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Hey Bears, don't get cute in 1st round of draft

Wherever they end up, they should address defensive need with best NFL-ready prospect

David Haugh

In the Wake of the News

7:45 PM CDT, April 24, 2013

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Unable to find the remote control recently in my Brooklyn hotel room between Bulls playoff games, I took it as a sign to educate myself on Thursday's NFL draft by watching a show about the Bears that popped on the television.

Well, technically, the TV show had nothing to do with the Bears. But "Criminal Minds'' happens to be a favorite of general manager Phil Emery and coach Marc Trestman, quirky common ground they bonded over during the interview process. So I watched, curious if an hour of idleness somehow might lend insight into the brains responsible for returning the Bears to the Super Bowl.

It was time well-spent. This particularly chilling episode included three kidnapped teenage girls being told by their captor only two of them would live and they must choose which one dies. When their choice resulted in the least-expected ending that made everybody think, I made a mental note worth remembering when Emery goes on the clock with the 20th pick of the first round.

The Bears are being put together by a guy who likes surprises, who appreciates a clever narrative that makes people go "Hmmmm.''

Sometimes I wonder if that thinking has crept into Emery's football decisions at Halas Hall, a tendency he needs to avoid running his second draft for the Bears. Emery cannot convert the draft room into his living room and fall for the dramatic turn nobody saw coming — like he did last year in drafting hybrid Shea McClellin instead of a more NFL-ready pass-rusher such as Chandler Jones. Or by hiring Trestman out of the CFL over NFL Coach of the Year Bruce Arians who was ready to bring a stable of powerhouse offensive assistant coaches.

Emery getting too cute again might put the Bears too far behind the Packers in Trestman's first season. A year from now, the Bears can't be wondering where Thursday's first pick fits in the way they still are with McClellin, who had 21/2 sacks compared to, say, Jones' six with the Patriots. Sometimes it's OK to take the gimme.

If Emery wants to raise eyebrows, trade Devin Hester and a distraction-to-be-named-later to any team willing to give up a fifth-round draft pick for a Hall of Fame resume. That will challenge Emery more than finding a player who fits at No. 20.

Consider the Bears signed two stop-gap starting linebackers to one-year deals to play next to Lance Briggs but all three will be on the wrong side of 30 by next fall. So if either Alec Ogletree of Georgia or Manti Te'o of Notre Dame is available, the Bears need to select the linebacker their exhaustive research rated higher. Both project as potential core players.

Don't overthink it by trying to prove how good the Bears scouting is. Keep a traditional team strength — linebacker — a strength. If Emery can trade down and still take Te'o or, if he is gone, LSU linebacker Kevin Minter, do it. As long as the Bears don't ignore the position facing the most transition and need. Cornerback rates a close second.

Surprisingly, defensive concerns outweigh offensive issues when studying 2013 opponents. The Bears addressed offensive line issues via free-agency by investing in left tackle Jermon Bushrod and tight end Martellus Bennett. Now devote the first pick of the draft to an aging defense.

Drafting tight end Tyler Eifert sounds enticing to those who envision Eifert, Bennett and wide receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery surrounding Jay Cutler. It also sounds like a luxury — until somebody complains about not getting the ball enough, that is.

Nobody knows what influence Trestman will wield. The Bears catered to Lovie Smith in 2004 by taking the defensive tackle Smith targeted for his Cover-2, Tommie Harris. Intriguing speculation surrounds a quarterback to develop behind Cutler but the Bears likely will ignore the position until the middle rounds, perhaps eyeing 6-foot-7 North Carolina State prospect Mike Glennon. Glennon reportedly worked out for the Bears in Raleigh, N.C., where Trestman once lived. Was that a signal or smoke screen?

Everybody in town needs more time to understand Trestman, the thinking man's coach who provided a glimpse into his philosophy at a recent coaches convention at Notre Dame. Trestman didn't utter an X or O, according to two audience members. He spoke about transactional versus transformational coaching, about not being in the football business but in the "ultimate'' people business. He quoted author Albert Pine and discussed a book on physics "The Fabric of the Cosmos.'' He sounds like Football Phil Jackson, without the rings.

How will that cerebral approach affect Trestman's first draft collaborating with Emery?

That remains a mystery, which is fine provided Chicago doesn't go to bed Thursday night stunned by a plot twist.

dhaugh@tribune.com

Twitter @DavidHaugh