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Insider

Bears need help on both sides of the ball

11/20/2012

The Chicago Bears haven't been to the big game since losing to the Colts in Super Bowl XLI following the 2006 season and have not won the Super Bowl since the 1985 season.

The Bears could make a run at a title this season, but Monday night's blowout loss to San Francisco shows they will have to overcome some potentially fatal flaws to do so.

It begins with an offensive line that has allowed 34 sacks this season, second most in the league. Age on defense is also an issue.

What specific holes does Chicago have, and who from the 2013 draft class could help? Here's a look.

Offensive tackle

Chicago's biggest weakness is clearly pass protection. Though the hit that knocked Jay Cutler out of action wasn't a result of bad protection, Cutler and backup Jason Campbell have taken far too much abuse this season.

San Francisco OLB Aldon Smith made it painfully obvious the Bears' top priority is shoring things up on the edges. Chicago LT J'Marcus Webb and RT Gabe Carimi are incapable of matching up with the league's better perimeter rushers when left on an island.

Syracuse's Justin Pugh (Grade: 85) missed the first four games of the season with a shoulder injury, but he is one of the best pass-blockers in this class when he's healthy. Pugh gets set quickly, is an effective hand fighter and is agile enough to stay in front of defenders when his footwork is sound. If the shoulder checks out, taking him late in the first round wouldn't be much of a reach.

Virginia's Oday Aboushi (84) is another tackle who could move into the late-first-round conversation before all is said and done. Aboushi has the length, quickness and upper-body strength to quickly develop into an effective blindside pass protector.

Interior offensive line

The Bears' issues up front don't end with their tackles tackle. LG Lance Louis is more of a versatile reserve who can provide quality depth than a player you want starting every week. RG Chilo Rachal is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent and may not be in Chicago in 2013.

C Roberto Garza will be 34 years old at the start of next season and has just one year left on his deal. Finding help at guard is the priority, but adding a player who can line up at both positions would be ideal.

Alabama's Barrett Jones (83) is the top-ranked center on our board and has experience lining up at offensive guard and tackle. Jones is a smart player who masks average quickness and power with footwork, technique and effort. The Bears would do well to land him.

An underclassmen worth tracking is Wisconsin's Travis Frederick* (no grade), who has lined up at guard and center for the Badgers. Some Chicago fans may cringe at the thought of drafting another Wisconsin lineman considering Carimi's struggles, but Frederick has the size and power to push for early playing time. It will be interesting to see if he declares for the draft or returns to Wisconsin.

Cornerback

Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings, who had a disappointing 2011 season, have been turnover factories this season. That doesn't mean the Bears don't need to address the position, though.

Tillman turns 32 in the offseason and is scheduled to enter free agency in 2014, and Jennings' smaller frame will always be an issue when it comes to matching up with bigger receivers. Chicago traded its third-round picks in the 2013 and 2014 drafts to the Dolphins to acquire WR Brandon Marshall, so the Bears will have to look to Day 3 for corner help if they address the offensive line with their first two picks.

LSU's Tharold Simon (66) and Ohio State's Travis Howard (62) project as fourth-round picks in part because of their average man-to-man cover skill, but their length and ball skills make them good fits for Chicago's zone-heavy scheme. Neither has great change-of-direction skills, but each has enough size/speed to turn and run with receivers when the Bears mix in their man-coverage looks. That's something Bears CB Kelvin Hayden could not do when 49ers WR Kyle Williams beat him over the top in the first quarter Monday night.

Linebacker

Bears mainstays Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs continue to play well despite getting a little long in the tooth, and SLB Nick Roach's lower production isn't a reflection of his value. Roach is a tough player who understands his role and gets the job done more often than not.

Still, age catches up with every player at some point, and the Bears don't want to be caught unprepared. Age is also a concern considering their relative lack of depth.

Believe it or not, another Wisconsin underclassman makes sense here. ILB Chris Borland* (60) is shorter than Urlacher has had some problems staying healthy, but he has the instincts and range to line up at inside or weak side linebacker in the Bears' scheme. He is an effective pass-rusher who has the burst to provide pressure off the edge and instincts to find seams in the pass protection between the tackles.