The Bears need their defensive line to be a disruptive unit. In the one gap system the Bears employ there has to be penetration from the front four. After signing the ‘biggest free agent acquisition' of 2009 in D-Line coach Rod Marinelli, most Bears fans expected a drastic improvement. While the unit made strides, it was nowhere near what they were hoping for. With the Bears sure to remain in Lovie Smith's preferred Tampa 2 base defense, the D will only go as far as the line can take them.
They will count on improving from within, but is there enough talent on the roster to do so? Is there enough money allocated to the defensive side of the ball to make a big ticket signing?
DEFENSIVE LINE - Even though he didn't make an on field impact in 2009, Gaines Adams was a big part of the plan for 2010. Adams had some success in the Tampa 2 his first couple of years as a Buccaneer, and last year he just couldn't break into the rotation after coming over in the trade. The passing of Adams will have an impact on free agency and possibly the draft.
Chicago's top 2 sackers Adewale Ogunleye (4.5 sacks in the first 4 games) and Alex Brown (2.5 the first 4) both had strong starts to the season and looked to be on their way to career years. But neither could maintain their pace. They ended up with just 6.5 and 6 sacks respectively. Not good enough. There has to be changes on this unit.
Alex Brown - Signed through 2011 - I like Alex Brown. I think he gives his all on every play, he plays the run as good as any right defensive end in the league, he's rarely caught out of position, and he's been a very consistent player in his time in Chicago. The problem is his consistency hasn't been good enough. I want double digit sacks from my RDE. I want a RDE that will give offenses fits. I want a RDE that will require a double team from time to time. I've been saying for years that Brown would be a great compliment to a stud DE, maybe even better suited for the left side. Going into his ninth season as a Bear, I'd expect pretty much the same as we've seen so far. Solid but unspectacular play, with a big game or two sprinkled in during the season.
Adewale Ogunleye - Free Agent - I think the Bears would like to bring Ogunleye back, but only at a reduced rate. He'll test the free agent waters looking for one more fat contract, one which I doubt the soon to be 33 year old will receive. If he's willing to return on the cheap, and for possibly only a one or two (at the most) year deal, I could see the Bears making an offer. But if he receives an offer with some good up front money I think he takes it. If the call were mine to make I would thank him for his time and allow him to sign elsewhere.
Mark Anderson - Free Agent - If there is no Collective Bargaining Agreement agreed upon then Anderson is a lock to return, but if a deal is reached he'll be an unrestricted free agent and Chicago may let him walk. If the decision comes down to Ogunleye and Anderson I think they go with the younger player, but a lot will depend on the size of offers they are getting from other teams. I really can't see a team, in this day and age, throwing a ton of cash at the underachieving Anderson, but you never know. I'm guessing he'll be back and given the first opportunity to start at LDE.
Tommie Harris - Signed through 2012 - In June of this year Harris is due a $2.5 million roster bonus. That is some serious incentive for Harris to get into great shape this off season. He ended the season as healthy as he's been, but his nagging injuries have hampered him for a few years now. My guess is he'll be back at the 3 Technique DT again next year.
Anthony Adams - Signed through 2010 - Adams will once again be in the mix at NT for the Bears, he'll either be starting or get plenty of reps off the bench. He's relatively cheap considering how well he's played at only $900,000 for the final year of his deal. If Adams is again playing well during the season I could see the Bears approaching him about an extension.
Marcus Harrison - Signed through 2011 - He can play both DT spots for the Bears, which will solidify his roster spot in 2010. But he's more suited for the nose. Adams has been more productive the last couple years at NT, so Harrison will need a good start to camp if he's to win the starting NT job back. He'll have to report in great shape with a hunger to start. Ideally the Bears would like to start Harrison and bring Adams hustle and energy off the bench.
Israel Idonije - Signed through 2011 - His versatility got him his contract extension, and while he may not win a starting job, it's his versatility that will keep him in the D-Line rotation for years to come. His late season stint on the DL was no big deal, as his injured foot did not require surgery.
Jarron Gilbert - Signed through 2012 - With the failure of Dan Bauzin still fresh in our minds, Gilbert, last years top pick, has to get on the field and do something positive. There is no question about his size and athleticism, but will that translate to the football field? He is still listed as a DT, but he did see some action at DE. He'll need to tone up a bit this off season, and add some strength, but he'll definitely be around at least one more year. He better be cognizant of what happened to Bauzin and bust his butt getting ready for OTA's, that draft status stuff won't save him forever.
Matt Toeaina - Restricted Free Agent -Toeaina is a guy I can see leaving the Bears and having a solid career elsewhere. He plays just well enough to stick around, but his style isn't a great fit for what the Bears want from their DT's. I don't think he'll be around next season.
Henry Melton - Signed through 2012 - It seems every year the Bears draft a project type player and wait for him to suffer a preseason injury so they can stash him on IR. Melton had his red-shirt year and is someone the coaches are high on. There was talk of bulking him up to play inside, but he has the speed and athleticism the Bears covet for their DE's. He's raw technically, but hopefully he was a willing pupil for Marinelli.
2010 DL OUTLOOK - If there's one thing for certain in a Jerry Angelo draft, it's that he'll draft at least one defensive lineman. He's only had one draft where he didn't draft on the d-line and that was in 2005. And that was because he just spent his top two 2004 picks (and a fifth) on defensive lineman. Knowing JA like we all do, does anyone else think he'll trade down, pick up more picks, and snag a DE and a DT?
However, if he chooses to go the free agent route, there is one big and expensive impact player out there who already has stated he won't return to the Carolina Panthers. Julius Peppers could just be a dream for some Bears fans, but with a possible uncapped year, and with some money sure to be freed up anyway, is there anything stopping the Bears from signing him? My guess is Peppers and his agent will want him to become the highest paid defensive lineman in the league, and he'll probably get it. I don't think he'll deserve it, but that looks to be the price of doing business with him and his people. Should the Bears do what ever it takes to get a potential difference making player on their D-Line? I don't know... My fear is that he gets a giant pay day then fades away like so many other players.
Option #2 could be Aaron Kampman. Kampman didn't play as poorly as a 3-4 OLB as some would think, but he's definitely better suited as a 4-3 DE. He'll be cheaper than Peppers, and may want to stay in the NFC North, that is if the Packers don't want him back. My guess is the Bears don't make a big acquisition, and go with the veterans they have. But signing Peppers sure would be interesting...