Countdown to Combine: Bears

With the NFL combine starting Feb. 22, here’s a look at Chicago’s positions of need and which prospects the Bears might be looking taking a closer look at in Indianapolis. Positions of need are listed in order of importance.

Position of need: Center

Finally, the Chicago Bears achieved stability along the offensive line in 2013, but that’s already in jeopardy with veteran center Roberto Garza set to hit free agency.

On an offensive line that featured four new starters in 2013, Garza was the club’s lone holdover from the 2012 team but put together one of his finest performances since switching to the center position full time. Garza received $2.05 million in base salary in 2013, but moving forward the club isn’t inclined to pay in that range for the veteran, who next month turns 35.

So given the club’s current cap situation, all indications are Garza will strongly consider moving on in 2014.

“I’ve let Roberto know that I was proud of his season and obviously we will work through it, but we would like him back,” Bears general manager Phil Emery said. "I’m sure he’ll have some choices to make and we’ll see how it goes. But very pleased with his season. We use STATS, Inc. to give us an independent source of disruptions, hits, sacks [and] knockdowns given up. A year ago he was at 11 total for the season. This year he was at five. I’ve told him I thought he made a big push up. He got a lot better with his overall body position and his hip-placement. He’s obviously very important in terms of calling signals for our offensive line and making point adjustments. He did a lot of good things. Obviously there are some dynamics about where he’s at in his career. He’s 35-years-old, not to get too far into the discussion. But Roberto knows that we want him to come back.”

Garza would like to return, too. But he’d also what he deems a fair contract.

“I’m going to definitely want to come back. I feel like I can still play. I can still go out there and help the team by going out there and playing as good as I can. So hopefully it all works out,” Garza said. “It’s the first time I’ll be in this situation since I got here. So we’ll see what happens, see what the future holds. I definitely want to keep playing.”

Outside of Garza the Bears have few options at center, which means there’s a sure bet the team looks to add at the position through the draft or free agency. Even if the team brings back Garza, it still needs to start making contingency plans for the future.

Taylor Boggs was Garza’s primary backup last season, and he’s an exclusive-rights free agent (a player with an expiring contract who has less than three accrued seasons. He can only sign with the Bears if he’s offered a one-year tender. If the team doesn’t offer a tender, he can sign with any team) while Eben Britton, who took reps at center during training camp, is set to hit unrestricted free agency.

Three players the Bears could be targeting

Travis Swanson, Arkansas: Drew mixed reviews at the Senior Bowl, where he played both center and guard. Swanson moved well during drills at the Senior Bowl, but wasn’t dominant. At Arkansas, Swanson started all 50 games of his career, becoming the first player at the school to start 50 consecutive outings. So the durability is there. Swanson was also elected a team captain in each of his last two years, which speaks to his leadership abilities. He should be an immediate starter in the NFL.

Weston Richburg, Colorado State: Like Swanson, Richburg receives high marks for durability (started every game over the last four years, including three starts at guard). He surprised scouts at the Senior Bowl with his quickness and ability to neutralize some of the more powerful interior defenders. Richburg projects to be a second- or third-round pick, but if he continues to perform the way he did at the Senior Bowl, his stock should rise.

Marcus Martin, USC: An early draft entrant, Martin isn’t as experienced as Swanson or Richburg because he played guard his first two seasons before making the switch last season to center. Martin possesses the frame scouts covet, in addition to impressive quickness, flexibility and natural leverage. Martin also plays with the nastiness coaches covet. Martin is expected to be taken in the third round or below, and could be a solid prospect the Bears could spend a year developing behind Garza, provided he’s brought back.