LAKE FOREST, Ill. – While conceding that Frank Omiyale is not a household name, Chicago Bears general manager Jerry Angelo was extremely pleased after landing a player who’s been on the Bears’ radar for four years.
The versatile offensive lineman, who signed a four-year contract
with the Bears Friday on the first day of free agency,
first impressed the team during his pro day workout prior to the
2005 NFL draft.
“We remembered him when he came out of college and liked him,” Angelo said during a media teleconference.
“[Offensive line coach] Harry Hiestand went down and worked him out, and even though he came from a small school at Tennessee Tech, he really liked the traits and the player’s attitude and all the things he heard from the coaches down there as well as Rex Hogan, our scout.”
Omiyale, who can play both tackle and guard, was chosen by the Falcons in the fifth round of the draft. He appeared in one game in two seasons with Atlanta before being waived on Sept. 1, 2007.
Claimed off waivers by the Carolina Panthers, the 6-4, 310-pounder was inactive for all 16 games in 2007 before appearing in 10 contests with one start last season.
The Bears continued to monitor Omiyale’s progress throughout his career and were particularly impressed with how he performed in last year’s regular-season finale against the Saints, especially versus defensive end Will Allen.
“What really caught our eye was when we watched him play in that last game on the road in New Orleans against a pretty good football team in a dome, which is awfully tough for tackles given the crowd noise,” Angelo said.
“We saw them move Jordan Gross, who was their left tackle, and put him over at right tackle, and put Frank in at left. That told us they must have a lot of confidence in this guy, and we thought he played well.”
Although Omiyale doesn’t have a lot of game experience for a fifth-year player, several NFL teams contacted him during the first few hours of free agency. Asked why he chose to sign with the Bears, Omiyale said: “Because it’s the Bears. I’ve heard a lot about the tradition here. From talking to other players around the league, I know it’s a family-oriented organization, so that’s what really made it attractive.”
The chance to earn a starting job at tackle or guard was also
appealing. It’s unclear which position Omiyale
will play given that the Bears are still trying to re-sign
veteran free-agent tackle John St. Clair and also could address the
offensive line in the draft. Omiyale could see reps at both spots
during the Bears' veteran minicamp March 17-19.
“We told him that we wanted to look at him at guard first, but we’re not going to limit him in terms of his reps only at guard,” Angelo said. “We felt like we’ll expose him to tackle, which is where he’s been predominantly trained, but we want to expose him at guard as well. How it ultimately comes to fruition, I can’t really sit here and say.
"What we wanted to do was just bring in what we felt was a good young quality lineman and then let the players and the coaches determine who gives us our best five out there.”
Angelo stressed that adding Omiyale doesn’t make the Bears
any less interested in re-signing St. Clair.
“This has nothing to do with how we feel about John St. Clair,” Angelo said. “When you go into negotiations, we can’t determine the timetable on when we’re going to get these deals done.
“In terms of the timing of this, we would have certainly liked to have gotten John St. Clair done first because we know John and feel real good about John. But this doesn’t do anything in terms of how we feel about John.”
Asked about where things stand with St. Clair, Angelo said: “We’re talking to John and we’ll just have to continue to visit. They wanted to explore some things and we’re very understanding of that with free agency just starting. We’ll just see how things continue to unfold. But we certainly want John and this has nothing to do with that.”
While no other free-agent signings are imminent for the Bears, they will continue to closely monitor the market.
“We’re just going to continue to move down the path; probably do more exploring than buying at this point, and most of the people I’ve talked to—or some of the people anyhow—have echoed the same,” Angelo said. “We’ll see how things unfold in these first couple of weeks and we’ll just see what the field looks like.
“We have a number of positions or more positions this year that we’re probably looking at to fill, create competition, to create better depth—all those things—so we’ll be looking at several people I’m sure in these next few weeks.”