Chicago Sun-Times

Can Bears GM Phil Emery avoid the draft injury bug?

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Marc Colombo retired a Dallas Cowboy last Friday, 10 years to the day the Bears drafted him with the 29th pick of the 2002 NFL draft.

It was a joyous anniversary for Colombo, but not so for the Bears. Colombo's retirement was a bitter reminder of all the draft mishaps that ultimately doomed star-crossed Bears general manager Jerry Angelo, who was fired after the 2011 season.

Angelo's first draft pick as the Bears' general manager suffered a major injury. His last draft pick as the Bears' general manager suffered a major injury. And seemingly every draft pick in-between met the same fate:

-- Defensive tackle Tommy Harris (2004) made three Pro Bowls but was never the same after suffering hamstring and knee injuries in 2006.

-- Cornerback Nathan Vasher made one Pro Bowl but was never the same after suffering a groin injury.

-- Defensive tackle Dusty Dvoracek literally was injured more than he was healthy as a Bear.

-- Offensive tackle Chris Williams was injured on the first day of training camp his rookie season.

-- And right tackle Gabe Carimi suffered a dislocated knee in Week 2 last week that has uncomfortably mirrored the Colombo saga.

So the question is, very simply, can Phil Emery draft players who don't get hurt?

"Sometimes things just happen,'' Emery said.

But five or six times in 10 seasons? That's a lot of bad luck. Is there any way to avoid it?

''In terms of doing our research, our medical staff is a big part of the process,'' Emery said. ''It starts well before the Combine. It starts when you do your work digging out and research, much like a good reporter would do, digging out information on a player and his injury past.''

I don't know if Emery is any more duly diligent about researching injuries of draft prospects than Angelo was, but it was interesting that part of Emery's process involves not just listening to what coaches say about players who are injured, but what they say right off the bat.

''I always tell our scouts that you want to look at what the statements are from the staff, the post-game comments and the coach's comments,'' Emery said. ''His first press conference of the week will tell you a lot about the injury status of a player. And the day before the game, because they always tell you why a guy may not play and what the injury was.''

That sounds good so far.

"So digging those out, entering them into our database so we can ask the right questions of the player when we interview him,'' Emery said. ''When we get him at an all-star game and can say, 'Hey, looks like you had a head injury and you were held out the first quarter. Where'd you get that?' And then [they'll] say, 'Yeah, I had a concussion.'

Digging those things out through your own research, asking the athlete the question, giving that information to our medical staff so that they can further investigate those injuries during the Combine.

"Then sitting down through the process post-Combine with our head trainer, working through players that didn't grade out as well as others. Where are the risk players? What are the risks? And about a week ago we met with all head physicians and head trainer, talked through those players, find out where we are on those players."

Of course, no system if fool-proof. Angelo had the right idea when he drafted Colombo, a 6-7, 320-pound offensive tackle with a mean streak and the defensive mentality that often makes a good NFL offensive lineman. A torn quadriceps and sprained MCL that cost Colombo the last three regular-season games of his senior season at Boston College might have been a red flag to some, but Colombo's gutty return in the Music City Bowl showed that he was as tough as he was nasty.

Colombo became a starter six games into his rookie season, but suffered a devastating knee injury in his fifth start. One complication led to another and Colombo ended up playing just nine games for the Bears in the next three seasons before being cut in 2005.

It would have been a tough break for Angelo had that been the end of Colombo's career. But it was compounded by Colombo's sudden recovery once he left the Bears. Colombo was back on the field with the Dallas Cowboys six weeks after being cut by the Bears and started 59 consecutive games at right tackle for the Cowboys before suffering another injury.

In all, Colombo played 90 of 98 games since the Bears gave up on trying to fix him -- five seasons with Dallas and one with Miami. It exemplified Angelo's struggle with first-round draft picks as Bears general manager. Even when he had the right guy, once he was injured he was never the same.

Colombo had suffered a sprained right MCL as a senior at Boston College before aggravating the injury when he returned against Notre Dame, which forced him to miss the final three regular season games. Is there any way to tell if that's an indicator?

''Guys can get flagged for certain things,'' Emery said. ''We'll go through a process ... we call them tilts and flips. We'll tilt a player on the board. We'll turn his card going south a little bit if they're in that risk area. And usually we move those players to the right of the column. The players that are clean are to the left.

''We'll flip them all the way over if the risk is too high -- if their medical grade puts them in a situation we feel the risk is too high. Meaning we would not pick them. And if they're tilted, we're going to have a lot of discussion before we would move forward with that player.''

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Emery is Angelo reincarnate....does not do his homework (background/injury history) and does not know value!

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This page contains a single entry by Mark Potash published on April 26, 2012 4:26 PM.

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