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Bears' overhaul of struggling defence to continue in draft

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The Canadian Press
5/5/2014 3:50:48 PM
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LAKE FOREST, Ill. - Chicago Bears general manager Phil Emery was so busy in free agency he didn't mind having a few extra weeks to prepare for the draft.

Time's just about up.

The three-day proceeding starts with the first round Thursday and the Bears, owners of the 14th pick, still need help on defence even after some big moves. So a little extra time to study the prospects suited Emery just fine.

"I love it, honestly. I've heard reports of people complaining about it," he said. "I don't know what they're complaining about."

The draft was pushed back about two weeks because of a scheduling conflict at New York's Radio City Music Hall. Emery said that allowed the Bears to have "less-rushed conversations" as they try to weigh short-term gains against long-term benefits.

The defence ranked among the league's worst a year ago and was the biggest reason the Bears missed the playoffs for the sixth time in seven years at 8-8.

The Bears have been busy addressing that, bringing in Jared Allen and parting with Julius Peppers in an effort to spark a defence that ranked 30th overall, last against the run, and tied Jacksonville with a league-low 31 sacks. They still need help on the line, at linebacker and in the secondary, particularly at safety.

Chicago has one pick in each of the first five rounds (Nos. 14, 51, 82, 117 and 156) and two in the sixth round (183 and 191). With that in mind, here are five things to know about the draft.

STILL ON THE DEFENSIVE: Emery said he has six candidates for the 14th pick assuming the Bears keep it, and there's a good chance he'll go with a defensive player even though he wasn't ruling out offence. Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald, Alabama free safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert could be strong possibilities for Chicago.

ROLL THE DICE: Emery showed in his first two drafts he's not afraid to take a chance on a first-round pick. He gambled on Shea McClellin in 2012 and did it again with Kyle Long last year. The results? He's batting .500 so far.

Long was a hit at right guard even though he made just five starts in his lone season at Oregon.

McClellin is a swing and miss so far and is moving from defensive end to linebacker. At least Emery hit it big in the second round in 2012 with receiver Alshon Jeffery, who broke out last season with 1,421 yards receiving.

PASS ON QB?: Emery insisted he's comfortable with Jordan Palmer backing up Jay Cutler and that he's not in favour of grooming a quarterback drafted in the later rounds as a potential starter down the line.

"That developmental theory doesn't hold a whole lot of water," he said.

Starting with the 2006 class, Emery examined how quarterbacks drafted after the third round fared. He didn't find a long-term starter, let alone another Tom Brady. Mostly, it was a collection of third-stringers, many of whom did not last long in the league.

"Most of the starters in this league come from the first and second round. So that's where you need to take a quarterback," he said.

The idea of pairing a late-round QB with coach Marc Trestman doesn't seem to interest him.

"I'm more intrigued with how Marc matches up with Jay and Jordan and Jerrod (Johnson)," he said.

PLAYING IT SAFE-TY: Emery declared the starting safety spots "wide open" with the struggling Chris Conte back and Major Wright gone. They've brought in Ryan Mundy and M.D. Jennings and figure to add more help in the draft. The Bears have also scouted college cornerbacks with length with the idea of converting them to safeties, although that carries some risk.

MAKING A MOVE: Emery said he's fielded calls from teams looking to move up to No. 14. He also indicated trading up is unlikely, saying such moves are "expensive."

___

Online:

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and http://twitter.com/AP_NFL

Football (Photo: Heinz Kluetmeier/Sports Illustrated/Getty Images)

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(Photo: Heinz Kluetmeier/Sports Illustrated/Getty Images)
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