Last year the Bears did something they rarely do, they traded up to snag a prospect they wanted in the draft. He was a player that wowed at the NFL Combine and his Pro Day with his strength and athleticism, and some scouts even had him with a 1st round grade in a very deep defensive tackle draft. The Bears were able to get Oregon State DT Stephen Paea in the 2nd round, but in typical Bears fashion, they brought him along slowly during the season. But in his first action during week six he flashed the potential that caused the Bears to aggressively move up ten spots to acquire him. His improved play will offset the loss of Amobi Okoye, and don't be surprised to see him better Okoye's numbers in 2012.
Paea looks smaller than other DTs in the league, but at 6'1" 300, he carries his weight well. His thick fireplug type body and freakish strength allows him to play the nose tackle in the Bears scheme, but his quick burst off the snap allows him to play the 3 technique as well. The Bears don't ask their NT to be a mammoth space eater like some other teams, so his size is adequate. Their NT is still a one gap player that has to get off the ball and control his assigned gap.
Paea's best football is in front of him. In his youth he was a top rugby player that had aspirations to play professionally, but once his family moved to the United Stated when he was 16 he found a new sport to play. He played only his senior year in high school (as a 240 pound DT), before going to junior college. He redshirted in 2006 then in '07 helped Utah's Snow College to an undefeated season before transferring to Oregon State for a highly decorated three years before being drafted by the Bears 53rd overall.
I just don't see DT as drastic need for the Bears like some others do. They'll need to locate a bottom of the depth chart guy and they could easily find him in the draft or through free agency. If a highly touted guy slips in the draft I'd expect them to take a hard look at him, but targeting a DT early is more of a luxury than an actual need in my opinion.
Paea will move up the depth chart and be the 3rd DT in rotation behind starting NT Matt Toeaina and starting 3-Tech Henry Melton. Toeaina is a capable starter for the Bears and Melton could be sniffing a Pro Bowl after his breakout 2011 season. I would have loved to see the Bears keep Okoye or the popular Anthony Adams, but with a 2nd year 2nd round draft choice on the roster they have to give him opportunity to shine. Most pro personnel scouts say a players biggest leap in play comes in his second season, and the Bears have to see if that will be the case with Paea. Last year he played only 313 defensive snaps in 11 games, this year look for him to be a key cog in the middle of the Bears defense.