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Chicago in Mobile: Senior Bowl primer for Bears fans

East quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo of Eastern Illinois poses with cheerleaders after the East-West Shrine Classic on Saturday in St. Petersburg, Fla. The East won, 23-13, and Garoppolo was named Offensive MVP. He also will play in the Senior Bowl. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

Over the next few months, you’ll hear way too much about rising and falling draft stocks, teams loving one player and giving another one a red flag, and the puzzle metaphor: each part of the draft process is another piece of the puzzle, and a crucial one begins Monday in Mobile with the Senior Bowl.

Many of the best seniors in the country get a chance to show NFL general managers, coaches and scouts what they can do against top competition on the practice field and in Saturday's all-star game, and how they handle themselves off the field in interviews with teams.

With two weeks until the Super Bowl, here’s a primer of what Bears and Chicago-area football fans should watch to get that fix and start looking ahead to next season.

For a tight end like Johnsburg’s C.J. Fiedorowicz, it’s important to show balance. Coaches will want to see that he can block in the run game, pass protect as well as run routes and catch passes. Proving he can be an every-down tight end will up Fiedorowicz’s stock.

Northern Illinois safety Jimmie Ward returns home to Mobile, where he’ll need to also show some versatility in terms of coverage and run defense. NFL coaches like to see how safeties handle tight ends, especially as they become bigger parts of the passing game.

Rolling Meadows product and Eastern Illinois alum Jimmy Garoppolo shined at the East-West Shrine game and got a late invite to go to Mobile. This will be a stiffer test for Garoppolo to prove he has the arm strength, accuracy and moxie to be an NFL quarterback.

Other local college prospects in Mobile are Michigan offensive lineman and Orland Park native Michael Schofield, Northwestern’s Kain Colter, who will play wide receiver, Notre Dame's Zack Martin and Illinois linebacker Jonathan Brown.

Now, from a Bears perspective …

Unfortunately, general manager Phil Emery and coach Marc Trestman will not be available to talk to the media, so any questions about defensive coordinator Mel Tucker and the defense will have to wait until the NFL Scouting Combine.

Emery made it clear this draft will be defense-heavy. With potentially two starting safety positions to fill, the Bears will be looking for athletes who can come up and stop the run, cover tight ends and be a ball-hawking center fielder. Terrence Brooks (Florida State), Deone Bucannon (Washington State) and Ahmad Dixon (Baylor) are expected to be some of the top players in the back end in Mobile.

The Bears' Henry Melton, Nate Collins and Jeremiah Ratliff are set to hit free agency, so watch the defensive tackle position. Top prospects Aaron Donald (Pittsburgh), DaQuan Jones (Penn State) and Will Sutton (Arizona State) will be at the Senior Bowl. The ability for a D-tackle to penetrate, maybe more so than plug the run gap, is important for the Bears’ defense.

Of course, defensive end, linebacker and cornerback are all fair game, too, and it wouldn’t be shocking to see the Bears take a late-round quarterback. Plus, the QBs always steal the show in Mobile.

Yes, the Senior Bowl is just one piece to the puzzle, but keep in mind what last year’s first-round pick, Kyle Long, tweeted Saturday morning: “It’s crazy Senior Bowl is right around the corner, had I not been invited to that I wouldn’t be a Bear most likely!”

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