By my count, over three Phil Emery drafts, and projecting starters for 2014, he has drafted eight offensive players for three starters, which is probably OK, but 11 defensive players for one starter (Jon Bostic or Shea McClellin) and that is a disaster. I like him. But I think he gets a free pass with the press (except Steve Rosenbloom) when it comes to post-draft happy talk. How would you grade his defensive drafting ability? – Leif H., League City, Texas
As a rule of thumb, it takes three full years to evaluate a draft class and Emery’s first class since taking over the Bears is entering Year 3. The Bears have produced two Pro Bowl players from his first two drafts -- wide receiver Alshon Jeffery and right guard Kyle Long -- so he’s 2 for 2 in that regard. If I he can find one Pro Bowl talent each year, the Bears will have something going on in short order. But I understand your points. Quite simply had McClellin performed better as a defensive end, I think a lot of the concern would be mitigated. Nickel cornerback Isaiah Frey played nearly half of the snaps last season, so he was a solid contributor. Marquess Wilson is solidly in the mix to become the No. 3 wide receiver this season. There is no question Brandon Hardin was a miss in 2012. The Bears need McClellin and/or Bostic to step up this season and I would not put a ceiling on Kyle Fuller, the first-round pick from this year. Also, rookie defensive tackles Ego Ferguson or Will Sutton should figure in the rotation on the line. Sorting out the offensive line was a big task for Emery in his first two years and he’s effectively done that. We’ll see how the defense shapes up this season.
I really don't think I'm being overly optimistic here when I say I think the Bears really have made the leap to a Super Bowl contender. When you think about how good the offense was last season, if the Bears had just an average defense, wouldn't they have been one of the best teams in the league? It seems like they have improved the defense to the point that it might even be above average, and we should expect the offense to be better than last year with no significant losses and everyone having another year under the system. What do you think? – Dan, Skokie
The Bears should expect to be a playoff contender this season, as they have every year since appearing in Super Bowl XLI. Unfortunately, the Bears have underperformed and made just one postseason appearance in the last seven years. It’s going to be a challenge for the Bears to remain as potent on offense this season but they certainly have the personnel to do so and a coach with a vision that transformed things quickly on that side of the ball. Keep in mind the offense remained relatively injury-free in 2013 with the exception of quarterback Jay Cutler. The defense is more of a wild card and unknown. There is nowhere to go but up for Mel Tucker and his players. You’re right that a middle-of-the-road defense would have probably put the Bears in the thick of the playoffs last year. On a path to the Super Bowl? I don’t know. Consider the Seahawks (1st) and 49ers (5th) ranked among the best in the NFL in total defense. In terms of scoring defense, the four top teams in the league were all from the NFC – Seattle, Carolina, San Francisco and New Orleans. Three of those teams have potent offenses. Those clubs believe they will be as strong or stronger on defense this season. Expectations for the Bears should begin with a playoff appearance, that much is for sure.
What is the scoop on Cornelius Washington? He had great combine/workout stats last year. Played some special teams. Now they have beefed up the defense but still no mention of him. Not sure why they keep him. Is it potential? – Charlie B., Glencoe
Washington generated a lot of questions last season when he wasn’t playing and there have been a few inquiries this spring. He had 10 snaps on defense last season and was on the field for only one special teams play. Sometimes workout warriors and combine standouts don’t excel as football players. I’m not ruling out Washington but he’ll need to have a better spring and training camp to make the roster. Keep in mind we’re talking about a sixth-round pick that flashed occasionally at Georgia. The reason the Bears keep him around right now is simple. He was drafted based on a projection (which is what most sixth-round picks are) and he’s under contract on a rookie deal. He needs a chance to show if the light will come on this summer and in preseason.
Most fans have been focused on issues at safety. But don't you agree that better D-line play will upgrade the safety position? So doesn't that mean, with Aaron Donald off the board, the Kyle Fuller selection was the right pick if he was the highest-rated player left on the board? He's a big, physical hard-nosed cornerback, exactly what is needed against NFC North wide receivers. – Pat C., Washington, D.C.
Naturally, improved defensive line play is going to create a trickle-down effect for the second and third levels. Yes, the Bears clearly had a higher grade on Fuller than either of the top safeties based on the fact they bypassed Calvin Pryor and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. Big, physical wide receivers are needed against pretty much all competition, not just the other teams in the NFC North. We’ll see what Fuller does to contribute as a rookie.
If the Bears had passed on Kyle Fuller and taken a safety in the first round and then Charles Tillman or Tim Jennings had gotten a serious injury, what's your guess for how many readers would have emailed you asking why the Bears didn't draft a corner at No. 14, since they were so thin there? I couldn’t help it. – Greg F., La Grange
You might be able to build some big muscles hauling around a mailbag full of those questions. But seriously, the Bears had a need for youth and top-end talent at cornerback. As I detailed last month, the organization went 10 years without drafting a cornerback in the first three rounds of the draft and an infusion of young talent was really important. If the Bears didn’t get a cornerback in the first round, they probably would have taken a hard look at the position in Round 2 when they needed to also look at defensive tackles. For all the hand wringing that’s gone on over the safety position, cornerback is still considered a more premium position. We’ve seen safety contracts really grow in the last decade and the position be targeted higher in the draft but cornerbacks are still considered more essential.
