Bears begin draft preparation

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Preparation for a playoff run demands focus on the present, but that doesn't mean the Chicago Bears aren't dialed in to arranging the pieces for 2011, regardless of current labor uncertainty.

The club recently brought back all the scouts to the offices at Halas Hall for December meetings, which are typically conducted at the completion of the college regular season, to make a determination on the direction the Bears need to take headed into the bowls and college all-star games.

For the personnel staff, the meetings serve as somewhat of a jumping-off point and foundation for the 2011 NFL draft, allowing the Bears to stack a broad and preliminary position-by-position draft board they'll gradually whittle down in the coming months.

"We've got it all set just like everybody else," said Bears general manager Jerry Angelo. "We try to bring scouts in and get a preliminary list. You're looking at about 700 to 800 kids, close to 1,000 starting in the summer. What you want to do is go into the all-star and bowl games, and what you want to do now is pare down the list."

With the coaching staff deep in preparations for Sunday's NFC divisional matchup with the Seattle Seahawks, the scouting staff -- in addition to its duties in advance scouting of potential playoff opponents -- takes on an exclusive role in evaluating prospects at the Football Bowl Subdivision bowl games and playoffs for the smaller schools competing in the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Division I-AA) and below. Teams can often uncover unheralded steals in the FCS.

Interestingly, three of the Bears' starters -- Johnny Knox, J'Marcus Webb, and Danieal Manning -- come from two Division II schools that play in the same conference (Lone Star Conference) in Texas.

Once the NFL playoffs -- or Super Bowl, if that winds up being the case -- come to an end, the Bears' coaching staff gets involved in the evaluation process. Offensive line coach Mike Tice put Webb through workouts prior to the team drafting the starting right tackle, the same way defensive backs coach Jon Hoke worked out safety Major Wright before the team selected him in the third round.

"You want to get it down to the proverbial hot list [at the December meetings], so when you start to go to all the bowl games, and all-star games, we can start to get a fix on the players that we feel fit us," Angelo said. "You probably can get that list pared down to maybe 250 players approximately. We do it every year, and it's the same this year. It's no different. We all do a little tweaking here and there, but I think everyone around the league does it about the same."

The Bears are preparing for their first draft since 2008 in which they'll have a first-round pick. The team's trade for quarterback Jay Cutler cost it first-round selections in 2009 and 2010. Three of the team's last four first-rounders -- Tommie Harris, Greg Olsen and Chris Williams -- are current starters, and one -- Cedric Benson -- is no longer with the team.

Quarterback Dan LeFevour is the only member of the 2010 draft class no longer on the roster, and the other four players -- Wright, Corey Wootton, Josh Moore and Webb -- have logged playing time this season.

Angelo has taken criticism for some of his selections in recent years, which only increases the pressure for the general manager making a first-round pick for the first time in three years. Further complicating the draft, which is already a crap shoot, is Chicago's potential positioning in the first round.

As it stands now, the Bears will pick near the bottom of the first round, meaning all of the players widely regarded as can't-miss prospects -- which includes players in all of the team's positions of need -- will be off the board by the time they get on the clock.

Michael C. Wright covers the Bears for ESPNChicago.com and ESPN 1000.