LINK to the article Bears' pass rush ready for test drive
Coaches eager to see how Wootton, McClellin, others perform in games
BOURBONNAIS — As much as he has talked about defensive end Corey Wootton's progress in training camp
, Bears coach Lovie Smith has been careful not to go overboard with praise.
Smith wants to see how Wootton and the other young pass rushers perform in game action before he anoints them as key contributors.
"Corey Wootton has played outstanding in camp, but we haven't seen him throw a quarterback down,'' Smith said. "We want to see him and some of those other players. … We just want to see them in a game playing. Normally when you let guys play, they kind of tell you what you should do with them and how much (playing) time they should get.''
Thursday night's exhibition opener against the Broncos could give Smith and defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli a glimpse of where the pass rush might be headed this season. The coaches already know what to expect from seven-time Pro Bowler Julius Peppers, who has been rested during camp.
But Thursday will give them a better idea of whether first-round pick Shea McClellin can have an immediate impact or if Wootton can be as consistent as he has been during camp. Lesser-known players such as Chauncey Davis and Thaddeus Gibson also have a chance to earn notice.
Marinelli explained how he's evaluating his pass rushers.
"I'm really looking for initial quickness,'' he said, "and that's instinct and awareness to get off on whatever move. Then I look for change of direction — short-area quickness. I probably favor quickness over speed.
"From there, it's power and quickness of feet. When your feet are quick, you have power. When you're slow, you have no power. And then I want to see a relentless guy and a guy with toughness of mind.''
The Bears weren't always relentless with their pass rush last season, although they had their moments. They finished with 33 sacks — 18 of which came from Peppers (11) and defensive tackle Henry Melton (seven). The Bears ranked a dismal 29th in the league in sacks per pass play.
Marinelli pointed to last year's season-opening win over the Falcons as the way he wants to see his pass rushers attack at all times. The Bears sacked Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan five times in that game, and Melton was credited with a career-high six quarterback pressures.
On the flip side, the Bears had just one sack or went sackless in eight of 16 games
. Marinelli admitted he might need to increase his blitz packages to compensate for such lulls.
"But if you're rushing pretty well, people go into max protect, and you don't want to blitz max protect because you're not going to get there,'' Marinelli said.
"But we do want to blitz. We've got to work harder on it. We can be a very good blitzing team.''
Peppers immediately upgraded the pass rush when he signed as a free agent two seasons ago. But the Bears haven't taken full advantage of the double teams he often draws.
Idonije vowed to play smarter and be more consistent in terms of finishing plays. The 6-foot-6 Wootton now plays with better pad level than he did coming in as a rookie. And nose tackle Stephen Paea's emergence alongside Melton could make the inside pass rush devastating. Smith said he wants Melton to "continue to grow and become one of the elite inside pass rushers in the league.''
The wild card could be McClellin, who continues to show flashes after a rough start to camp. There is no question about his quick first step, but he needs to do a better job setting up the offensive tackles. He is in the process of sharpening his spin move.
"It's not there yet,'' McClellin said. "But this whole preseason is just an opportunity to grow. It's an opportunity for us young pass rushers to show what we're made of.'' email@example.com