I know he isn’t a traditional fit in their new 4 man front, and I know he’s in a much better spot to chase a ring, but I was really hoping the Chicago Bears would have brought Akiem Hicks back. His presence in the middle of the defense would have allowed their other players to settle into their roles, and when healthy (I know that’s not a given), but when healthy few can push the middle of a pocket like Hicks can.
As it is the Bears return a few big bodies at defensive tackle, they made a couple free agent pickups, and they parted ways with former nose tackle Eddie Goldman, who has since retired. This group hasn’t been getting talked up enough considering all the unknowns surrounding it, and while it’s possible they’ll be fine, they are asking some guys to play in different roles.
We’ll need to see how they all come together the next month.
Chicago’s Plan A at three-technique defensive tackle failed his physical and has since signed with the Steelers, so anything the Bears get from Justin Jones during his Bears’ career will be compared to Larry Ogunjobi. The Bears quickly turned to Jones and signed him to a 2 year, $12 million contract, with a bit over $7 million guaranteed after deciding to pass on Ogunjobi. The one year deal that a now healthy Ogunjobi ended up inking with Pittsburgh could be worth up to $8 million.
The 25-year old Jones has 35 starts (in 51 games) during his 4 year career, and while he hasn't shown the same type of flash that Ogunjobi has, he has had a productive career. While Ogunjobi’s tape has a more boom or bust appeal from week to week, Jones’ has been more consistent. A move to the more penetrating, attack mode of a three-tech DT in the Bears scheme could be what he needs for his game to take a step.
Angelo Blackson was an underrated player for the Bears last year, and while he’s changing positions from five-technique defensive end in Chicago’s 3-4 to defensive tackle this year, I expect the 29-year old to be a steady rotational piece.
If Blackson doesn’t lock down the starting spot next to Jones, then it’ll be second year pro Khyiris Tonga. A year ago he played 15 games as a rookie on the nose, but this year he’ll be asked to play a different style in the 4-3. Stopping the run will still be his primary role, but maintaining gap integrity is critical as well.
Mario Edwards Jr. (6’3”, 277) has been able to get after the quarterback from the interior during his 7 year career, so a move to the three-tech is a good one for him.
A good bet to make it
Eight year pro Mike Pennel Jr. is on his second stint in Chicago, but he’s hoping this one works out better than the last time. In 2021 the Bears put him on injured reserve in the offseason then released him shortly thereafter. He recovered and caught on with the Falcons where he appeared in 10 games.
On the bubble
LaCale London, Auzoyah Alufohai, and UDFA Micah Dew-Treadway will all likely be battling for a spot on the practice squad. London has been a two year practice squad Bear, but he appeared in one game late last season, Alufohai had a couple practice squad stints with the Bears last year, sandwiched around a practice squad signing in Green Bay, but prior to that he appeared in three games with the Texans in 2020. And Dew-Treadway, who played his high school ball at Bolingbrook High School, has seven years of collegiate experience to pull from has he tries to make a name for himself.
How many defensive tackles do you think the Bears open the 2022 season with?