With Warren Sapp on the free-agent market, Bears head coach Lovie Smith could have persuaded general manager Jerry Angelo to take an established tackle who fits Smith's mold, and with whom both were familiar from their days in Tampa.
But Smith and Angelo elected not to go for the quick fix, instead drafting three defensive linemen, tackles Tommie Harris and Terry "Tank" Johnson and end Claude Harriott. Since the line is an area where picks take some time to develop, it puts veterans in an odd positionmentoring players who are competing for their jobs.
The three draft picks have the advantage of being Smith's ideal speed and frame, so it would be surprising if the existing defensive lineends Mike Haynes and Alex Brown and tackles Bryan Robinson and Alfonso Booneis intact by the end of the season.
But that won't stop any of them from making the rookies comfortable.
"I was actually asked by my coach, 'Whatever I can't show [the rookies], I need you to do that,' " Robinson said. "As long as I'm here to help and have those guys to be receptive to what's going on that's fine. I can go that route I'm not worried about my job."
Robinson may be one of the earlier casualties to a rookie replacement, for in any drill that involved sprinting, he was bringing up the rear. First-round pick Harris and second-rounder Johnson were both spotted running down linebackers from behind in the same drills.
But Robinson doesn't care. He just wants to make sure he treats the rookies the way he wishes he was treated when he was a rookie.
"I said if ever I [was a veteran tutoring rookies], there was no way that I would give a rookie that's eager to learn bad info," he said. "These guys are here to help and we need them right now to help us and that's the way I'm approaching it."
While Robinson gives the rookies what he missed from veteran players, the coaches are filling a void that Haynes had his rookie season.
"Tommie and Tank, they have an opportunity to run for first team," said Haynes, the Bears' first pick in the 2003 draft. "Last year, I didn't have the opportunity, and when I did, and I would mess up, coaches would kind of yell at me and they ended up taking me off first team, [saying], 'Oh, you're a rookie, you don't know what you're doing.'
"These guys, they're making mistakes, but coaches are at least working with them, trying to get them better."
The teaching techniques haven't been lost on the pupils. Not only did the rookies learn from their position-mates, they got a few lessons from their counterparts.
"[Center] Olin Kreutz, [tackle] John Tait, those guys set the bar," Johnson said. "And when you get a chance to go against those guys like that, you know where you are immediately, and you don't have to second-guess yourself."
When the rookies weren't picking themselves up off the dirt after dealing with the likes of Kreutz and Tait, they were picking up the nuances of the NFL.
"Little techniques help out the most," Johnson said. "Those guys telling me just little stuff. Instead of hitting the guy in the wrist, hit him in the elbow, it'll break the plane better. Little stuff like that will help make you a better player in the long run."
But bringing in pre-fabricated parts and polishing them isn't the only way to solve the problem. Smith and his crew have tried to get the players on the existing roster to drop weight and pick up a few steps, and the players have responded.
"Everybody's quicker, the defense flows a lot better, all the reads are easier for us," Haynes said. "As soon as you start dropping weight, you're going to be faster. That's just the way the body works."
The slim/fast football program also has veterans venturing into uncharted waters.
"I move differently," Brown said. "[There are] some things I wouldn't try to do [before] because I didn't think I could do it because I wasn't quick enough, that I try now just to see. If it works, hey, I can keep it in the back of my mind, I can use this."Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times