Bears look to beef up OL, but confront other needs, too

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Considering Jay Cutler took more hits than a tackling dummy at times last season, it's no secret that the Bears could use some help on the offensive line.

Cutler was sacked a league-leading 52 times behind a line that ranked last in the league last year. But there are other issues to address on a team that made it to the NFC Championship Game, and there are no guarantees general manager Jerry Angelo will even keep the 29th overall pick in next week's draft.

Angelo said the Bears might be in a better spot than some teams because their core is set.

"We do have a nucleus," he said. "Given where we're picking in the draft, you can't be picking at 29 and feel like you're going to hit a home run with a player or he's going to come in here and change the course of your football team, although we do feel like we do every year -- we want to come out of this with four starters."

Last season, particularly early, the blocking for Cutler was a mess because of injuries and poor play. It was hard to envision the Bears going on a run that would lead to the NFC Championship Game after they stumbled to 4-3.

The Bears eventually settled on a rotation on the line, and the protection improved. Even so, it remains a concern.

The Bears' most recent first-round pick was an offensive lineman, Chris Williams at No. 14 in 2008. If they go that route again, possibilities include Mississippi State tackle Derek Sherrod, Colorado's Nate Solder and Baylor's Danny Watkins, although he would be an old rookie -- his 27th birthday is in November.

"Players play into their 30s at that position," Angelo said. "We've had a few here. So I don't think it's a red flag."

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Will the Bears use their first pick on a blocker?

Former NFL general manager Charlie Casserly, a draft analyst for NFL Network, isn't so sure. He suggested that a good defensive player such as Purdue end Ryan Kerrigan might be available to the Bears.

"Those offensive tackles, they're so grouped together ... if you have three or four of them together, the fourth guy might be as good as the first guy in three or four years," he said.

Even for a team that improved defensively with free-agent Julius Peppers and the return of Brian Urlacher to Pro Bowl form, Casserly said he also could see Chicago going for a defensive lineman with the release of Tommie Harris earlier this year.

Someone such as Illinois' Corey Liuget. Or maybe North Carolina's Marvin Austin, who missed last season after an NCAA investigation into improper benefits and academic misconduct.

Bears coach Lovie Smith was among the spectators at North Carolina's workouts for pro scouts. Angelo acknowledged "documented concerns" but added: "We're not looking for halo players."

"He's a great player," Angelo said. "We're satisfied that we know him."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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