INDIANAPOLIS – The 2014 NFL Scouting Combine kicked off Thursday with the Bears batting leadoff.
In a strange way the combine resembles a football flea market with hundreds of media gathered to comingle with the front offices and coaching staffs of all 32 teams and the 300-plus top NFL prospects coming out of college.
For the first two days there are actually no prospect workouts – players are occupied with physicals and team and media interviews – while a different head coach or general manager is brought into the media area every 15 minutes for the gang to have at them.
On the original schedule, Bears coach Marc Trestman was set to go first at 10 a.m. and Bears general manager Phil Emery was up fourth at 11.
No longer a rookie, Trestman confidently took control of the room, was clear and concise in what he was willing to share and deft at avoiding questions to which he is still seeking answers.
Trestman acknowledged the big job this offseason and in this draft is on defense, and the master plan is still a work in progress.
It seems the one unit where they have a plan are the linebackers
“Lance Briggs is going to be our Will linebacker," Trestman said. "Who’s going to be our Mike and our Sam, we’re going to move guys around and we’ll see where we’ll go. D.J. Williams is a free agent, we don’t know where that’s going. We expect Jon Bostic to be both a Mike and compete at the Sam linebacker, and Shea [McClellin] knows he’s going to be a linebacker, we’re going to work with him at the Sam to start, but he knows he’s going to work at both the Sam and the Mike.”
Although that’s not exactly a completed project, defensive line and the secondary are far less settled.
Trestman and Emery were adamant in their praise of free agents Charles Tillman, Corey Wootton and Roberto Garza, stating all three “know the Bears want them back,” but they both refused to speculate what the price tags might be or if the Bears had any willingness to meet them.
“We believe Roberto (Garza) should finish his career in Chicago," Trestman said. "He does so much in our community, and he’s such a leader in our locker room. Hopefully it’s going to work out best for Roberto, No. 1 because he deserves that respect, and hopefully it’ll work out for the Bears.”
During his time in the spotlight, Emery refused to hint at whether Julius Peppers will be back or become a cap casualty, but he did confirm the Bears will not be changing the type of defensive linemen they seek.
“We’ll predominantly use a one-gap front. We’re going to be a 40 front, but there’ll be flexibility in that front, so you can see us in a wide variety of alignments, but the base of it will be a 40 front.”
This is a significant admission, as it makes Missouri’s Kony Ealy (a true 4-3 pass rushing end) and Florida State’s Timmy Jernigan (a pure three technique) more likely Bears first-round targets than Notre Dame’s Louis Nix and Stephon Tuitt or Minnesota’s RaShede Hageman, all first-round targets but better suited for 3-4 and two-gap sets.
Although forced to concede the McClellin pick had not worked out as planed so far, Emery did offer a glimpse of his drafting philosophy while refusing to quit on his first No. 1 pick.
“Generally we’ll take calculated risks like we did with Shea (McClellin)," Emery said, "but when we swing we’re going to swing on the high side of athleticism, and that’s why we’re still excited about his ability to contribute on a high level.”
Both Trestman and Emery said fixing the defense “is a process” perhaps a dozen times each. So what we really learned is what the Bears do or don’t do in free agency will provide a lot more clues to the draft than this combine will.
• Hub Arkush covers the Bears and the NFL for Shaw Media and HubArkush.com. Write to him at [email protected]