LAKE FOREST, Ill. | In his first draft, new Bears general manager Phil Emery proved he is not afraid to take a risk.
After making controversial picks in the first three rounds, the Bears on Saturday selected Temple tight end Evan Rodriguez, a player with a somewhat troubled past. Considering they took a cornerback who will change positions to safety, a wide receiver believed by some to be a discipline problem and a top draft pick who could be too light to play defensive end, it looks a great deal like the Bears aren't afraid to take chances on players they like.
"We started this offseason trying to improve our ballclub," coach Lovie Smith said. "We did that at the receiver position. As far as taking risks, I mean, there's risks in every player that you look at, but you weigh that.
"We checked out everybody that we brought in. We all felt comfortable with that."
Rodriguez, the 111th pick overall (fourth round), started his career at West Virginia, but transferred following the 2007 season after a felony assault charge for an alleged physical altercation with a female residence hall adviser. It was later reduced to a misdemeanor charge. At Temple, he was arrested for disorderly conduct in 2009, and later was held out of a game for disciplinary reasons.
Emery pointed out that Rodriguez has not had any convictions and believes he benefited greatly as a result of his relationship with Temple coach Steve Adazzio.
"Some players you have to put your thumb on a little bit harder," Emery said. "I think Evan responds to really good, hard, old-fashioned coaching and he's had that, believe me, at Temple, especially with coach Adazzio."
Emery said his contacts at the school, extensive research he had did, and Rodriguez's visit to Halas Hall convinced him this was not a risky pick.
"It's growing pains as long as you learn from mistakes and don't let them happen again and mature, which I have done," Rodriguez said. "They believed in me and I'm happy they gave me this opportunity. And I'm not going to let them down."
The Bears needed a tight end who could line up as an H-back and block out of the fullback position or the slot, while also possessing speed to get downfield in pass patterns. Emery said Rodriguez, who is 6-foot-2, 244 pounds, has 4.56-second speed in the 40-yard dash.
Rodriguez has compared himself to another of Adazzio's tight ends, New England's Aaron Hernandez. Rodriguez caught 69 passes for 871 yards and six touchdowns at Temple.
"I would consider myself a physical blocker," Rodriguez said. "I'm just a tough player. I don't mind getting dirty."
Also Saturday, the Bears drafted Nevada cornerback Isaiah Frey in the sixth round and TCU cornerback Greg McCoy in the seventh round. The 5-foot-11, 188-pound Frey played mostly in man-to-man coverage at Nevada and will need to become more adept at zone with the Bears. McCoy brings credentials as a kicker returner who averaged 30.6 yards per return last season.
"Our scouts and coaches worked very hard on that back end of the draft on those skilled players, the corners and safeties," Emery said. "We had a list of four; we were able to get two of them. Felt very good about that in terms of knowing where we'd be able to find them and what their upside was."
On Thursday, the Bears at No. 19 drafted defensive end Shea McClellin, considered by some too small to be a 4-3 defensive end in Smith's system and more suited to 3-4 linebacker. On Friday, they took South Carolina wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, who has had weight and disciplinary issues. They drafted Oregon State cornerback Brandon Hardin, who missed 2011 with a broken shoulder and is moving to a more physical position at strong safety.
Smith took issue with the notion McClellin cannot play defensive end at 6-3, 260 pounds.
"Weight is one of the most overrated things that there is when you're talking about a football player," he said. "You're talking about strength and athletic ability more than that. ... Shea, believe me, he will be able to hold his own with the big boys that he's playing."
Emery said Friday he considered Jeffery one of the draft's top three receivers, and overall was pleased with his first draft even though the Bears failed to come away with a tackle to help an offensive line that allowed 105 sacks the last two seasons.
"The overriding thing was again what we talked about earlier in this week is finding the players that can help us the quickest to reach our goals of winning a championship, and we felt very good that we made progress in that area," he said.