him how to drop his hips and move in space," Prohaska said. "It was all multidirectional stuff. In the later afternoon we would hit on real critical strength stuff he needed; other days it was explosive strength."
The Bears think moving McClellin to linebacker will revitalize the first-round pick's career after he recorded just 6.5 total sacks in 2012 and '13 when he lined up at defensive end. McClellin is expected to compete for the starting strongside linebacker's job, but the Bears could decide to move the athletic McClellin to different spots during a game if the defense sports a more hybrid look.
Terms of the deal weren't immediately disclosed.
A seventh-year veteran, Morgan, 28, finished last season with the Washington Redskins, catching 20 passes for a career-low 214 yards. Morgan was also among Washington's game day inactives twice last season, after a strong campaign in 2012 in which he led the Redskins with 48 receptions for 510 yards.
Perhaps a fresh start in Chicago can invigorate Morgan's career as he reportedly clashed in Washington with former Redskins coaches Mike Shanahan and Kyle Shanahan.
Having spent time with the San Francisco 49ers (2008-11) and Redskins (2012-13), Morgan caught a career-high 52 passes during his second season for 527 yards and three touchdowns.
With the Bears, Morgan will likely compete for a spot as the No. 3 or No. 4 receiver as well as for a role as a return man on special teams. He'll face competition from Domenik Hixon, Eric Weems, and Chris Williams for roles on special teams and one of the reserve receiver spots if he doesn't beat out rising second-year man Marquess Wilson for the No. 3 receiver position.
Morgan (6-1, 220 pounds) was originally drafted by the 49ers in the sixth round in 2008 out of Virginia Tech.
While 2013 second-round pick Jon Bostic started nine games at middle linebacker as a rookie, Bears general manager Phil Emery has hinted on multiple occasions that Bostic may be better suited to one day move to outside linebacker.
“Maybe in the future his best position might be at one of those outside spots where he is filling from the backside and able to use his unique talents to the best of his ability,” Emery told ESPN 1000’s “Waddle and Silvy Show” last December.
Khaseem Greene, a 2013 fourth-round draft choice, replaced Lance Briggs at weakside linebacker for seven games last year and seems earmarked for a role on special teams in 2014, unless the Bears suffer another rash of injuries at the position.
Former first-round pick Shea McClellin is expected to transition from defensive end to strongside linebacker.
So if the Bears are serious about potentially moving Bostic outside in the near future, the team needs to find help at inside linebacker, possibly in this draft.
Alabama’s C.J. Mosley is the consensus No. 1 inside linebacker in the 2014 draft class and could be available when the Bears pick at No. 14 overall in the first round. But with greater needs at safety, cornerback and defensive tackle, the Bears could wait until the middle rounds to address linebacker.
If that is the route the Bears decide to go, Monday is an important day because Stanford linebacker Shayne Skov is scheduled to hold a private pro day and run in front of scouts and NFL personnel people for the first time in the offseason. Skov, who declined an invitation to the Senior Bowl, pulled a hamstring before Stanford’s pro day that kept him sidelined. He also did not run the 40 yard dash in February at the NFL combine.
Skov has dealt with injuries throughout his college career, but the 6-foot-2, 245 pounder finished last season with better overall numbers than many of the other highly rated linebackers in the class of 2014, including Mosley.
Skov recorded 109 tackles, 5.5 sacks and 13 tackles for loss in 2013.
Another mid-round linebacker that could make sense for the Bears is Louisville’s Preston Brown, who began his college career at strong side linebacker before moving to the middle where he led the Cardinals in tackles back-to-back seasons. He had 98 stops, five sacks and 14 tackles for loss for Louisville last year.
“Moving to the middle taught me how to take control of the whole defense,” Brown said. “When you’re on the outside, you line up more at the line of scrimmage. In the middle, you sit back five yards and have to study what’s going on and make sure everybody is in the right place. You have to know everybody’s job.
