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Top-notch offensive tackle unlikely to come Bears’ way

(MCT) — INDIANAPOLIS — Only three times in NFL draft history has a left tackle been selected No. 1 overall but each time a elite blocker has emerged.

Jake Long was the last when the Dolphins chose him in 2008. He has been to four Pro Bowls and will be an unrestricted free agent unless they re-sign him. Orlando Pace, a Bear in 2009, could reach the Pro Football Hall of Fame one day after making seven Pro Bowl appearances with the Rams, who drafted him in 1997. Ron Yary’s Hall of Fame career began in 1968 as the top pick of the Vikings.

Now, Texas A&M’s Luke Joeckel and Central Michigan’s Eric Fisher are vying to be the top pick with a choice that belongs to the Chiefs. Many consider Joeckel a strong possibility and Fisher is viewed as a likely top-10 selection.

“It would be really cool, a dream come true,” said Joeckel, who left school a year early. “But the way I’m looking at it, I just want to get there. I am definitely striving to be the No. 1 pick . . . but my dream is just to play in the NFL. I know, being the No. 1 pick, after that, it doesn’t really matter. You have to prove yourself in the NFL.”

Fisher has risen from a barely recruited MAC player to a top prospect, a journey he called “surreal.” He excelled at the Senior Bowl and is continuing to gain momentum.

“That would be a huge, huge honor (to be drafted No. 1), a dream complete, and it would just open up another dream,” Fisher said. “ That’s up to coaches and general managers, but that’s what I’m working for. It’s just amazing watching my dream becoming reality slowly.”

The history of offensive linemen selected with the second overall pick is much more checkered. For every Tony Boselli or Bill Fralic there is a Jason Smith or Tony Mandarich.

The reality for the Bears is an early push for offensive tackles could limit options when their turn comes at No. 20. Oklahoma’s Lane Johnson could be off the board before the Bears are on the clock. Finding a long-term solution will prevent them from having to seek a stop-gap measure like they did when Pace was signed or considering J’Marcus Webb for a third season there. But elite left tackles who can be plugged in as rookies are not available in the bottom half of the round.

In the middle of the first round, Alabama right tackle D.J. Fluker, North Carolina guard Jonathan Cooper and Alabama guard Chance Warmack could come into play. One scout for an NFC club rated Cooper as the third-best lineman in the draft and said his athletic ability would make him an ideal candidate for what Aaron Kromer likes to do with blocking schemes.

If the Bears target a lineman, they have to do better than 2008 when they selected Chris Williams 14th — the third of eight linemen selected in the first round that year. Gabe Carimi, 29th overall, was the sixth of seven linemen taken in 2011. Carimi still has a chance to contribute significantly at right tackle or perhaps guard but his position will be determined in part by what the team does in free agency and the draft.

ESPN reported the Saints will not use the franchise tag on left tackle Jermon Bushrod. He is a Kromer-groomed two-time Pro Bowler. The Saints would like to keep him but his price tag is unknown at this point. While the Bears are in much better shape cap-wise than the Saints, they’re not in an ideal position with roughly $11 million available.

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