LAKE FOREST — Chicago Bears assistant GM Ian Cunningham addressed the media on Tuesday afternoon following the Brian Piccolo Award ceremony.
Cunningham started by congratulating linebacker Jack Sanborn and former Bears running David Montgomery for winning the awards. Then he thanked a long-list of people for their involvement in helping the organization to prepare for the 2023 NFL Draft.
Then he moved on to the questions surrounding the NFL Draft. With just two days before draft officially begins, here are three takeaways from Cunningham’s 17-minute press conference.
1. Jalen Carter fits the “H.I.T.S” system?
The most polarizing prospect in this entire draft is arguably the most talented. Jalen Carter plays a position the Bears have an absolute need at in the 3-tech position and he stood out on a Georgia defense that has its fair share of future NFL talent.
“Yeah I think Jalen’s a really good player,” Cunningham said. “I mean there’s no denying the talent, you turn on the tape a couple years ago when they first won the national championship and they had all those defensive lineman on the field, you couldn’t help but notice 88 and then knowing that oh, he’s going to be on next year’s class and then you turn on the tape this year and you see a lot of the same flashes where he’s been playing through things. So I think he’s one of those players that you covet just in terms of you know being one of the better defensive tackles in this class.”
A major requirement for any prospect will be if they adhere to Matt Eberflus’ “H.I.T.S” principle. Cunningham was asked if Carter shows the all-important qualities on the football field.
“Yeah I think Jalen Carter when you watch him on the field he’s active, he works hard, he’s physical,” Cunningham said. “I think when you turn on the tape he shows a number of plays where he shows physicality and toughness, you know those sorts of things.
Following that answer, Cunningham was again asked if he considers Carter a “H.I.T.S” principle player.
“I think, yeah, he fits some of those, yeah.”
The Bears have met with Carter multiple times, including the player’s visit to Halas Hall. With all the off-the-field issues that have surfaced with him, Cunningham and general manager Ryan Poles had to investigate and get a feel for Carter as a person.
Carter may be off the board once the Bears are on the clock at No. 9, but if he is available, the organization has done its homework on the Georgia star if faced with that scenario.
2. Is a Day 2 or Day 3 offensive tackle in play?
The Bears did not upgrade the offensive tackle position in free agency. Right now, Larry Borom would be slotted as the team’s starting right tackle.
Obviously, the position is in need of an upgrade, and the Bears could be in a position on Thursday night to potentially take their top offensive tackle of their choosing at No. 9. Cunningham brought up some qualities he values in offensive linemen, which he saw in players while he was in Baltimore for nine years.
“I think first you can say the size and athleticism and his competitive spirit, how he plays down in and down out,” Cunningham said. “I think growing up in Baltimore, we had some really good players there and really good tackles. That’s kind of where I cut my teeth and kind of learned how to evaluate. A lot of those guys which we played with there were kind of cut from that similar cloth.”
In last year’s draft, Poles and Cunningham selected Braxton Jones in the fifth round, and he went to play every single snap on offense last season at left tackle. Jones had his ups and downs last season, but they found a starter on Day 3 of the draft.
Depending on how the Bears’ big board looks, maybe that’s a possibility as to how the team addresses the position in the next coming days.
“I feel like the Day 1 group, all the household names, everybody knows,” Cunningham said. “There’s a lot of this guy can play left tackle, this guy can play right tackle. There’s players that have played both left tackle and right tackle. There’s players that have played, also, inside. And then, there’s players that you kind of project inside. Or they can play outside. But then if you trickle down, I think you get a lot of that similar skillset, but maybe not the top-tier athleticism. But you feel comfortable with it. We were able to take Braxton last year in the fifth, and when you have a guy like Chris Morgan — who I think is one of the better offensive line coaches in the league and one of the best teachers in the league at the position – you feel comfortable with some of those guys.”
Cunningham also mentioned if the Bears were to take an offensive tackle at No. 9, that wouldn’t prevent them from double dipping at the position later in the draft.
Who is in play at No. 9?
Before Poles traded the No. 1 overall pick to the Panthers, he revealed to NBC’s Peter King in early March that there were six to eight “blue players” he identified in this draft.
If the Bears do make a selection at No. 9, Cunningham said on Tuesday there are “anywhere from six to eight” players he feels would be great value with that first-round pick.
The number remains the same, but that doesn’t mean the Bears haven’t changed who those six to eight players are at this point. And depending on how the draft plays out, the Bears could be in play to trade down from their No. 9 overall pick.
“That’s kind of case-by-case, too.,” Cunningham said. “When you’re looking at the board, you’ve gotta have a feel for what those team needs are. Our pro staff, led by Jeff King, Chris White, along with JJ, they’ve done a really good job of helping us understand some of those team needs and you kind of have to weigh where we have guys versus what other teams’ needs are, and kind of weigh how far we would want to trade that.”
Cunningham also didn’t rule out a trade up to bridge the gap between picks 9 and 53. After Day 1 concludes, the team will meet, assess their options and review their board to determine if that could be a realistic possibility.
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