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updated: 3/23/2014 7:03 AM

What can Bears do for defense through draft?

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  • Even after addressing defense through free agency, Bears general manager Phil Emery still must use the draft to shore up that side of the line.

      Even after addressing defense through free agency, Bears general manager Phil Emery still must use the draft to shore up that side of the line.
    Associated Press

 
 

Now that the free-agent feeding frenzy has simmered down, NFL teams can reassess their strengths and weaknesses as they devise game plans for the draft on May 8-10.

The Bears re-signed 14 of their own unrestricted free agents, added eight from other teams and lost eight players from last season's team, four of whom were cut.

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Defense was a concern for general manager Phil Emery when free agency began March 11, and it's still a concern.

Emery addressed the defensive deficiencies by signing ex-Oakland Raider Lamarr Houston and former Detroit Lion Willie Young, who are penciled in as the starting defensive ends. Israel Idonije was added for depth. They replace Julius Peppers, who was cut and then signed by the Green Bay Packers, and Corey Wootton, who signed with the Minnesota Vikings.

The Bears also lost defensive tackle Henry Melton (to the Dallas Cowboys) but re-signed Nate Collins and Jeremiah Ratliff. There still is work to be done on the defensive rehab, starting up front, where Ratliff is 32 and Collins is trying to bounce back from last season's torn ACL.

Emery could use the Bears' first-round pick (14th overall) on a potentially difference-making 3-technique tackle like Pitt's Aaron Donald or Florida State's Timmy Jernigan to replace Melton.

The Bears also could decide to go bigger and select Notre Dame's 6-foot-2, 331-pound Louis Nix, who's trying to show that he's more than just a run-plugging nose tackle who could anchor a 3-4 scheme.

Emery might consider an impact pass rusher a greater need, given that Houston and Young had their best career sack numbers in 2013, yet still combined for just 9.

With Jadeveon Clowney long gone by the time the Bears are on the clock, the next-best defensive ends are Auburn's Dee Ford and Missouri's Kony Ealy, but taking either at 14 would be a reach.

It's unlikely that Nix's teammate, 6-5, 304 Stephon Tuitt, will fall into the middle of the second round. But he missed field work at the combine and Notre Dame's pro day after undergoing surgery for a small fracture in his left foot.

Tuitt, who should be healed long before training camps begin, is a big body with some pass-rush talent (19 sacks over the past two seasons) who provides the scheme versatility Emery values.

Safety was another sore spot last season, and the Bears already have signed three veterans from other teams: Ryan Mundy (New York Giants), M.D. Jennings (Packers) and Danny McCray (Cowboys). They also re-signed one of their own, Craig Steltz.

But none of them have the upside of Alabama's Ha Ha Clinton-Dix or Louisville's Calvin Pryor, who both are considered mid-first-round possibilities.

NIU's Jimmie Ward is undersized for an NFL safety, but he could be a nice Day 2 pickup, as could Florida State's Terrence Brooks, a former cornerback who ran a 4.42 40 at the combine and had a 38-inch vertical. Ward led the Huskies with 92 tackles and picked off 7 passes.

Cornerback is in good shape for now, but Charles Tillman is 33, top backup Kelvin Hayden will be 31 in July, and both are on one-year contracts.

Oklahoma State's Justin Gilbert and Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard are considered mid-first-round talents, but another three corners could go late in the opening round. If any slip to the 46th pick, the Bears should pounce.

Linebacker is less of a concern after taking Jon Bostic in the second round and Khaseeme Greene in the fourth last year, but if UCLA's Anthony Barr happens to fall they'd be tempted. Alabama's C.J. Mosley doesn't bring the pass-rush threat of Barr, but his stock has been dropping.

What about the offense?

The Bears are in pretty good shape there, and when you have as many defensive question marks as they do, adding weapons to an already potent offense is a luxury they can't afford -- at least not until the final four rounds on Day 3.

• Follow Bob's Bears and NFL reports on Twitter @BobLeGere.

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