- Michael C. Wright, ESPN Staff Writer
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With the NFL combine starting Feb. 22, here’s a look at Chicago's positions of need and which prospects the Bears might be looking taking a closer look at in Indianapolis. Positions of need are listed in order of importance.
Position of need: Cornerback
With franchise stalwart Charles Tillman pondering pending free agency, Tim Jennings, who signed a four-year deal in January worth $11.8 million guaranteed, remains the only cornerback on the club’s roster with experience as a starter.
Even if the Bears manage to bring back Tillman to start opposite Jennings in 2014, they still need to add depth in addition to addressing the future at the cornerback position. Of the nine cornerbacks on the roster at the end of the season, four are free agents; a list which includes Tillman, Kelvin Hayden, Sherrick McManis and Zack Bowman.
Tillman started in eight of nine games before finally going on the injured reserve with a torn triceps.
“We dearly missed the on-the-field leadership of Charles Tillman after his injury,” Bears general manager Phil Emery said at the end of the season. “He is a physical, playmaking football player who the players greatly respect. All of his teammates respect him. His loss had a significant impact on where we were as a defense.”
That loss could wind up being permanent despite the sides remaining engaged in dialogue about a deal that could bring back Tillman for 2014.
Three players the Bears could be targeting
Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State: Some mock drafts project Gilbert going to the Bears at No. 14. In addition to running track in college, Gilbert picked off seven passes, running two back for touchdowns. Considered a big-play specialist, Gilbert also provides versatility as a potential return man. He averaged 25.2 yards per kick return at Oklahoma State, including five returns for TDs.
Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State: Not as big as Gilbert, but a case can be made for Dennard being the only shutdown corner in this year’s class. Dennard won the Thorpe Award, given annually to the top defensive back in the nation. Dennard picked off four passes last season, in addition to contributing 59 tackles. There have been questions about Dennard’s true speed, but he’s considered one of the more fundamentally sound corners of the class.
Jason Verrett, Texas Christian: Florida State’s Lamarcus Joyner possesses similar size, but played with a better supporting cast than Verrett, who is instinctive, anticipates well, and physical, despite a lack of ideal size. Opponents threw away from him during his final season, but Verrett picked off nine passes and broke up 34 more in three years as a starter. Verrett’s explosiveness is similar to that of Jennings.