Bears Show Interest in Mercilus.............
Inside the Bears
Bears interested in Illinois DE Whitney Mercilus
By Mark Potash on February 25, 2012 3:37 PM | 3 Comments | No TrackBacks
There are three podiums and eight round, eight-seat dinner tables for player interviews in the media center at the NFL Scouting Combine -- the podiums for the Andrew Lucks and Michael Floyds; the tables for the Isaiah Peads and Jake Bequettes.
Illinois defensive end Whitney Mercilus, a late-bloomer in college who is rising rapidly on the draft charts, literally transitioned from the lower group to the higher one on Saturday. His media interview started at a table. But when he was inundated by reporters and cameras, he was quickly escorted to a podium.
That's how quickly things have been happening for Mercilus. The 6-3, 260-pound Akron, Ohio native was a revelation during the college season. Coming in with just two starts in three years at Illinois, he led the nation with 16 sacks, tied an NCAA record with nine forced fumbles, had 22 1/2 tackles-for-loss and won the Ted Hendricks Award as the nation's top defensive end.
He applied for an evaluation from the NFL advisory committee after that breakout season and was given a third-round grade. He entered the draft anyway and now is projected to go late in the first round and being compared to the New York Giants' Jason Pierre-Paul, who played one year of major-college football at South Florida and was drafted 15th overall in 2010.
When he was asked which teams had shown interest in him, Mercilus listed the ''Bears, Chargers, also the Bills'' -- in that order. Ourlads.com, a well-respected scouting web site, currently projects the Bears to select Mercilus with the 19th pick in the first round of the NFL draft.
It's the nature of the draft evaluation process that Mercilus' impressive performance at Illinois is actually a point of contention -- how did he go from two starts in the previous two seasons (after redshirting as a true freshman) to 16 sacks and 22 1/2 tackles-for-loss in one year?
''I just was able to put everything together,'' he said. ''I was still learning the game. I was still young. I was still a raw talent. I showed signs of life. Showed flashes in games at time, and I just finally put it all together.''
Mercilus' ability to force fumbles certainly has to interest the Bears and coach Lovie Smith. Bears defensive linemen combined for four forced fumbles last year -- three by Julius Peppers and one by Israel Idonije.
"I just have a knack for it,'' Mercilus said. ''I just time it up right. Throughout the game I was able to watch the quarterback's movements and just see him open up and then I just go in there and just knock it away as soon as I could."