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Chicago Sun-Times
Chicago Sun-Times
Patrick Finley

Bears flock to Jalen Carter’s pro day, leave with more questions than answers

Former Georgia defensive lineman Jalen Carter stands after running football drills during Georgia’s pro day Wednesday. (John Bazemore/AP)

ATHENS, Ga. —When Georgia defensive tackle Jalen Carter finally took the field Wednesday morning, the Bears weren’t far away. General manager Ryan Poles was standing at the 14-yard line chatting with offensive coordinator Luke Getsy.

Matt Eberflus was one of three NFL head coaches in attendance. Bears offensive line coach Chris Morgan, defensive coordinator Alan Williams and assistant general manager Ian Cunningham were at the national champions’ indoor football facility, too. The Bears even brought their security director.

They took a predawn flight on the first day of the league year to watch one of the most anticipated pro days of the offseason. Exactly two weeks earlier, Carter left the NFL Scouting Combine to head back to Athens, where he was booked for two misdemeanors — reckless driving and racing — related to the Jan. 15 death of former teammate Devin Willock and Georgia staffer Chandler LeCroy in a car accident.  

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported the 21-year-old Carter drove away from the crash scene after racing Lecroy and returned less than two hours later, when he gave conflicting information to the Athens-Clarke (Ga.) County Police Department about his whereabouts.

Even before the arrest, Carter had planned to skip Combine drills and perform at his pro day instead. That plan changed Wednesday, when he skipped every drill but the positional workout.

It didn’t go well. The Bears left with more questions than answers.

Carter was nine pounds heavier than he was just two weeks earlier at the Combine. He looked it. At various points during 20 minutes of drills, he removed his shirt, took a knee, spoke with trainers and appeared to cramp. When it was over, he talked to teams but declined media interviews.

Fifteen days earlier, Carter was considered maybe the surest thing in the draft. By the end of Wednesday, it seemed like he could be available when the Bears pick at No. 9 overall.

The question is: would the Bears take him?

Morgan put tackle Broderick Jones, a projected first-rounder, through offensive line drills. The Bears watched outside linebacker Nolan Smith and tight end Darnell Washington, both who could go in Round 1. But the big question facing the Bears — and the league — is Carter.

The Bears had off-the-field concerns about Carter even before the arrest and will spend the six weeks before the draft trying to figure out exactly what happened the night of the crash — and what it might say about him.

Georgia coach Kirby Smart knew to expect more questions than usual from teams.

“There’s a lot of questions generally, but, with the situation, probably more questions — and more direct,” Smart said.

Smart praised Carter’s “competitive character” after he returned from two injuries this season, while Smith called him the “best teammate I’ve ever been around.”

“He knows who he is — we all know who he is,” quarterback Stetson Bennett said. “We know what comes with the territory with where we are now, and things that are going to be out, and situations we put ourselves [in] and how to be responsible and be a grown man.”

Smart was happy that Carter attended the first day of spring practice Tuesday. He hoped it provided some normalcy after his time away, training.

“I can only imagine what he’s dealing with internally, just his survival from a tragic accident,” he said. “And knowing the outcome of that accident, there’s some mental health things there that you have to be able to help with. I can’t speak to what he’s going through — I think he’s gotta answer those questions — but we’re certainly going to try to support him the best we can.”

There’s no questioning his ability.

“He’s a generational talent,” Smart said. “He’s very talented. I’ve been coaching for 18 years, and there’s very few guys I’ve coached that have the talent that he has.”

To get that generational talent, the Bears — and others — will have to decide how comfortable they are with everything else.

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