Chicago preps for NFL Draft 2016

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Soon, Grant Park will be "raided" with football fans who will descend on Draft Town by the thousands when the free event kicks off at noon on Thursday.

Draft Town is back for a second year in Chicago. And organizers say it will be bigger and better than ever.

They have increased the size from 15 football fields to 20 with more interactive attractions.

There were lights and cameras being set up in the Auditorium Theater where much of the early drafting action will take place. That will be off-limits to most spectators. But it's shaping up to be a flashier show than last year.

"We had such a great experience in the first year. We want to build on that momentum," said Eric Finkelstein, Draft Town.

In Draft Town, fans can take rides on a Ferris wheel or spend time at the crown jewel of the event, Selection Square, where representatives from all 32 NFL teams will choose their newest players.

Along with the excitement comes a traffic advisory from the city.

Westbound Balbo is closed from Columbus to Lake Shore Drive. Also, Michigan Avenue will be closed from Jackson to Balbo Thursday and Friday evenings. Columbus will close from Jackson to Balbo starting Friday evening..
And Congress Parkway will close from Wabash to Michigan Avenue Thursday and Friday evenings.
Bears figure to focus on defense in draft

The way they struggled to make plays on defense last season, it's not exactly a major stretch to think the Bears will look to address that in next week's draft.

Chicago owns nine picks, starting with the 11th overall selection. And while the offense isn't exactly issue-free, defense would appear to be a bigger priority.

"I wouldn't say it's a given," ESPN analyst Todd McShay said. "But I think if they had their choice, it would be a highly rated defensive player (at No. 11)."

The Bears finished last in the NFC North at 6-10, tied for 22nd in sacks and 30th in both forced fumbles and interceptions last season. As gloomy as that sounds, it was clear that they made big strides in their first season under general manager Ryan Pace and coach John Fox.

The Bears looked more like a professional outfit after being embroiled in chaos during a five-win collapse in 2014 that ultimately cost GM Phil Emery and coach Marc Trestman their jobs. But they still have plenty of work to do.

Some things to know as the Bears head into their second draft under Pace:

GM IN SPOTLIGHT: Pace is on the clock after his first draft produced mixed results.

The Bears were counting on No. 7 pick Kevin White to form a dynamic receiver tandem with Alshon Jeffery, only to see the West Virginia product sit out with a stress fracture in his left shin. Then again, the fact four of Pace's six picks last year - nose tackle Eddie Goldman, center Hroniss Grasu, running back Langford and safety Adrian Amos - saw significant time is at least promising.

Besides this year's first-rounder, Chicago also owns one pick each in the second, third, fifth and seventh rounds as well as two apiece in the fourth and sixth.

SO FAR: The Bears addressed weaknesses at inside linebacker by signing Danny Trevathan from Super Bowl champion Denver, and former Indianapolis Colts player Jerrell Freeman. Chicago also signed former Arizona Cardinals right tackle Bobby Massie, clearing way for Kyle Long to move back to right guard.

GAINING AN EDGE: The Bears need speed on the edge, and McShay believes Georgia outside linebacker Leonard Floyd would be the right player if he's available at No. 11.

"I think he'd be a perfect fit for what Chicago's looking for in terms of a versatile linebacker that can be that outside linebacker but also can play some off the ball," McShay said. "He can drop into coverage on occasion. But what Floyd does best is rush the passer off the edge. Great initial burst. The ability to bend around the edge."

That's something the Bears lacked last season, and McShay thinks he might be a more productive player in the NFL than he was in college. The 6-foot-6, 244-pound Floyd led the Bulldogs in sacks for the third straight year with 4 1/2 and tied for the team lead with 10 1/2 tackles for loss last season.

OTHER OPTIONS: While the draft isn't deep on edge rushers, that's not the case when it comes to defensive tackles. That might persuade the Bears to wait rather than grab one in the first round.

"You get down to about 15 deep and you're still talking about players that belong in the first three rounds at defensive tackle," McShay said. "Edge rushers, it's a different deal."

If the Bears decide to go with DT at No. 11, Louisville's Sheldon Rankins and Alabama's A'Shawn Robinson and Jarran Reed might be options.

Florida cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III could also be a possibility in the first round.

WITHOUT CUTLER: QB Jay Cutler is coming off one of his most productive seasons. But he also turns 33 on April 29.

At some point, wouldn't the Bears want to draft a potential replacement? Or at least a better backup than the two they have, David Fales and Matt Blanchard? For what it's worth, the Bears haven't drafted a quarterback in the first three rounds since they took Rex Grossman with the 22nd pick in 2003. Yes, it has been that long.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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