Another in a periodic series examining the roles of NFC North newcomers.
Unless you follow the Pac-10, your first introduction to Oregon State defensive tackle Stephen Paea might have come at the February scouting combine. Still recovering from minor knee surgery, Paea set a combine record by completing 49 reps of a 225-pound bench press.
Combine that accomplishment with a 6-foot-1, 303-pound frame and a natural perception emerges: A space-eating nose tackle who projects as a two-down player in the NFL.
As it turns out, however, the Chicago Bears have a different plan for the man they traded up in the second round to draft last month. The Bears are hoping Paea can be stout against the run, but the middle of the second round is high to pick a player solely on his run defense. Ideally, they hope he can play the "three-technique" position vacated by the release of Tommie Harris, a position that requires quickness and pass-rushing skills that exceed those of a typical nose tackle.
Tim Ruskell, the Bears' vice president of player personnel, said Paea can and will play both spots for the Bears.
"[He has] the strength and ability to be able to hold off the double-team with his upper body," Ruskell said. "So if we have to move him over to the nose ... he would have the capability to do that. It's just a unique guy for us. When you combine that with his effort level and his passion for the game, it was kind of a no-brainer for us. Whereas all of those other guys [in the draft] had something missing here or there."
Don't let that sell job sway you, however. Space-eating nose tackles are much easier to find than pass-rushing defensive tackles, and the success of this decision largely will rest on whether Paea can get into the backfield and be a disruptive force.
Setting the bench press record surely generated Paea some attention, but he made clear his ambitions extend beyond its implications.
"It's a blessing to do that," he told Chicago-area reporters. "I feel like the bench press was something in my back pocket. When I watched the replay after, some of the experts, [the NFL's Network's Mike] Mayock and all of those media guys saying that I'll be a true nose tackle [that was great]. But in my mind, strength is my plan B, as far as the quickness and stuff, that is what I feel like I can bring to the game."
"I can't compare myself to [Randle]," he said. "I feel like that is exactly what I want to play like, and Warren Sapp, the quickness. [I'm] not much of a bull-rush type of person."
Today, you might laugh at the thought of putting John Randle, Warren Sapp and Stephen Paea in the same sentence. But we do so more to describe a mentality than assess his skill level. I would be worried if a second-round draft pick was hoping to become, say, the next Ted Washington or Tony Siragusa. All I'm saying is the Bears are hoping for -- and need -- more than run defense from the No. 53 overall pick of the draft.