Combine time: A look at the Bears’ top five needs

SHARE Combine time: A look at the Bears’ top five needs

INDIANAPOLIS — Bears general manager Ryan Pace has plenty of money to spend, and he will do so when free agency opens March 9.

But Pace won’t try to buy the Bears out of trouble. Fixing the team will take consecutive strong drafts. And despite receiver Kevin White’s injury situation, Pace’s first draft class was a decent start.

The Bears have nine selections in the draft, the most they have had since they also had nine in 2009. With that in mind, here is our take on their top five positions of need with the NFL Scouting Combine on tap this week:

1. Linebacker

On the roster: Pace wants as many pass rushers as possible, and adding a young one to a mix that includes Pernell McPhee, Willie Young and Lamarr Houston would make outside linebacker their strongest position.

But inside linebacker requires significant attention. By the end of last season, undrafted rookie John Timu was the only inside linebacker playing every down.

The Bears might bring back Shea McClellin, who would be a cheap free-agent re-signing. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio thinks McClellin can blossom into a reliable performer.

But it’s crucial that the Bears add better competition for Timu and McClellin (if he returns). They need an aggressive downhill tackler in the middle of their defense.

At the combine: At inside linebacker, it all starts with UCLA’s Myles Jack and Notre Dame’s

Jaylon Smith. They’re top-10 talents, and one might be available when the Bears draft at No. 11. The issue is that both are coming off knee surgery.

In Smith’s case, a team might have to be OK if he misses most or all of the 2016 season because he’s less than two months removed from tearing the anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in his left knee on New Year’s Day.

‘‘I don’t care who the team is, Chicago or anyone in the league,’’ NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said. ‘‘This kid is so good that if the medical’s clean, you have to take a big-picture look at him.’’

2. Defensive line

On the roster: The Bears like what they have in 2015 second-round pick Eddie Goldman, who had 4½ sacks and started 12 games as a rookie.

After him, though, the Bears have plenty to figure out.

Jarvis Jenkins and Mitch Unrein had strong moments last season, but they’re free agents and might not fit into the team’s long-term plans. Ego Ferguson and Will Sutton are young and have potential, but they weren’t drafted by this staff and have more to do to win everyone over.

At the combine: Alabama’s Jarran Reed and A’Shawn Robinson, Oregon’s DeForest Buckner, Ole Miss’ Robert Nkemdiche and Louisville’s Sheldon Rankins stand out. But there is value in the second and third rounds.

This draft class is considered deep with defensive linemen. Mayock went as far as to describe it as possibly the best ever for the position.

3. Secondary

On the roster: When considering Pace’s comments from Jan. 4 about the Bears’ need for playmakers, the secondary should come to mind.

Defensive backs were responsible for only four of the team’s eight interceptions last season.

Safety Adrian Amos has earned the Bears’ confidence, but his ball skills are a priority in his second season. Cornerback Kyle Fuller’s consistency and confidence remain an issue, but he finished last season strong.

The Bears also have to make decisions about safety Antrel Rolle and cornerback Tracy Porter. The typically durable Rolle, 33, played in only seven games last season, and the guaranteed portion of his three-year contract is done.

Porter was one of the Bears’ best players in 2015. But he’s a free agent at 29, and he might be out for his last payday — one that might be too rich for the Bears’ liking.

At the combine: Florida State star Jalen Ramsey is the best defensive back, and there is a debate about whether he’s best suited for safety or cornerback. Odds are Ramsey won’t be there at No. 11, but Florida cornerback Vernon Hargreaves might be

an option.

4. Offensive line

On the roster: There are just so many questions: Is Charles Leno Jr. the answer at left tackle? Do you stick with Kyle Long at right tackle? What happens at right guard? Is center Hroniss Grasu, a third-round pick in 2015, ready to be a full-time starter?

At the combine: Strengthening the offensive line is a priority, and the Bears have some intriguing options to consider in the early rounds. Ole Miss left tackle Laremy Tunsil might be the first overall pick, but Notre Dame’s Ronnie Stanley, Michigan State’s Jack Conklin and Ohio State’s Taylor Decker might be Week 1 starters, too.

5. Tight end

On the roster: A scenario exists in which the Bears might be without their top two tight ends from last season. What they are able to do in free agency and the draft should help seal Martellus Bennett’s fate. It’s clear that Bennett, who has one year left on his contract, is in a precarious position after raising trouble last season.

Re-signing Zach Miller makes sense, but at what cost? He’s 31, and his injury history is something the Bears — and other teams for that matter — have to protect themselves against.

At the combine: The tight-end class generally is perceived to be weak, which complicates matters. Arkansas’ Hunter Henry is considered the best of the lot.

Follow me on Twitter @adamjahns


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