Bears draft: Target in sight - left tackle?

Jay Taft

LAKE FOREST — On five different occasions during Monday’s press conference leading up to this week’s NFL draft, new Chicago Bears general manager Phil Emery slipped back into talk about left tackles.

“I’d say it’s a good draft for projecting offensive tackles,” he said in his first minute at the podium. Later he added: “There are premium positions. Generally you’re going to have to take those higher than lower, especially historically, left tackles you’re going to have to take in the first couple of rounds.”

Twice he was semi-prompted, but the three other times it came completely from left field. Now even though Emery also proved Monday that he can say a lot without saying anything at all — like most of the good GMs around the league — he also may have said too much about left tackles to completely mask his intentions.

The Bears will have the 19th pick in the 2012 NFL draft, which kicks off at 7 p.m. Thursday. The second and third rounds will be held Friday, and the remaining rounds will begin at noon Saturday.

Emery and his staff stayed relatively busy throughout the free-agency period, signing 10 new players — including wide receiver Brandon Marshall, and recently signed linebacker Geno Hayes — while inking five of their own players to new deals — including oft-disgruntled Lance Briggs.

But even though the team slid in the signing of unknown guard Chilo Rachal on Monday, little has been done to improve a once-woeful offensive line. True, the unit improved with time (and with plenty of mixing and matching by then-line coach Mike Tice). But at no time has the line in front of a Bears-jersey-wearing Jay Cutler ever been considered a dominant group.

How about a serviceable group? They were last in the league after allowing 52 sacks two years ago and were fifth worst with 49 sacks allowed last season. And although he was hurt on a fluke tackle near the sidelines, the Bears’ playoff hopes basically disintegrated when Cutler went down with a broken thumb late last year.

So clearly, the Bears need some talented size up front.

Still, after they drafted tackle Gabe Carimi in the first round last year, and have other needs to fill, many believe the Bears should take a defensive end in the first round to help carry the load opposite Julius Peppers. And before they traded for Marshall and brought in Hayes, wide receiver and linebacker were considered prime targets for that first pick as well.

But if Emery tipped his hat in any direction during Monday’s 38-minute chat with the media, it was in the left-tackle direction. He even brought up the position during his brief flashbacks as an assistant.

“I was in Atlanta after we took Matt Ryan, and obviously we needed a left tackle,” he said. (Obviously.) “So it was either trade that position and take one or not have a left side protector for Matt Ryan. So sometimes you are driven by need and the number of quality players on the board.”

J’Marcus Webb to left tackle was one of the final moves the Bears made on the line last year, and it seemed to work just fine most of the time. He showed ability to keep speed rushers off the end, but failed to shut down the inside at times, which cost the Bears’ late-season sacks.

So Webb may not be what Emery and head coach Lovie Smith are looking for out there.

“The majority of starters in the league,” Emery said, “are first, second, third-round left tackles. It’s unusual to hit on one late.”

Um, Webb was drafted in the seventh round. Maybe Emery doesn’t consider him a “starter” at this point.

“Well, obviously we have some veteran players that are our team leaders,” Emery said. They are: “Brian, Jay, Lance, and there are others, but just to give you examples. You anticipate that those are going to be your starters.”

But Webb, not so much. He certainly could be, with the way this line has been put together the past few seasons. But I expect him to at least have some competition, and after listening to Emery talk Monday, I expect that competition to come out of the first two rounds of this year’s draft (most likely the first.)

“Usually the first and second round you want to come away with a player you feel is going to be a starter,” Emery added. “Or somebody that is adding or contributing greatly to what you’re doing.”

Is he talking about Iowa’s Riley Reiff, considered the second-best left tackle in the draft (Matt Kahlil will most likely be gone by the 19th pick), or possibly Ohio State’s Mike Adams?

And then, before he bade farewell until Thursday, Emery made another statement that could be construed as being aimed toward the O-line (only if you believe, like me, that’s where one of their biggest needs remains).

“You do have to have a feel for where you need to fill some patches to put you in the best position,” he added, “to build a championship roster and have a chance to build a championship with.”

So we will find out just what he meant — and whether Emery has a little more to learn about the cloak-and-dagger world of the NFL draft — after his first pick in the draft on Thursday.

Jay Taft covers the Chicago Bears for the Rockford Register Star. He can be reached at 815-987-1384 or