Two days before the start of the NFL draft, there's no telling what way the Chicago Bears will go Thursday night.
Popular thinking is the team will look to trade down from No. 29 and into the second round, but wanting to move down and finding an appropriate trading partner can be two different things. This is general manager Jerry Angelo's 10th draft with the Bears, and he has a timeline that includes some mid-round home runs, a few late-round surprises and some high-round failures.
This marks the first time since 2001 that Angelo will team with director of player personnel Tim Ruskell to coordinate a draft. Angelo was the director of player personnel for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Ruskell was the franchise's director of college scouting before Angelo departed for the Bears in June 2001. Ruskell was promoted to Angelo's old position before a one-year stop in Atlanta as assistant general manager. Then, he served as the president and general manager of the Seattle Seahawks from 2005 through 2009.
To best study the future, we'll turn to the past and see if we can learn from history. In tracking drafts Angelo, Ruskell or both have been involved with back to 1987, the men have been involved with the selection of 28 first-round draft picks. Of those 28, 15 have been linemen -- nine defensive and six offensive. Angelo, of course, has used four first-round picks on linemen with the Bears (Chris Williams, Tommie Harris, Michael Haynes, Marc Colombo). In that span, Ruskell drafted defensive end Lawrence Jackson and center Chris Spencer in the first round for the Seahawks.
Three quarterbacks and three linebackers are also among those 28 first-round picks. It's not expected they will address those positions in the first round.
With a need to rebuild an offensive line that led the league in sacks allowed, and a desire to find an explosive defensive tackle, many believe the Bears will focus on these positions in the first two rounds. Some scouts expect as many as 13 defensive linemen to come off the board in the first round, and it's considered the strength of the draft.
"It's a good class," Ruskell said of the defensive tackles. "It was obviously bolstered by what happened in terms of underclassmen coming out. That is really what blew up the numbers for the first round or first several rounds. What's been great for me is getting back reacquainted with Rod (Marinelli), the scheme that I am familiar with and him really going back to ground zero in terms of explaining to us how that has changed and developed over the years and what he has done differently in terms of the Bears. As I remember, that was what was so great about the Bucs, not just with Rod but with all those coaches. We really felt like we got on the same page in terms of what they were looking for. So that when we went out as scouts, we were able to nail it.
"We were looking at players that the rest of the league that wasn't their No. 1 choice. Rod kind of favored the undersized guy inside. He didn't have to be 6-4, whereas some teams said I need a giant. So we had a little bit of an advantage. That's kind of changed now as more teams have developed into the scheme. But it's a good group. The numbers are there throughout the draft. There is not going to be a round that somebody didn't fit on the list if indeed we had to take care of it."
One of the reasons the Bears have dealt with a lack of young players on the offensive line is because they largely ignored the position for five drafts from 2003 through 2007. Angelo hasn't invested many high picks in the position, either.
"They're not pretty picks," he said. "When you look at them, you always want a little more glitter. Offensive linemen don't bring as lot of glitter, but we certainly understand the value. In part, too, we've had a good run in free agency with offensive linemen, and that's bode well for us.
"Not that we dislike drafting, it's not a philosophy, we felt maybe years ago -- I don't feel this strongly about it now -- that you could develop offensive lineman and you could get them in later rounds. That really hasn't historically beared out although we did a pretty good job with (J'Marcus) Webb in the seventh round, hopefully you continue to develop, but no more than that. We respect the value of the position obviously."
So how does business change now that Angelo and Ruskell are reunited?
"A lot of the things that I incorporated in Seattle are things that Jerry and I worked on in Tampa and that maybe he got away from and then I have kind of taken them and gone further with them," Ruskell said. "And some of those we've re-instituted. Things that Jerry is familiar with in terms of the board. Like you said, there's no earth-shattering changes. But we've talked and the best of both worlds is what it's felt like and it's felt good to the scouts and it has felt good to the coaches in terms of the way we've went about our business and everybody got their say and the work was thorough. No matter how you get to that point, that's the goal."
Both men insist there's enough individual thinking going on, although looking over the Seahawks' drafts from the last few years, you see some names the Bears were known to like. Miami cornerback Kelly Jennings was on their list in 2006 when they traded out of the first round. The Seahawks drafted him 31st overall, five spots after the Bears' pick.
"That's been what was great about when Jerry and I worked together before, and working with Lovie (Smith) and working with Rod," Ruskell said. "But it's done in such a professional way. Everybody has their say, and we're open to 'Ok, I didn't look at it that way, let's look at the film again with that perspective.' I think that's healthy, and that's a good thing.
"I think that's where our success in Tampa came out of. A lot of adversity early. A lot of things didn't go our way. As Jerry likes to say, we survived our mistakes. But we learned from them. When we finally got together with the coaching staff and implemented that philosophy with what we were trying to do personnel wise, the thing kind of took off."
Angelo said there was a sign in the draft room in Tampa that read, "If everybody is thinking alike, there's not much thinking going on."
"The goal isn't to get people to patronize your thinking," Angelo said. "The goal is to stimulate your thinking, get honest opinions, independent thinking but obviously based on research. We're not poll takers. We feel good about that. We've been together a long time. The commonality, it helps."