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NFL Chicago Bears

Chicago Bears: NFL Combine Provides New Targets For 2014 Draft

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Chicago Bears: NFL Combine Provides New Targets For 2014 Draft

Brian Spurlock - USA Today Sports

For the first time in recent memory, the Bears defense didn't perform last season. To say they didn't perform would actually be an understatement, they were horrendous. In 2013, they gave up a franchise record in points and total yards, both of which are inexcusable. There were a few reasons for this collapse defensively and there are also a few potential solutions for the upcoming season. That starts in April with the NFL draft.

First of all, the Bears defense struggled last season in large part due to injury. Pro Bowl defensive tackle Henry Melton was lost to a torn ACL in the first couple of weeks in the season and then his replacement promptly suffered the same injury a couple of weeks later. Franchise linebacker Lance Briggs got injured and before him it was middle linebacker D.J. Williams lost for the season. That forced rookies Jon Bostic and Khaseem Greene into the starting lineup and they struggled at times.

Starting cornerback and fan favorite Charles Tillman was also lost for the season by mid-year and the team's initial starting nickel corner back, Kelvin Hayden, was lost for the year before the team even played a game. These injuries contributed to the team's collapse on defense, but a lack of a consistent pass rush contributed to it as well. Defensive end Julius Peppers didn't live up to his contract and because of injuries to starters, weak side defensive end Correy Wootton was forced to move to defensive tackle consistently. The lack of pass rush had a trickle down effect on the run defense, which was abysmal.

Needs on this team include defensive tackle, safety, cornerback and linebacker. They could lose several starters on the defensive side of the ball so there are lots of holes to fill. It's possible to patch up most of them through this year's draft and free agency, but general manager Phil Emery and the rest of the team's executives are going to have to find some steals in the mid-to-late rounds. Finding a diamond in the rough or two out of that group could be the difference between success and failure for the Bears this season. Here are some players that could fit nicely into the Bears' system after participating in the NFL scouting combine.

Jacob Kornhauser is a writer for "Like" him on Facebook, follow him on Twitter or add him to your Google+ network.

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DT Louis Nix III, Notre Dame (Round 1)

Matt Cashore - USA Today Sports

Nix is a huge body that excelled while at Notre Dame. While he seems to fit better into a 3-4 scheme, he's capable of shutting down the run and can help stuff up the middle in the Bears expected hybrid 4-3 scheme. He will have to improve his pass rushing skills to become a great player in the NFL, but his ability to stop the run would be a welcomed addition to the Bears who were the worst team at stopping the run a year ago.

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S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Alabama (Round 1)

Ha Ha
Thomas Campbell - USA Today Sports

Clinton-Dix played against some of the best receivers in the country in the SEC and excelled. He is especially solid in pass coverage, which the Bears could use some help with. Ownership is known for not spending a lot of money on free agent safeties so adding a very good one in the draft seems like a smart and very possible route.

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CB Jason Verrett, TCU (Round 2)

Jerome Miron - USA Today Sports

If Verrett were to fall to the Bears in the early-to-mid first round, they would almost have to take him. He's a borderline first round talent and he has the coverage and ball skills that the Bears covet in their defensive backs. Mainstay Charles Tillman may not be back next season and the team is going to need someone to pair up with Pro Bowler Tim Jennings. Verrett fits that mold.

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LB Jeremiah Attaochu, Georgia Tech (Round 3)

Kevin Liles - USA Today Sports

At 6' 3" and 252 pounds, Attaochu has the build of an NFL linebacker already. There's no question about his tackling ability, but his ability to plug up running lanes still has work to do. He would be a solid pick in the third round and could provide linebacker depth or challenge for a starting job as the weak side linebacker in the 4-3 depending on what the team does with its free agent linebackers.

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DE/OLB Michael Sam, Missouri (Round 4)

Tim Heitman - USA Today Sports

After all the buzz he created with his announcement a couple of weeks ago, it seems like some people have forgotten that Sam was the SEC's co-defensive player of the year in 2013 and brings a skill set that is a steal in the mid-rounds of the draft. He projects better as a 3-4 outside linebacker, but if the team does go into a hybrid form of the 4-3, he could give them some flexibility by being able to play both defensive end and outside linebacker.