"When you play Mike linebacker, you have to study a ton and learn the different shifts and formations. You have to be dialed in every snap, every game, because if you miss a check that could result in the other team scoring a touchdown. [Intelligence] is so important when you play middle linebacker.”
Brown has strong ties to new Bears assistant defensive line coach Clint Hurtt, who served as Louisville’s defensive line coach/recruiting coordinator from 2010-13.
“I love Coach Hurtt and he was one of my favorite coaches on the staff,” Brown said. “I would meet with him at least once a week and watch the run game and pick up some pass-rush moves from him. You could always talk to him if you had a problem. He was one of my favorite coaches.”
Five potential targets
1. C.J. Mosley, Alabama
2. Shayne Skov, Stanford
3. Chris Borland, Wisconsin
4. Preston Brown, Louisville
5. Max Bullough, Michigan State
The next five: 6. Avery Williamson, Kentucky; 7. Yawin Smallwood, Connecticut; 8. Khairi Fortt, California; 9. DeDe Lattimore, South Florida; 10. Glenn Carson, Penn State.
Position grade: B
In his latest mock draft, ESPN NFL Draft Analyst Mel Kiper Jr. projects the 6-foot-1, 198 pound Desir will be selected in the second round by the Philadelphia Eagles with the 54th overall pick. The Bears currently own the 51st overall selection.
A relative unknown after spending two years at Washburn, followed by the two seasons at Lindenwood, Desir finished his college career with 25 total interceptions and 52 pass breakups en route to being named a Division II All-American three times.
Desir participated in the East-West Shrine game, Senior Bowl, and was invited to the NFL combine in February.
With Tillman back on a one-year deal, the Bears are believed to be leaning towards drafting a cornerback with a larger frame in the event Tillman leaves the organization after 2014. Since the club already has money and years locked up in undersized 5-foot-8 cornerback Tim Jennings, the Bears need to find a young cornerback big enough to one day matchup with the taller wide receivers in the NFC North, especially Detroit’s Calvin Johnson.
In addition to Barrett and the Bears, four other NFL teams were present at Desir’s Pro Day on March 20.
With one full-season under his belt, general manager Phil Emery took on the task of rebuilding the offensive line, while inserting youth into an aging defense that would be playing under a new head coach for the first time since 2004.
First-round pick: Kyle Long, OG, Oregon
Number of picks: 6
How they did: Above average. Four of the six members of the 2013 draft class cracked the starting lineup last season, with Long and fifth-round choice Jordan Mills starting all 16 regular-season games. Bostic was thrown into the fire after veteran middle linebacker D.J. Williams suffered a season-ending injury, and Greene had the unenviable task of attempting to replace perennial Pro Bowl weakside linebacker Lance Briggs, who missed seven games because of a shoulder issue. Seventh-rounder Marquess Wilson played sparingly as a rookie, but is expected to have a much larger role in the offense as the No. 3 wide receiver in 2014. Cornelius Washington, a sixth-round defensive end out of Georgia, spent the bulk of the season on the inactive list.
Best pick: Long. When respected team captain and veteran center Roberto Garza calls it quits, Long will take over the leadership of the offensive line and be one of the key voices in the locker room. Although Long prefers not to talk about himself, he has a commanding presence that cannot be ignored. But what makes this such a great pick is that Long was a relative unknown coming out of Oregon, where he started just a handful of games. It takes guts to select a player at No. 20 overall who played only one year of major college football. Yet, the Bears did their homework, stood by their convictions, and were rewarded with likely the club’s best first-round pick since Tommie Harris in 2004.
Worst pick: Washington. But to be fair, he’s only been in the NFL for one season. There is a chance he improves his technique in the offseason and learns how to use his 6-foot-4 frame to his advantage. Washington never really had a permanent position at Georgia, so he is considered raw. Obviously, the Bears did not feel comfortable enough to use Washington last season as a rookie even though the club badly needed help up front on the defensive line. With the additions of Jared Allen, Lamarr Houston, Willie Young and Israel Idonije, it will be tough for Washington to make an impact, or even to make the team in 2014. But it’s never wise to give up on a young player after just one season. Let’s see how it plays out for Washington when the team officially begins its offseason program on April 22.
ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr.’s fourth 2014 NFL mock draft is out on ESPN Insider today, and his choices through the first two rounds definitely reflect the team’s intentions to orchestrate a renaissance on defense.
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Part of the Bears' delegation included new defensive line coach Paul Pasqualoni, who was seen working directly with Easley during at least one individual drill.
NFL Draft Insider Mel Kiper ranks Easley as the No. 7 defensive tackle in the 2014 draft class.
The 6-foot-2, 288 pound Easley also tore his ACL in 2010, but started 23 games for the Gators over the 2011-2012 seasons where he developed the reputation of being extremely quick off the football. Easley recorded 3.5 tackles-for-loss in Florida's loss to the Louisville Cardinals in the Sugar Bowl two years ago.
Easley's profile on ESPN.com's Insider page notes that he, "explodes off the snap" and that his "hands are quick and violent."
However, he played in just three games last season before sustaining the knee injury at practice the week leading up to the Gators game versus Kentucky.
Easley finished his career with 67 tackles, 16 tackles-for-loss and 5.5 sacks.
It's no secret the Bears want to add another young defensive tackle to the mix in 2014. While it may be a stretch to link the Bears to Easley in the first round at No. 14 overall given his medical history, he could certainly be in play in the second round at No. 51, or later if he falls for whatever reason.
For the first time since 2002, the Bears had a new set of eyes overseeing the draft process. The Bears fired longtime general manager Jerry Angelo at the end of the 2011 regular season and replaced him with respected scout and college talent evaluator Phil Emery.
First-round pick: Shea McClellin, DE, Boise State
Number of picks: 6
How they did: Three members of the 2012 draft class had important roles for the Bears last season: McClellin, wide receiver Alshon Jeffery (second round) and nickel back Isaiah Frey (sixth round). Safety Brandon Hardin, selected in the third round out of Oregon State, spent his rookie year on injured reserve and suffered another injury in the final preseason game last summer that again landed him on IR. The Bears quietly released Hardin several weeks later. Fourth-round pick tight end Evan Rodriguez contributed to the offense in 2012 but was released the next offseason after multiple brushes with the law. Greg McCoy, a cornerback/return man out of TCU whom the Bears took in the seventh round, failed to make the club out of training camp in his first season.
Pivotal pick: The Bears were in need of fresh legs at defensive end to complement Julius Peppers, who at that time still played at a Pro Bowl level, and veteran Israel Idonije. Emery bypassed what some considered safer pass rushing options at No. 19 overall (Chandler Jones and Whitney Mercilus) and selected McClellin, who impressed the Bears with his combination of speed and athleticism. Two years later, McClellin is projected to compete for a starting job at strong side linebacker in 2014. McClellin was certainly disruptive at times rushing the passer from the edge, but the name of the game at defensive end is sacks. McClellin had only a combined 6.5 sacks in two years, with three of the quarterback takedowns occurring in his memorable effort against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field on Nov. 4 when McClellin knocked Aaron Rodgers out of the game with a fractured collarbone. McClellin went on to win NFC Defensive Player of the Week honors.
Best pick: Jeffery, by a mile. Undeterred by the rampant questions surrounding Jeffery's weight and attitude in his final year at South Carolina, the Bears moved up in the second round to snatch the former All-American wide receiver. Jeffery rewarded the Bears' faith by being named to the Pro Bowl in just his second season after catching 89 passes for 1,421 yards and seven touchdowns. The 6-foot-3 wideout holds the top two spots in franchise history for receiving yards in a game with 218 yards against the New Orleans Saints on Oct. 6, and 249 yards against the Minnesota Vikings on Dec. 1.
