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Offensive linemen standing out at Senior Bowl

Published: Thursday, Jan. 24, 2013 9:39 a.m. CDT

(MCT) — MOBILE, Ala. — Conventional thinking is the Bears will take a long, hard look at drafting an offensive lineman in the first round for the third time in six years.

There could be multiple options when their turn comes at No. 20, and it’s a deep class with players certain to be available in later rounds, although general manager Phil Emery will be operating without third- and seventh-round picks.

Some of the elite talent is on display this week at the Senior Bowl. Central Michigan tackle Eric Fisher and Oklahoma tackle Lane Johnson, a former quarterback and tight end, have stood out. Alabama tackle D.J. Fluker backed out of Saturday’s game with minor injuries after measuring 6-foot-47/8 and 355 pounds Monday. Kent State’s Brian Winters projects as a tackle-to-guard project who could go early.

Texas A&M junior tackle Luke Joeckel is projected as a potential top-five pick, and North Carolina guard Jonathan Cooper is a first-round prospect who passed on the Senior Bowl.

Fisher received only one other scholarship offer, from Eastern Michigan, so he’s soaking up the spotlight after an impressive career in which he added 65 pounds to the 6-7, 240-pound frame he had when graduating from high school. He’s still working to develop his body and said he’s consuming between 5,000 and 6,000 calories per day.

“It’s always been my dream to be drafted,” Fisher said. “When I started getting wind this could happen, I took it and ran with it. I’m looking forward to the next three months. I am a very competitive person. I wasn’t very highly recruited out of high school at all. I am down here to show everybody I am one of the best tackles in the nation.”

Johnson, who played one season at quarterback at Kilgore Junior College in Texas, moved to tight end when he got to Oklahoma before switching to defensive end and then right tackle in 2011. He moved to left tackle last season and has been highly regarded this week.

He might be a little raw at the position, but his fluid athletic ability makes him stand out as a pass protector, and his experience as a self-described “gunslinger” makes him appreciate protecting the quarterback.

“It’s a bad feeling when you get blindsided,” Johnson said. “I try to never let that happen to my quarterback.”

Teams want to see Johnson add to his 6-6, 302-pound frame and he needs more experience, but he has had three days of strong practices.

If the Bears go for a left tackle in the draft, they can allow 2011 first-round pick Gabe Carimi and J’Marcus Webb to compete for the job on the right side. But it’s premature to start shifting players around, and it’s impossible to say how draft boards will be stacked.

“I am so impressed with that Central Michigan left tackle right now,” NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said. “He’s a guy that, on paper, a lot of people thought might be available later in the first round. Central Michigan isn’t a big school, but he is out here stoning everybody.

“I know we’re talking about the Texas A&M kid being a top-five pick, but this Central Michigan kid is the real deal. And it is a really good draft class. The kid from Oklahoma, Lane Johnson, has got natural movement skills. He is a guy at 20 that could be sitting there, and a lot of people thought he was a second- or third-round guy. From what I have seen on tape, he is too pretty with his movement skills to get past there.”

It’s possible the Bears could consider an interior lineman as the new coaching staff with Marc Trestman and Aaron Kromer has to be looking to revamp the unit. Some are opposed to taking a guard in the first round because the saying is “guards don’t win Super Bowls.”

“Football players win football games,” Mayock said. “If you’re in the first round ... and you’ve got a guard that is rated as the 11th-best player in the country and you are at 20 and you’ve got a tackle that is rated as the 27th-best player in the country, I am taking the guard every single time. He is a better football player.

“I understand the whole thing about you can get linebackers later and you can get running backs later and you can get guards later. I get all that stuff, and I do value corners and left tackles. But at the end of the day, you better get good football players, especially in the first round.

“I don’t care as much at that point what position he plays. Just get me an All-Pro. If I am 20 and I am drafting an All-Pro, nobody will ever criticize that.”

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