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Bears draft preview: Taylor Decker relishes Kyle Long workouts

Ohio State's Taylor Decker gets ready to block against Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 1, 2016, in Glendale, Arizona. | Norm Hall/Getty Images

Part 2 of the Sun-Times’ 10-part, position-by-position preview of the NFL Draft, which starts April 28 at the Auditorium Theatre:

Taylor Decker is already practicing with Bears.

The Ohio State left tackle — and likely first-round draft pick — has been working out alongside Kyle Long, Bobby Massie, Ted Larsen and Nick Becton at LeCharles Bentley O-Line Performance in Scottsdale, Ariz.

“They’re very high-level players,” said Decker, an AP All-American. “You can just tell. Just seeing the drill work. Everything is with intent and with purpose.

“Especially Kyle and Bobby, they’re really good athletes. Really well put-together, and they’re good at what they do. … And the last thing is, they have fun.”

The outgoing Long, in turn, appreciates that Decker is taking his draft prep seriously by working with pros from across the league.

“He understands the importance of the moment,” Long said. “I wish I knew then what he knows going into his rookie year.”

Could it be with the Bears?

The Bears claims to be content with left tackle Charles Leno, Jr., though GM Ryan Pace has vowed to draft the best available player. They interviewed the 6-7, 310-pound Decker during the NFL Scouting Combine.

He shares two traits with many draftees and signees of the Pace era: leadership and winning. He served as an Ohio State captain in 2015 and helped the Buckeyes go 50-4 in his 54 career college games.

“Having a college program like that, I already have that professionalism to me,” he said. “I carry myself that way. I think that helps me moving forward.”

Rather than declare for the draft last year, Decker returned to Ohio State for his senior season to chase a second-straight national title — and to put in another season at left tackle. He spent his sophomore year on the right side.

“I don’t think people realize that flipping sides, while it sounds like that it’d be easy, it’s not the easiest thing,” he said. “You want to have more and more reps, so you’re comfortable doing both. I think it developed me as a leader — a locker room guy even more.

“Flipping it in theory is easy, but in practice not so much. I know in this pre-draft process I’ve done both. … Hell, I could end up as a guard, and I have to be able to do that.”

He’s one of four tackles tagged to go in the first round, alongside Notre Dame’s Ronnie Stanley, Michigan State’s Jack Conklin and presumptive No. 1 overall pick Laremy Tunsil of Ole Miss.

“I’m out here worried about me and my stuff and what I’m doing,” he said. “I can’t say I know a ton about them, but I met them and talked to them and who they are.

“I’m focusing on me.“

If his training is Arizona any indication, the Bears know what they’ll be getting if they draft Decker.

“The guys that come out of LeCharles’ camp, it’s a brotherhood,” Decker said. ”It’s a brand of football.”

POSITION SPOTLIGHT: OFFENSIVE LINE

Rating the Bears’ need: Medium.

The Bears signed three linemen this offseason with a combined 168 starts among them, and moved Kyle Long back to his preferred right guard position.

The line seems set — or is it?

If GM Ryan Pace indeed intends to draft the best player available, that could very well be a left tackle. The Bears have sworn up and down how comfortable they are with Charles Leno, Jr., there; at 24, Leno could grow alongside their new right tackle, 26-year-old Bobby Massie, as well as Hroniss Grasu, 24, and Long, 27.

Still, a first-round selection would be an upgrade at left tackle.

Matt Slauson is still penciled in at left guard, though Ted Larsen could push him. Vet Manny Ramirez will battle Grasu at center.

Tayo Fabulujue — a seventh-round pick who was suspended four games for taking an appetite suppressant last year— is competing with Nick Becton and Jason Weaver for the swing tackle spot.
Best of the best

Laremy Tunsil might be the surest thing in the draft.

The 6-5, 310-pound tackle could be the perfect fit as the No. 1 overall pick, helping the Titans to protect last year’s first-round investment, quarterback Marcus Mariota. Known for his spectacular footwork, the Ole Miss alum is considered an excellent pass blocking prospect.

Tunsil was suspended seven games last year — when he was a junior — for receiving impermissible benefits and was alleged by teammate Robert Nkemdiche to have shared a hotel room the night the defensive lineman fell from a window. Neither issue seems to be slowing his draft momentum.

Other options

Three other tackles seem destined for a first-round selection: Notre Dame’s Ronnie Stanley, Michigan State’s Jack Conklin and Ohio State’s Taylor Decker. The first two left college after their redshirt junior seasons.

 

Follow me on Twitter @patrickfinley

Email: pfinley@suntimes.com