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updated: 5/7/2014 8:55 PM

Bears ready to go on the defensive

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General manager Phil Emery and the Bears' draft team will be hoping for an early run on quarterbacks -- actually on any offensive players -- when the NFL draft kicks off at 7 p.m. Thursday in New York.

That's because the Bears will be focusing their attention on improving a defense that was an embarrassment last season, allowing more yards per play, more rushing yards and more yards per rushing attempt than any team in the NFL. The Bears also allowed a franchise-worst 478 points.

So, the more offensive players who come off the board early, the more defensive players the Bears have to choose from.

Depending on whose mock draft you believe, quarterbacks Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel and Teddy Bridgewater all could be taken by the time the Bears' pick comes up around 9 p.m. … or none of them could be chosen.

It's likely that the top three offensive tackles all will be gone before the Bears are on the clock, since teams value players who can keep their quarterback clean just as much as they value players who can get after the other team's quarterback.

Two or three wide receivers also will be taken in the first dozen picks.

Emery has identified six players who could be waiting for the Bears and whom they have rated worthy of the 14th pick. Emery isn't saying, but it's assumed at least five are defensive players.

The top two defenders in the class -- defensive end Jadeveon Clowney and linebacker Khalil Mack -- will be long gone before the Bears pick, primarily because they provide immediate impact as pass rushers.

The Bears have three areas of need that must be addressed: a 3-technique defensive tackle to replace the penetrating disruption that Henry Melton provided in his 2012 Pro Bowl season, a ball-hawking safety who can supply the coverage to neutralize offenses that are utilizing more and bigger receivers, and a big, tough cornerback to eventually replace 33-year-old Charles Tillman.

Pittsburgh's Aaron Donald is the ideal solution to the D-tackle dilemma. But his stock has skyrocketed in the weeks leading up to the draft, so there's a good chance another team will spoil what seems, for the Bears, to be a match made in heaven.

If Donald is gone, the Bears hope to have options from among the top two safeties, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Calvin Pryor, and the top two cornerbacks, Justin Gilbert and Darqueze Dennard.

Linebacker isn't considered as pressing of a need, but the Bears could be tempted by Alabama's C.J. Mosley or UCLA's Anthony Barr if either one is still on the board.

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