2011 NFL Draft Needs: Chicago Bears

CHICAGO IL - JANUARY 23: Quarterback Jay Cutler #6 of the Chicago Bears on the sideline in the third quarter after leaving the game with an injury against the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship Game at Soldier Field on January 23 2011 in Chicago Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

The Chicago Bears came within one win of returning to their second Super Bowl of the decade but fell short to the eventual Champion Green Bay Packers after a woeful offensive performance. The 21-14 loss to their bitter rival left more than just a bad taste in the mouths of the Midway faithful, it left the fan base once again questioning the toughness, dedication, and leadership abilities of its signal caller. Jay Cutler was knocked out of the game early in the second half with an apparent torn MCL and sat emotionless on the sideline watching third stringer Caleb Hanie bring the team to the precipice of a riveting fourth quarter comeback. It was not to be however, as Hanie threw a game clinching interception to Sam Shields, 12 yards away from a game-tying touchdown.

Cutler’s toughness or lack thereof aside, no quarterback in the league can be successful with the kind of pass-rush the Bears o-line gave up this season. The Bears finished dead last in the league, allowing 56 sacks in 2010. The Bears’ pass-blocking futility reached its pinnacle in week 4 when the unit gave up 10 sacks (nine in the first half) against the Giants, effectively knocking both Cutler and back-up Todd Collins out of the game. The O-line is priority one for Lovie Smith and Jerry Angelo to address this offseason but they have several other areas to focus on improving as well.

Offensive Line: It’s a monumental understatement to say that the Bears’ front five struggled this season. The unit did find some semblance of continuity as the year progressed but Chicago could use upgrades for at least three positions along the line. Frank Omiyale was serviceable at left tackle but is probably better suited on the right side. Chris Williams is still trying to live up to the expectations of being selected 14th overall in the 2008 draft and the hopes of him becoming the team’s left tackle of the future seems to be fading on a yearly basis. The anchor of the line Olin Kreutz, once a perennial Pro Bowler, isn’t getting any younger and his play has dropped off in recent years. The right side of the line was a revolving door throughout the year and could use serious upgrading. The Bears could go in multiple directions with the 29th overall pick. Florida’s Mike Pouncey would be an ideal fit at either guard position and would give Smith flexibility if Kreutz continues to show his age at center. BC’s Anthony Castonzo, Colorado’s Nate Solder or Wisconsin’s Gabe Carimi would all improve either tackle position and any one may be difficult to pass up if they are available.

3-Technique Defensive Tackle: The team parted ways with former 2004 first-round pick Tommie Harris yesterday after a dismal 2010 campaign where he accrued just 18 total tackles, 1.5 sacks, and was frequently benched in favor of Matt Toeaina. The team seems to like Anthony Adams at nose tackle but could definitely use an upgrade at the 3-technique. The d-tackle position is probably the deepest in this year’s draft so the Bears brass should have several options with the 29th pick if they decide not to address the o-line with their first selection. Illinois’s own Corey Liuget would be an ideal fit to fill the shoes of Harris. Liuget has impressed scouts and is rapidly moving up draft boards so he may not even be available at 29. If that’s the case, Angelo could choose from UNC’s Marvin Austin, Southern Cal’s Jurrell Casey or Temple’s Muhammad Wilkerson.

Wide Receiver: The Bears haven’t had a number one receiver since Muhsin Muhammad returned to Carolina before retiring and Cutler desperately needs a big time target to take the pressure off the o-line. Johnny Knox had a solid season and showed glimpses throughout but is not a number one receiver yet. The Bears are woefully undersized at wideout with Knox and Earl Bennett barely eclipsing the 6-foot mark and could use a redzone target in the 6-3 to 6-5 range. If Angelo and Smith don’t see the value in the offensive or defensive linemen available at 29, they could select Pitt’s Jonathan Baldwin (6-5, 220) who would immediately solve their need for a big target. At 29 it’s pretty much Baldwin or bust for receivers because Georgia’s A.J. Green and Bama’s Julio Jones will be long gone and Maryland’s Torrey Smith is a borderline first-round talent at best.

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