If the draft is how you build a franchise, then why is there not more coverage of a teams’ scouts? I don't mean fluff or assassination jobs, just journalism 101. How many current Bears scouts gave Jerry Angelo advice? How does the Bears’ scouting department stack up with the rest of the NFL and NFC North? – Kirk, Chicago
Most teams make their scouts off-limits to media so spending time with them to pick their brains about the draft, the prospects, their role in it and the big picture is difficult. General manager Phil Emery has significantly expanded the size of the scouting department since taking over. He’s added scouts, given others promotions and is working with several scouts that he worked with previously when he was a regional scout under Angelo. Marty Barrett, the college scouting director, was a regional scout previously. Jeff Shiver, the assistant college scouting director, was also a regional scout before. Mark Sadowski and Rex Hogan are both national scouts after previously serving Angelo and the organization as regional scouts. Kevin Turks, the director of pro personnel, rose through the ranks under Angelo. If you are judging simply based on how a team has done drafting and developing starters, the Bears are not where you want to be in the NFL. I know Emery has strong faith in his scouts and has talked specifically about their ability to dig up information on prospects in the pre-draft process that is considered essential, some of it info that players and agents would not necessarily want to disclose.
A combo question. It's fascinating to listen to experts try to find a place on the field for Jordan Lynch. In the meantime, fans want to convert a multitude of cornerbacks and linebackers to fill the Bears' need for a better than caretaker-quality safety. Lynch had excellent grades at the combine in DB drills. He has the smarts, size, speed, and hands to play safety. His ball-handling abilities and experience as a running quarterback suggest he'd do well gaining yardage after picks. Given his lack of experience blocking and the presence of other running backs on the roster, why not make him the safety project? – Adam, Voorhees, N.J.
I think projecting Lynch as a safety in the NFL is making a real reach. Yes, former Nebraska quarterback Scott Frost had a short stint in the NFL as a safety and special teams player but you’re asking Lynch to do something that is totally foreign to him. The Bears believe Lynch is best with the ball in his hands -- an instinctive runner with the football. He’s challenged as a passer when you talking about making throws downfield. So putting him at running back and experimenting with him there and possibly as an H-back type gives him a chance to highlight that ability. But this isn’t a small position shift either and Lynch is going to have to adjust to not having the ball in his possession at the snap, blocking and running routes where he will have to turn and look for the ball. He strikes me as the kind of willing performer on special teams that he could have value there as well but we’re going to have to see if he can do it in preseason games when the action is live. You’re idea isn’t completely farfetched but making an offense to defense move is taking a greater leap, in my opinion.
Will Jordan Lynch’s quarterback experience give him an edge in making the roster because of his ability to be an emergency third quarterback? -- @FunnieMoney from Twitter
This is a question that was submitted in a couple different forms and an interesting one to consider. It is unlikely the Bears would regularly have three quarterbacks on the active 46-man gameday roster although it happens on occasion. When it doesn’t, the team has a player in mind in the event disaster strikes. Wide receiver Earl Bennett was considered a player that could potentially handle that role in the past. Lynch would make sense if the top two quarterbacks were down. But I don’t know that a decision on a roster spot will be swayed by this. But the more things a player can do, the more value he has. Lynch needs to prove he can be productive as a running back in Marc Trestman’s offense and be a multi-phase contributor on special teams to have the best chance of making the cut.
It appears more and more guys are utilizing offseason training facilities, Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Marquess Wilson in Florida and Shea McClellin’s transformation in California. Do you think the training can make a player better like Jeffery? Or is he a product of Marshall solely mentoring him? – Hakeem M., Chicago, from email There aren’t many players in the NFL that sit idle in the offseason. In fact, you probably would have a very hard time finding one that sits around and spends the majority of his time on the couch or the golf course. Not everyone’s work is publicized. Marshall has been credited with organizing workouts in Florida the past two offseasons and I think the greatest work he did with Jeffery was probably sharing with him techniques in training and tips on nutrition. Jeffery transformed his body last offseason and that was one of the reasons he had a breakout second season. We’ll see how McCllelin fits at linebacker after a committed offseason approach.
I thought Isiah Frey had a solid season last year granted he was a sixth-round pick and can improve his ballhawk skills. Obviously it'll be hard for him to hit the field with the addition of Kyle Fuller and I think it will stunt his growth if he isn't able to hit the field. What are the prospects of him getting to challenge at safety? – Elijah W., Chicago
Frey was going to face a challenge for the job this season from Kelvin Hayden before Fuller was selected in the first round. While the job isn’t being handed to Fuller, certainly you would expect the 14th overall pick to have a role in the nickel package. Frey looked good at times last year but didn’t get his hands on the ball enough. He had only two pass breakups and did not record an interception after routinely making plays during the offseason program and in training camp. Frey’s not out of the picture but he’s going to have to compete for a spot and the Bears would have been negligent if they didn’t add some young talent to the position group.
I know it's early but who do you see sticking as an undrafted player? -- @drewmolina from Twitter