With head coach John Fox announcing that the Bears will transition to a 3-4 terminology in 2015, it drastically could alter what the Bears are looking for along their front 7. The holdover defensive tackles will probably have different responsibilities in 2015, so we'll take a look at the DTs from last year and discuss how they'll fit in Vic Fangio's 30 front base defense.
First things first, Fangio's D in San Francisco didn't feature three mammoth, space eating, 2 gap defensive linemen at the same time and I doubt his Chicago D will have three of them, either. He will utilize multiple fronts, with some of his linemen penetrating with a 1 gap assignment, while others are playing 2 gap. He'll probably want at least 1 big body up front to take on blocks, but don't assume his 3-4 will be like the old school 3-4's you've seen in the past.
One of the best breakdowns of a modern 3-4 front was done by Matt Bowen and you can check that out here.
Jeremiah Ratliff - signed through 2015 - Ratliff has already been mentioned by his new coach as a guy that can play in Chicago's new 3-4 defense. While in Dallas, Ratliff played the nose tackle in their one gap scheme and he has the experience and size to play anywhere along the line in Fangio's 3-4 in 2015. I can see the Bears using him at five technique defensive end on occasion because he has the size (6'4") to match up with offensive tackles.
Pro Football Focus had Ratliff as the highest graded Bear in 2014 at +20.5. Their entire weekly summary list for Ratliff didn't have a single red (negative) mark on it. He missed 5 games last year for the Bears, but he seemed to be over the lower body injuries that plagued him the last couple years in Dallas.
PFF had Ratliff down for 33 total pressures (sacks, QB hits, QB hurries) in 280 pass rush snaps, which placed him tied for 1st among DT/NTs in PFF's signature Pressure Percentage stat (9.5%).
Ratliff, who will be 34 this August, may not be in the long term plans for the Bears, but he's talented enough to help bridge the gap as they transition to a 3-4 defense.
Ego Ferguson - signed through 2017 - Ferguson played the nose for the Bears last year and I thought he held up well for a rookie. He played some defensive end at LSU, so I think he could play all along the d-line in Chicago's 3-4 D. He has good size -- the Bears list him at 6'2", 309, but at the combine he checked in an inch taller -- and an off season in an NFL strength program will do him wonders.
He played in all 16 games last year and PFF had him down for a -4.8 overall grade. PFF has a signature stat for a DT/NT's Run Stop Percentage and Ferguson was best on the Bears at 8.1%.
Brandon Dunn - signed through 2015 - Dunn was an undrafted free agent last year that started the season on the practice squad. He may not be an ideal fit for a 30 front unless he can prove an ability to move out to defensive end as well as playing the nose.
Stephen Paea - free agent - Paea was drafted to be an anchor tackle in a 4-3 defense, but he's shown enough quickness to play some three technique tackle in a four man front. If the Bears were sticking with a 4-3, I believe he'd be a priority free agent, but with the move to a 3-4, I don't see how Paea fits.
While Paea has the strength and quickness to play as a 5 technique defensive end in a 3-4, at just 6'1" I don't think he has the length. If Paea were under contract, I'm sure Fangio and Fox would figure out a way to utilize his talents, but as a free agent, this is the time to walk away.
PFF had Paea with the 3rd most total pressures among all interior defensive linemen with 47 and his +14.4 grade was the 2nd best on the Bears.
I think it's possible that the Bears look at Paea's strength and athleticism and make him an offer to return, I just think he'll get more on the open market in a scheme he fits best in.
Will Sutton - signed through 2017 - Sutton was drafted to specifically play the three technique defensive tackle position. He's a one gap interior player that lacks the type of size (6', 315) to play anywhere else.
If the new coaching regime determines Sutton isn't a fit for what they want to do in 2015, they may as well shop the former 3rd rounder to add another late round pick in 2015. In 15 games last year, Sutton had a -10.2 according to PFF.
2015 OUTLOOK - The Bears have been getting Washington nose tackle Danny Shelton (6'2", 339) mocked to them of late, and he would be an ideal selection at 7th overall. He would give the Bears a big bodied, 2 gap player to anchor their run defense. At Washington, Shelton played 922 snaps in 14 games, which was 2nd most among all DTs in college last year. For a little perspective, that number would have placed him 2nd in the NFL for the 2014 season behind Dontari Poe's 966. Poe played in all 16 games for the Chiefs last year.
If the Bears go edge rusher at 7, there are a couple other possible NT options for the Bears in the 2nd round. Oklahoma's Jordan Phillips (6'5", 329) and Florida State's Eddie Goldman (6'4", 336) both could be had when the Bears pick 39th overall.
If the Bears look to free agency to bolster their interior, Denver's Terrance Knighton may want to join his former head coach John Fox in Chicago, or perhaps join his former defensive coordinator, Jack Del Rio, who is now in Oakland.
Arizona's Dan Williams could be a 2 down run stuffer for the Bears at the nose and the Green Bay Packers have a couple of NTs coming out of contract in Letroy Guion and B.J. Raji.
What are your thoughts on the nose tackle position for the Bears in 2015?