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Bears draft preview: Miner could prove a gem

UTEP's Roy Robertson-Harris could be a fit for the Bears at outside linebacker. (AP)

Two edge rushers visited Halas Hall on Thursday.

One, Georgia’s Leonard Floyd, could be the Bears’ first-round pick next week. The other won’t go nearly as high, but has the physical build to be one of the draft’s more intriguing players.

At 6-foot-7, 255 pounds, Roy Robertson-Harris passes the airport test — even if his 10 ½ sacks over four seasons at UTEP don’t jump off the page.

“With these NFL coaches, I think they see a lot in me and see that I haven’t reached my full potential,” Robertson-Harris said. “I think that’s the plus-side for me — because I have a lot to learn, and like to learn as much as I can.”

A star recruit from the Dallas area, he attended UTEP in part because a family friend, Andre Patterson, coached the Miners’ defensive line. Patterson has since returned to coach with the Vikings, where he worked from 1998-99.

He played all along the defensive line in UTEP’s 4-3 scheme, but has the physical skills to play outside linebacker in the NFL. He had 23 tackles for loss in his last three seasons, during which he started 33 games.

When he met with Bears outside linebackers coach Clint Hurtt on Thursday, Robertson-Harris said the two talked about how he could transition there. Hurtt told him he had the tools to fit in the scheme, he said.

“I’m starting to get a little more comfortable in a 3-4 defense, playing standup outside linebacker,” said Robertson-Harris, who did not spend time with Floyd during their visits. “In the 4-3, I played ‘three’ technique, I played outside. I’ve done it all really, so I’m excited to see what a team wants me to do, and what they’re asking me to do.”

Robertson-Harris found coach John Fox to be “chill” and down-to-earth. His cousin, two-time Pro Bowl guard Carl Nicks, played for Bears GM Ryan Pace’s Saints from 2008-11.

The fact the Bears used one of their 30 in-house visits on him shows a serious level of curiosity. Robertson-Harris served as team captain, something Pace valued in his first Bears draft last year.

Drafting an edge rusher early wouldn’t preclude the Bears from looking at Robertson-Harris later, either. They could use an injection of youth into that position group; of their four top outside linebackers, one, Willie Young, will turn 31 this year. Lamarr Houston will be 29, while Pernell McPhee and Sam Acho will be 28.

Robertson-Harris will spend the first day of the draft in Houston with his fiancée — the two are expecting a baby boy in August, and have a sonogram appointment. The next day he’ll drive to Dallas, where he’ll host a fish fry for family on Saturday.

“Hopefully, the second or the third day I’ll get my name called,” he said.

In less than two weeks, his life with change.

“It’s more nervousness than excitement, but my family’s doing the excited part for me,” he said. “They’re playing that role.”

POSITION SPOTLIGHT – OUTSIDE LINEBACKER

Rating Bears’ need: Medium

It’s not as if the Bears desperately need a starter; Pernell McPhee was game-changing when healthy, while Willie Young and Lamarr Houston combined for 14 ½ sacks.

What the Bears do need, though, is a speed rusher for their nickel and dime packages.

“For base downs, your two bigger outside ‘backers might be completely different guys than on third down, or first down when they come out (with three wide receivers),” coach John Fox said last month. “Those might be completely different, smaller, faster, than maybe the guys on base downs going against huge tight ends, possibly even an extra tackle. Everything’s gotten a lot more specialized.”

Young is the only speed rusher on the Bears roster, but his contract expires at the end of the season. Sam Acho, who started seven games last year, is more of a special teams piece.

Best of the best

Joey Bosa will likely be the top edge rusher taken — likely long before No. 11. The Ohio State star might be a better fit in a scheme with four down linemen, but could fit as a 3-4 outside linebacker who plays end in sub packages.

Bosa was dominant with the Buckeyes, totaling 26 sacks and 50 ½ tackles for loss in in 37 career starts over three seasons. No one in the country had more tackles for loss during that span.

Other options

Georgia’s Leonard Floyd, Clemson’s Shaq Lawson and Oklahoma State’s Emmanuel Ogbah all visited Halas Hall this month. They could be chosen in the middle of the first round.

Eastern Kentucky’s Noah Spence, who was booted from Ohio State, would be a good fit if the Bears are comfortable with his past. Kevin Dodd, who played opposite Lawson at Clemson, thinks he can fit as an outside linebacker. Michigan State’s Shalique Calhoun would need to be converted from end to linebacker, too