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Chicago Bears Defensive Line Preview: Versatility will be a key to the line's development

Today we're looking at the defensive line in our eleven part series looking at all the position battles taking place for the Chicago Bears during training camp. With a brand new coaching staff and a scheme change, there are plenty of jobs to be won.

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Since the Chicago Bears are running a 3-4 defense for the first time, we'll take a peek at how many defensive linemen the San Francisco 49ers kept around under defensive coordinator Vic Fangio the last four years. Fangio was the D.C. in San Francisco from 2011-2014, and part of what makes him such a good coach is his versatility. That versatility is evident by the varying number of players on his front seven that he had to work with.

We'll focus on the linebacker breakdown tomorrow, but for today, here's how many defensive linemen the Niners broke camp with at each position.

2014 2 6
2013 3 3
2012 3 4
2011 2 5

With the 49ers, Fangio was blessed with d-linemen that could play up and down his front, and on paper at least, he has a few versatile players in Chicago as well.

He's also had versatility at the linebacker position in years past, and again, he has some of that in 2015 with the Bears also.

Injuries also might affect the numbers on Chicago's front 7 this year, as a couple key members of the team making the DE to OLB switch are still rehabbing.

Roster locks

So far the starting three on the line looks to be, Jeremiah Ratliff at the nose, with 2nd year pro Ego Ferguson at one defensive end spot and free agent signee Jarvis Jenkins at the other. Ratliff went to 4 Pro Bowls playing NT for the Cowboys from 2008-2011, but he's skilled enough to play anywhere from the nose to defensive end, and I would expect him to move around. Ferguson played some DE at LSU, he was drafted to play DT for the Bears, but he's another guy that could probably play anywhere on their 30 front. Jenkins is a guy with 33 starts in his 4 year career at DE and at the very least, provides some 3-4 experience.

Rookie 2nd rounder Eddie Goldman has the size and strength to man the nose, but the length and athleticism to kick out to defensive end. Goldman's development could be a real key to this groups overall effectiveness. If he can make an impact early, Fangio will have some real options up front.

Judging by Fangio's past defenses, it's tough to pinpoint what the Bears will keep at DL, but the versatility of Ratliff, Ferguson and Goldman could cause them go less than the eight the 49ers kept last year.

A good bet to make it

Will Sutton may not look like a 3-4 defensive lineman, but I think he's too talented to not make the final 53 man roster. Fangio will find a place for Sutton to play if he makes the team. Keep in mind that the new D isn't always going to be played 2 gap up front. Fangio will want some 1 gap disrupters, and that's exactly what Sutton is.

On the bubble

Cornelius Washington is currently listed at defensive end by the Bears, but he has the athleticism to make the switch to outside linebacker if need be. I really liked his upside when the Bears drafted him, because I thought his growth was stunted by numerous position switches in college. I think Washington's best position is as a 4-3 DE, but with Fangio known for getting the most from his players, maybe he taps into something and turns Corn Wash into a baller.

Undrafted free agent Brandon Dunn (6'2", 300) saw action in a few games last year at defensive tackle, but will probably need to prove he can play nose in a 3-4. His biggest competition will probably come from undrafted rookie Terry Williams (6'1", 322)). Of the two players, I think Williams has more upside because he was a true 2 gap nose tackle in college last year at East Carolina.

Newly signed David Carter will provide some veteran competition for the young defensive linemen in camp, and after being out of football all of last year, Carter will be hungry to make an impression. While with the Cardinals, Carter played both the nose and defensive end.

Olsen Pierre failed to make an impact last year at the University of Miami, so he's a long shot to stick with the Bears.

How many defensive linemen do you think the Bears keep and who make the cut?