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Sunday, April 15, 2012
Bears draft preview: Tackle

By Michael C. Wright

Stephenson
Oklahoma tackle Donald Stephenson could be a late-round option for the Bears.

Regarding the upcoming NFL draft, Chicago’s situation at offensive tackle seems to be one of extremes.

On one hand, the team indicates a level of comfort with the current group at the position, which includes Gabe Carimi and J’Marcus Webb as the starters. On the other, there’s trepidation about whether Carimi, a year removed from being selected in the first round, will fully recover from last year’s season-ending knee injury combined with uneasiness about continuing with Webb as quarterback Jay Cutler’s blindside protector.

Bears coach Lovie Smith spoke about the position -- specifically Webb -- back in March at the NFL owners meetings.

“Every tackle in the league can look bad at times,” Smith said. “There are some things you have to do to help him out a little bit more at times, which we plan to do. You can make a case and throw out stats on what [Webb] did, but I think it’s hard for all tackles in the league to block Julius Peppers from time to time. We have a good plan at the left tackle. We have all our options open right now. But if we end up playing J’Marcus Webb at left tackle next year, we’ll be comfortable with that.”

But what happens if one of the top prospects falls into the team’s lap at No. 19 later this month during the NFL Draft?

While addressing the team’s aging defense or adding to the receiver position seems to make the most sense, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the team bolster tackle in the draft, whether through a first-round pick or later selection. The team appears to be interested in adding at the position at some point prior to the start of training camp.

The club reportedly held a private workout with Oklahoma tackle Donald Stephenson, projected to be a fourth- or fifth-round pick.

Publicly, though, the team maintains confidence in the current group. According to Pro Football Focus, Webb ranked as the worst full-time starter at left tackle in the NFL in 2011, and was responsible for 38 quarterback pressures. Furthermore, Webb was penalized a team-high 15 times, resulting in eight stalled drives.

Smith said that adding an offensive tackle in free agency would have sent the wrong message.

“That would be saying we don’t feel comfortable with our left tackle, and that’s not the case.”

Perhaps it will be during the NFL draft.

The next 10: 11. Tom Compton, South Dakota, 6-5, 314; 12. Matt McCants, Alabama-Birmingham, 6-6, 308; 13. Matt Reynolds, Brigham Young, 6-5, 302; 14. Tony Bergstrom, Utah, 6-5, 313; 15. Nate Potter, Boise State, 6-6, 303; 16. Andrew Datko, Florida State, 6-6, 315; 17. Jeff Adams, Columbia, 6-6, 306; 18. Bryce Harris, Fresno State, 6-6, 302; 19. Lamar Holmes, Southern Mississippi, 6-5, 323; 20. Marcel Jones, Nebraska, 6-6, 320.

Position grade: B.

Analysis: Some of the anticipated changes to the Bears' offense might alleviate the need to acquire an offensive tackle during the draft, and open the door for more upgrades on defense. Perhaps that’s why the Bears continue to say they’re fine up front. It’s important to note that of the 23 sacks Cutler suffered in 10 games, 18 of them came in the first five games before the Bears made changes to get the ball out of the quarterback’s hands more quickly, while adding help in the protection by keeping in tight ends and sending running backs to the edges to chip. The Bears expect to do more of that in 2012, which is why it’s highly unlikely the team targets an offensive tackle high in the draft.