In this mini-series, I'm looking at the various requirements of building a team that wins football games. As the comic above suggests, perhaps sports is a random number generator, but can a team weight that generator in its favor?
2nd Phase - Defense:
Nose Tackle: I'll start with the middle of the defensive line, the behemoth mountains of flesh that can (sometimes) turn in sub-5.0 second 40-yd dashes. Depending on the scheme (4-3 vs. 3-4), the role of the tackle is different. Both schemes usually feature a nose tackle, who in a 4-3 is usually a 1-tech (outside the center's shoulder), while in a 3-4 the nose is usually a 0-tech (over the center's head). Their role is usually to clog the middle of the field, occupy blockers, and make running up the middle very tough. They may occasionally factor in the pass rush. Usually NT's are blue-collar guys (Anthony Adams), though some are dominant (Vince Wilfork).
Bears: We don't have a clear nose tackle, with Paea and Toeaina likely splitting reps at that position. Neither is a real difference maker, though Paea has oodles of potential.
Defensive Tackle: Specifically, the 3-tech in a 4-3 scheme, although guys like Haloti Ngata, who switch between end and nose in a 3-4 are usually classfied as DT's. The 3-tech needs to be big, but in addition to being a run stuffer, must be athletic enough to generate a solid pass rush and push the pocket. This position is key for the Bears in particualr, with most other teams playing a 3-4 or a hybrid defense.
Bears: Melton and Okoye were pretty good last year, with Melton notching 7 sacks. If he can take the next step, the Bears may have an All-Pro on their hands.
Defensive End: In a 4-3, these guys are the bookends, and they usually have the job of 1A) Sacking the QB and 1B) Setting the edge and containing the runner. Few are true 3-down linemen (Peppers, Allen), with many either specializing against the run (Idonije) or the pass (Freeney). Having a guy who can do both well goes a long way in diversifying the scheme, as getting pressure with 4 linemen frees up the other 7 guys in coverage.
In a 3-4, the ends are usually 5-techs (outside the tackle), with the primary task of defending against the run. They are usually better pass rushers than NT's, but again, their job is to occupy blockers.
Bears: In Peppers, Idonije, McClellin, and Wooten, the Bears have 4 very different players. Peppers is a freak of nature, Idonije a run-stuffer, McClellin a pass-rusher, Wooten an all-round player who has yet to put it together. If the young guys can perform well, we're in good shape.
Outside Linebacker: In a 3-4, the OLB's are usually pass rushers, adding diversity to the scheme by creating confusion on offense (how many are coming? from which side?). The truly special 3-4 OLB's can also hold their own in coverage and play the run without missing a beat (DeMarcus Ware).
For a 4-3, the OLB has to be a solid athlete, able to cover the TE and RB, take on and shed blockers in the run game, and blitz effectively when called upon.
Bears: Lance Briggs is as good as it gets on the weak side. Roach was never special, but he filled the role well, and the imminent competition with Hayes should bring the best out of both players. The Bears also have a few young guys that are currently serving as "understudy."
Middle/Inside Linebacker: For a 4-3 scheme, see: George, Bill; Butkus, Dick; Singletary, Mike.
For a 3-4, see: Lewis, Ray; Willis, Patrick.
In all seriousness, though, the MLB in a 4-3 is usually an athletic, sideline-to-sideline defender, able to cover TE's and RB's and control the middle of the field against the run. The ILB for a 3-4 is similar, though the responsibility is split with the other, and one of the two will usually be better against the run, the other a pass defender.
Bears: I forgot about Urlacher up there, didn't I? Here's a guy who has defined the MLB position for the past decade. He may not have many years left in the tank, but he's still playing at an extremely high level.
Cornerback: A true shutdown corner can take away the other teams best receiver, severely limiting their options in the passing game. Corners in zone-based schemes, such as the Bears' (to an extent), must be sound tacklers, slightly more so than those in man-coverage schemes. Guys who can make plays on the ball can change games in a heartbeat, often flipping field position and contributing to more points on the scoreboard.
Bears: Peanut Tillman is a very good corner. Not elite, but very good. Especially at punching balls. Jennings is undersized, but is also a capable (and willing!) tackler, which is why he's our no. 2. D.J. Moore plays the "nickelback" position, which has been coined with the rise of the slot receiver. It's an able group, which would benefit greatly from added pressure by the D-line.
Safety: The two safety positions (free and strong, they are pretty much interchangeable) form the last line of defense. In the run game, safeties must be able to come up and make the tackle. In coverage, they usually defend against the deep ball, though may sometimes cover TE's and RB's. Guys like Ed Reed, who is a ballhawk, can affect a QB psychologically, while the big-hitters, such as Brian Dawkins, can do the same to receivers and RB's.
Bears: Not much production, a gold mine of potential. Chris Conte showed last year that he can get it done. Wright, when healthy, is a fairly good safety. Steltz is a solid back-up and a sound tackler. Hardin may be an X-factor against the bigger, athletic TE's, a craze that's sweeping the nation (minus Martz).
That's the defense. I guess the main thing here is that everyone feeds off the other 10 guys. If the line is getting pressure, but receivers are getting open, the defense fails. It's a team effort, but the presence of one or two real superstars can tie the whole group together.
I'll try to get the 3rd and final segment done before Friday.