When the Bears go looking for a free safety in this draft--and it's not a matter of if--history indicates there is a good chance they will look to the South.
General manager Jerry Angelo has relied on Southwest regional scout Chris Ballard to uncover many of the team's defensive backs, including its best, cornerback Charles Tillman. Ballard also did extra work before the selection of Nathan Vasher, the only Angelo-drafted defensive back to be named to a Pro Bowl.
Some quick research shows that of the 14 defensive backs drafted by Angelo since 2002 (that counts 2006 second-round pick Devin Hester, who was chosen as a cornerback), eight have come from Ballard's territory. Ballard has expertise in the area. He coached defensive backs at Texas A&M-Kingsville before he was hired. Not coincidentally, that is a school Angelo scouted heavily when he was with Tampa Bay. At one time, the Buccaneers had six players on their roster from the school.
Furthermore, of the seven defensive backs Angelo has drafted in the first four rounds, five have come from Ballard's territory. Hester and former safety Todd Johnson (2003, Round 4) are the exceptions. Ballard also was responsible for the selection of Chris Harris in the sixth round in 2005 and Kevin Payne in the fifth round in 2007. The Bears trust Ballard to find defensive backs.
With that in mind, let's take a look at some of the players in his region that could be on the Bears' radar this weekend.
The one that jumps out at you is Texas Tech's Darcel McBath, projected as a likely third-round pick. He might be the most technically sound safety in the draft according to one NFL talent evaluator. McBath is a shade over 6-foot, 198 pounds, and he was timed as fast as 4.47 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the scouting combine. He followed that up with a 4.53 at his pro day in Lubbock that Ballard attended. With a 38-inch vertical jump and 9-11 broad jump, he's plenty athletic. He has quickness and has some cornerback coverage skills as he was recruited to the school to play that position.
To get some more information on McBath, we turned to Texas Tech secondary coach Carlos Mainord, who coached DB's for the Bears from 1993 to 1998 and spent 11 seasons total in the NFL, working with Aeneas Williams, Sammy Knight and Mark Carrier, among others.
"I think Darcel has got a chance to be a really good player in the NFL,'' Mainord said Wednesday morning. "The guy wants to be a good player and he'll do whatever is necessary to be god. He's got really good athletic ability, he was a corner in high school and when he came here, so he's got some corner coverage skills but he's a good contact player. He's a sharp guy who learns good and he's already graduated from here. If he stays healthy, you say that about everyone, I think he'll have a good career.
"I think he's very explosive. When he decides where he needs to go he can get there in a hurry. He's got really good quickness. He's got good ball skills. He worked hard on that in the time here was here. He's got good lap speed. He's a good physical player and he will tackle. I think he's got the things that are necessary.
"I couldn't say I can compare him to anyone in particular who I have coached before. Of course, I had Carrier and some of those guys. He's not Carrier, who was a hammer. He'd knock you out, and I think he paid a lot of fines. He's not that part, he's not that physical but he is a good, physical player and he's got good vision back there. He sees the field very well.''
Other players from Ballard's territory:
Curtis Taylor, LSU: The Bears grabbed his former running mate Craig Steltz last year in the fourth round. Taylor has more range but scouts say his athletic ability doesn't always manifest itself in his performance. Still, he catches your eye when he does something like run down Georgia running back Knowshon Moreno. He probably projects as more of a fourth- or fifth-round possibility.
Lendy Holmes, Oklahoma: Bettered himself earlier this month at a last-chance pro day in San Antonio by running a 4.50 pro day. He was a huge disappointment at the scouting combine when his time was in the 4.7's. Ballard has had success with guys that timed slow in big events in the past. Vasher is a good example.
Another source suggested if the Bears wait a little while in their search for a free safety it could lead them to Notre Dame's David Bruton. Of course, he's not in Ballard's area. Bruton has good size at 6-2, 219 to go with good speed. He breaks on the ball real well and as this source said there could be a handful of free safeties to pick from in the middle rounds if the Bears don't strike earlier with someone like McBath or perhaps Troy's Sherrod Martin.
Also, updating a report from last week on Hawaii cornerback Ryan Mouton. He will have a private workout for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this week in Texas. Bears defensive backs coach Jon Hoke had gone to Los Angeles to work Mouton out at his pro day but he suffered a pulled hamstring there.
Check back for more draft breakdown soon, and we'll get to Four Down Territory later on.