INDIANAPOLIS -- Nowhere were the Bears' defensive shortcomings last season more apparent than on the line.
That's also an area with numerous questions this off-season because most of the key players are unrestricted free agents and/or coming off major injuries.
Florida State's all-American tackle Timmy Jernigan says he can help, and, according to mock drafts, he's a popular choice for the Bears, who hold the 14th overall pick.
With former Pro Bowl 3-technique Henry Melton coming off a torn ACL and eligible for free agency, along with Bears D-linemen Corey Wootton, Jeremiah Ratliff and Nate Collins, the team could be looking at a gaping hole in their defense come draft day.
Enter Jernigan, who, according to NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock, is best suited for the 3-technique and, "Can step in and be special early."
Jernigan agrees, but he says he's not limited to one position.
"I'm a complete defensive lineman, whether it's playing inside or outside," said the 6-foot-1½, 300-pounder. "I can play a 5-technique (usually an end in a 3-4 defense shaded to the outside shoulder of the offensive tackle). I can play in a 3-4 (alignment). I can two-gap it on the zero (at nose tackle).
"You can look at the film, and the film doesn't lie. I feel like my work speaks for itself."
It did in the national championship game when Jernigan was second on the team with 9 tackles and showed the ability to disrupt the line of scrimmage with impact plays against the run.
Jernigan's impact also was highlighted in the late stages of that game when he needed to take a breather and the Seminoles' defense seemed to suffer. Questions about his stamina were raised, but the junior played 73 of 82 snaps, a workload very few NFL linemen are required to handle.
"I definitely don't feel like it's an issue," Jernigan said at the NFL Scouting Combine late last week. "I only (was required to) play four full games the entire season (because the 'Noles frequently led games by lopsided margins), and I just did what I could with the opportunity.
"(Almost) every game I was out by the third quarter. But when my number was called, and they needed Jernigan to be in the game, when I knew that I had to be in the game in order for us to win, I was there."
Jernigan repped 225 pounds 27 times on the bench press, ran a 5.06 40-yard dash and had a 29½-inch vertical jump at the combine. His best pro position figures to be the 3-technique or under-tackle in a 4-3 defense, but he claims he can play anywhere along the line and in any scheme.
"I can play a 3-technique, and when it's a pass situation and you want to go to a three-man front, you can put me on the nose," he said. "I can get pressure from the middle of the defense. I feel like that's where my game changes from anyone else.
"When you've got a guy who can play multiple positions and understand how to play multiple positions and the has the ability to learn different schemes, I feel like I can make any team better no matter what scheme it is."
According to Mayock: "Jernigan is a guy that, if he's sitting there when the Bears are on the board at 14, I think you'd sprint to the podium."
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