Worst pick: Hardin. A former and often injured collegiate cornerback, Hardin failed to make the transition to safety. Although Hardin had impressive size (6-foot-3, 217 pounds), he didn't seem to bend his hips much and appeared to play too high. Even if he stayed healthy, it would have been difficult to make an argument for the Bears to keep Hardin on the 53-man roster based on pure performance and football skills alone. The Bears are still searching for help at safety, in part, because the Hardin pick failed to pan out.
Finally, the Bears moved from under the limitations brought on by the Jay Cutler deal, and held a first-round pick for the first time since 2008. Too bad the club didn’t choose wisely (although bad luck played somewhat of a role).
First-round pick: Gabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin
Number of picks: 6
Pivotal pick: After three years without a first-round pick, the Bears needed to hit with Carimi, but they didn’t. The Bears needed to shore up a leaky offensive line going into this draft, and it appeared the chances for doing so with Carimi were good. Carimi had started in 49 games for Wisconsin at left tackle, won the 2010 Outland Trophy, and began his rookie season as the starting right tackle. Up until Carimi suffered the dislocated kneecap at New Orleans, he had been playing winning football. The Bears received a sixth-round pick for Carimi last June in the trade with Tampa Bay, which released him. Carimi signed with Atlanta in February, and will be reunited with former Bears offensive line coach and offensive coordinator Mike Tice.
Best pick: No doubt, Conte struggled through the 2013 season. But he’s still the best pick of this class, and he’ll likely bounce back. Going into 2013, Conte was expected to put together a breakout season after producing 68 tackles in 2012, along with two interceptions and nine pass breakups. Conte finished last season with 90 tackles and three interceptions. He is coming off shoulder surgery, which means he’ll likely miss time at training camp. But if Conte’s rehabilitation goes smoothly, he has a good chance to win a starting job and return to the ascending player the team thought he was entering last season.
Worst pick: Linebacker J.T. Thomas was a three-year starter at West Virginia, but turned in the lowest vertical at the 2011 combine (30 ½ inches), which raised questions about his explosion. Thomas caught the coaching staff’s eye early in camp after taking several first-team reps because of the rules at the time preventing veterans from practicing immediately coming out of the NFL lockout. But Thomas’ practice exploits never transferred onto the field, and he appeared to lack physicality. The Bears waived Thomas after the 2013 preseason, and he signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
A third-year veteran, Ozougwu played in nine games for the Bears from 2012-13, producing four tackles, including a sack and one stop for lost yardage, and one forced fumble. Ozougwu also contributed five tackles on special teams.
Ozougwu was originally drafted by the Houston Texans in 2011 out of Rice, but it appears a logjam at the defensive end position might have led to his release. The Bears signed defensive ends Lamarr Houston, Willie Young, Israel Idonije in Jared Allen during free agency. Those additions would have significantly impacted Ozougwu's chances of making the team for the 2014 season.
The Bears released Podlesh in March prior to the start of free agency after the seven-year NFL veteran averaged 40.6 yards per punt, with a 37.9-yard net average in 2013.
Podlesh, who signed a five-year, $10 million contract with $3.5 million guaranteed with the Bears on July 30, 2011, was scheduled to count $1.825 million against Chicago’s salary cap in 2014 before team decided to cut ties with the punter.
Podlesh’s best season in Chicago came in 2011 when he set the Bears’ single-season record in net punting average (40.4). His 42.4 yards career gross punt average ranks second in team history.
The 30-year-old Podlesh spent his first four years in the NFL with the Jacksonville Jaguars, the team that selected him in the fourth round of the 2007 NFL draft.
Podlesh and second-year kicker Brad Wing are the only two punters listed on the Steelers’ official offseason roster.
Former Pittsburgh punter Drew Butler will have an opportunity to replace Podlesh in Chicago, if he wins the Bears’ starting job in the preseason.