Chicago Bears: Jr.
March, 9, 2011
By Michael C. Wright | ESPNChicago.com
AP Photo/Darron CummingsNate Solder is considered one of the top offensive linemen in the draft, and he may be available to the Bears.The name changed, but the position the Bears chose to bolster didn't in ESPN Draft analyst Mel Kiper's latest Mock Draft 3.0.
Having pointed out help along the offensive line Wednesday as the team's most important need headed into 2011, Kiper has the Bears taking Colorado offensive tackle Nate Solder with the 29th pick.
"Chicago should be thrilled if Solder is available here," Kiper commented. "He has added bulk to a 6-foot-8 frame, making him a guy who could help in a run game that really fell off in 2010. All the questions about [Jay Cutler's] toughness aside, Chicago let [him] take far too many hits over the last two seasons, and [offensive coordinator] Mike Martz isn't reluctant to run the ball if he has an offensive line he can run behind with consistency."
Scouts Inc. ranks Solder as the second-best offensive-tackle prospect in the draft behind Southern California's Tyron Smith, and 14th overall. Kiper's latest mock draft has Smith going 13th overall to the Detroit Lions, with three more offensive linemen -- Florida guard/center Mike Pouncey, Boston College tackle Anthony Castonzo and Wisconsin tackle Gabe Carimi -- going off the board at No. 19 (Giants), 22 (Colts) and 23 (Eagles), respectively.
Given the beating Cutler took last year in taking a career-high 52 sacks (17 more than his previous high of 35 in 2009), it's no secret the Bears want to bolster an offensive line that featured several combinations throughout the season. Bears offensive line coach Mike Tice said the 2011 class of prospects is so deep that the club could conceivably find a player capable of helping right away as late as the second round, which might be a positive considering the team also needs help at defensive tackle because of the release of veteran Tommie Harris.
Villanova's Ben Ijalana, who Kiper had the Bears taking in his Mock 2.0, could still be on the board for the Bears in the second round, along with Mississippi State's Derek Sherrod, Florida's Marcus Gilbert and Alabama's James Carpenter.
General manager Jerry Angelo considers offensive line and defensive line to be the two deepest positions in the draft.
As for Solder, scouts like his durability (started every game at left tackle the past two seasons), length (his arm length is 35.4 inches), and athleticism. At this point, Solder appears to be a better run blocker than pass protector, but his football intelligence could help him to make strides in protection quickly.
Going into the NFL Combine last month, Solder was considered by many to be the draft's top offensive lineman, although some scouts questioned whether he needed to bulk up somewhat. Solder performed just 21 bench-press repetitions during workouts at the combine last month, which probably bolstered scouts' concerns about his lack of bulk, while leading to questions about the offensive tackle's strength.
A red flag such as that could be precisely why Kiper has Solder -- who is graded as the second-best at his position -- slipping to the Bears at No. 29.