Bears analysis: Defensive line disappointing
Bears analysis: Defensive line disappointing
By Brad Biggs, Tribune reporter
9:23 a.m. CST, January 10, 2012
Second in a 10-part series
The Chicago Bears didn't get what they needed from the defensive line in 2011.
The season sure started with a bang. The Bears sacked Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan five times in the season opener and applied the kind of constant pressure that could have defined a defense for the season. But the Bears couldnít repeat it on a weekly basis and that became problematic.
Julius Peppers had a fine season by any measure. He recorded 11 sacks, three more than he had in 2010, giving him 100 for his career. But he didn't raise the level of play of everyone around him like he did the year before, and he didnít finish the season well.
Defensive tackle Henry Melton had a good showing with seven sacks in his first season starting. Flashes were there but itís a matter of consistency, something the Bears will be able to drill on throughout the offseason.
Roll call: Israel Idonije (unrestricted free agent), Julius Peppers (signed through 2015), Henry Melton (signed through 2012), Matt Toeaina (signed through 2013), Corey Wootton (signed through 2013), Chauncey Davis (signed through 2012), Amobi Okoye (unrestricted free agent), Anthony Adams (signed through through 2012), Stephen Paea (signed through 2014), Thaddeus Gibson (signed through 2013), Jordan Miller (signed through 2013), Marion Addison (waived), Nick Reed (waived)
2011 overview: In the first season under new position coach Mike Phair, 30 of the Bears' 33 sacks belonged to the defensive line as cornerback Charles Tillman and safety Craig Steltz each were credited with one and one was assigned to the team. That probably says more about the rest of the rosterís ability to rush the passer than anything else. While the number sounds solid, consider Jared Allen had 22 sacks, only eight fewer than the Bearsí defensive line as a whole.
Idonijeís sack numbers slipped although he believes he actually performed better. Thatís entirely possible because the sack total presents just a small part of the overall picture. What was missing -- again -- was a consistent No. 3 end. It looked like Wootton would get a chance to nail down the job but a strong start to training camp was derailed by a minor knee injury at the start of preseason. When he was almost back, he suffered a hand injury. Now, it looks like the 2010 fourth-round draft pick faces a make-it or break-it year. If he doesnít have a strong offseason and training camp, he could be hard-pressed to earn a roster spot. Addison and Reed got shots and fizzled out. Davis was signed late in the season and made a few plays, but he has an established track record in the NFL as a backup and heís never been much of a pass rusher.
Peppers was dominant at times and had 55 quarterback pressures, according to the review of film by coaches, and also added three forced fumbles and two recoveries. But you didnít see him running quarterbacks into the waiting arms of other linemen.
Melton, plugged into the role formally occupied by first-round draft pick Tommie Harris, had 34 quarterback pressures but opposing scouts said he wasnít nearly as dominant vs. the run. He needs to become more consistent but the effort the Bears got from him was better than what Harris provided in his final two seasons. Okoye found a niche in the rotation at defensive tackle and Paea, a second-round draft pick, came on after a slow start.
Toeaina, signed to a contract extension late in the 2010 season, stepped forward to start 12 games after getting just 10 career starts in his previous four seasons. He moved ahead of Adams on the depth chart.
Free agency/draft priority: No matter what the situation with the line, itís seemingly always a top priority, or at least it was under ex-general manager Jerry Angelo. In four of the last five years, he used one of his top two picks on a defensive lineman. That meant Wootton in the fourth round of the 2010 draft, but the Bears were without first- and second-round draft picks that year. The point is, the Bears have committed an overabundance of resources to the position, in part because theyíve struggled with drafting and developing young players. For every Melton, it seems there have been three (or more) Jarron Gilberts. Melton is a nice young player to build around but this group will be incomplete until the Bears discover another edge rusher, likely in the form of a third defensive end. Unless the plan is to find a third end -- and a new starter -- look for the Bears to re-sign Idonije. Of course, that plan could potentially change with a new GM but Idonije always has been well received by the coaching staff. One way or another, the Bears need to upgrade the pass rush to effectively play their base Cover-2 scheme. Itís interesting to wonder where they would be if theyíd been more than a curious onlooker when it came to Jason Babin in free agency.
Looking ahead: As long as Lovie Smith is the coach, heís going to demand excellence from his defensive line. He might not always get it, but the bar is going to be set Steel Curtain high for the Bears. Thatís just the way it goes. Peppers will be 32 next season and should have another year or two at a top level, but his age is something to keep in the back of your mind.
Bottom line: Based on history, it would be a surprise if the Bears donít make the line a priority again this offseason. They badly need a situational pass rusher.
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