- Jeff Dickerson, ESPN Staff Writer
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LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- With the NFL draft beginning Thursday, Bears general manager Jerry Angelo gave an honest assessment of one of this team's biggest needs: safety.
"We need help," Angelo said Wednesday during his annual pre-draft news conference at Halas Hall. "I'm not going to sit here and tell you that we're not looking. We do [need help]. If for no other reason, we need more depth there at the position."
Sitting without a first- or second-round pick, the Bears' initial selection -- barring a trade -- comes in the third round at pick No. 75. Angelo believes there are five safeties capable of being drafted by the end of the second round, and that there are roughly eight safeties in the entire draft who could potentially come in and help a club.
"It's a pretty good safety board," Angelo said. "We're going to look at the secondary very hard. It's not a secret, much talked about, and we spent a lot of time with the secondary, corners as well."
Since taking over the Bears' draft in spring 2002, Angelo has taken a safety every year but one (2004). But for whatever reason, the team has seen constant turnover at the position under coach Lovie Smith. That lack of continuity apparently has forced Angelo to change his strategy when evaluating safeties.
"Everybody has kind of gotten away from the strong safety; everybody is now looking for a free safety because everybody is now tying in coverage with the safety position," Angelo said. "Prototypically in a safety, you want about 5-11 to 205 pounds. Prototypically, that's what you are looking for. You don't want to go under 200 to 205 pounds, because that becomes too small, and too small means there is going to be durability issues. Unfortunately, for us here, we've gone through an inordinate amount of safeties in terms of their durability.
"When I was in Tampa, we never had a problem. We had John Lynch; he was a big guy, but not all our guys were the size of John Lynch. But it's become more problematic here, and I look around the league and I see the same thing. Everybody is now kind of looking at the same type of safety, in terms of relying more on athleticism than that proverbial in-the-box type."
Given the Bears' lack of a pick in the first two rounds, it's conceivable the draft might pass without the organization sufficiently addressing the need. Can the Bears win with the group of veteran safeties currently on the roster?
"We're planning on it," Angelo said. "We drafted Craig Steltz, and I remember saying when we drafted him that I thought we had a potential four or five starters in that draft . Craig was one of those people, and we still have confidence in Craig. Danieal Manning is our other safety. Josh Bullocks has been a starter; he did play at the tail end of last year, and I though he did a pretty good job.
"If we don't get what we want accomplished in the draft, we'll look outside after the draft, and maybe there'll be a player or two that comes up. We had a chance to make a move on a veteran player a couple of weeks ago; we just chose not to do it. We wanted to wait -- let's get through the draft, take this step first and if we don't get what we want accomplished, we'll go to the next player pool."
Angelo addressed several other issues:
• The team's draft goals for the upcoming weekend: "We'd like to come out of this draft with the third, fourth and fifth rounds with players that make it to Sunday, meaning they dress [on the 45-man active game-day roster]. Naturally when you don't have the first two picks, it's very difficult to put a stamp on a player and say that we feel very strongly that he's going to come in and potentially start. Very difficult to do. We found it very difficult to do with a first-rounder, let alone a third-rounder."
• Depth of various positions in the draft: "This year, it's very strong with the defensive line. Probably the strongest I've seen in a while for defensive line. You can get as many as nine players that will go in the first round this year. The offensive line will be the next heaviest position that will get drafted, not as strong maybe as in years past, but there's a good number of players. The secondary is good. There is a lot of quantity in the secondary with players that can come in and help you. The safety position probably is a little better than the corner position; I can see as many as five safeties being drafted by the end of Round 2. Tight ends are a good group, a good group of blocking tight ends in particular. Quarterbacks, running backs and linebackers I would say a little below average than what we normally see."
• On the Bears always being on the lookout for quality defensive linemen: "As we do every year, we'll look at the defensive line. We'll always be looking for pass-rushers, regardless of what our needs are."
• On possibly moving up to the second round: "We can make a small move, but if he [the player] gets to the point where he's there in the second, [in relation] to the smallness we'd have to give up, there's a good chance he makes it to the third where we're at. We'd really like the player to come to us, because the third, fourth and fifth rounds have value to us ... I doubt that we would do it. But who knows. If we feel like that's what we have to do given he's the last player at the position; it's not something that we wouldn't entertain."
• On reluctance to trade away more future draft picks: "We're out of that business. I don't want to get cute and keep borrowing in the future with picks, because the one thing you know, it's very difficult to guarantee the present. Unless something happens that we really haven't created a scenario for, I doubt that we would do that."
• How many players the Bears have targeted: "We've identified four players with our third pick ... five with our fourth pick and four with our fifth pick. I feel there's a 50-50, maybe even a little better, that one of those players, maybe two of those players will be there at each round."
• On whether Tim Ruskell is joining the Bears' front office: "When there is something that needs to be announced, we'll announce it. Right now, our focus has been on this draft, and that's what we're going to do this weekend."
• On whether Greg Olsen fits in the new offense: "Even if he were a square peg in a round hole, he's still quality football player. There are square pegs in round holes for teams, but you don't want to miss the forest for the trees; the guy is a good football player. To me, one thing about a good scheme and a good coach is to make sure you're accentuating your players' strengths. If your scheme is oblivious to a player's talent level, then obviously it's a poor scheme. Greg Olsen is a fine football player. We'll find a way. What that is, how much play time, I can't answer that now. Mike Martz can't answer that now. But in time, it will get answered, and we feel that he'll have a role."
• On whether teams have called about trading for Olsen: "I've talked to several teams about several of our players. I'm not going to get into the specifics, but you're listening. Like I've said in the past, if something behooves us [and] we feel we can be a better football team for it, then obviously it will become more serious in terms of our thinking."
• On whether there will be more changes in the front office, in particular regarding college scouting director Greg Gabriel: "I said we're going to do some restructuring; I said that at the end of the season. I have some thoughts, some scenarios in mind, but my focus has been ... free agency ... and the draft. If and when we have something to announce, we'll announce it."
Jeff Dickerson covers the Bears for ESPNChicago.com.
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