The Chicago Bears weren’t able to land a “proven” three-technique defensive tackle in free agency, but they addressed their interior with four new players; three were drafted, and one signed in free agency. The lone returning defensive tackle did flash some skills a season ago, and he may still be ascending. Chicago’s collective front four was so bad in 2022 that even a slight improvement will feel massive, but there should be a nice push coming from the revamped interior in 2023.
Justin Jones, who is still a month shy of his 27th birthday, is the lone holdover, and he is the likely starter at the all-important three-tech position. He had a career 2022 with 52 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, three sacks, 7 QB hits, and four passes defended while starting all 17 games. With more talent along the d-line, he may have a more impactful season if he’s not playing 68% of the snaps.
The starting nose tackle should be free agent Andrew Billings, who has played in 67 games (51 starts) in his six-year career and may be one of the strongest players in the league.
The Bears are counting on rookies Gervon Dexter Sr. (second round) and Zacch Pickens (third round) to be a part of the d-line rotation immediately.
“The things I do like are, first of all, they’re big. Second of all, they’re fast,” defensive coordinator Alan Williams said via The Athletic. “I’ve been in the room with them for two meetings, and they are super intelligent and attentive. If you look at if someone cares about something, you can tell by the attentiveness in the room. So boy, they came in Day 1. They had their iPads. They had their pencil. They had their notebook. And they were taking — I learned a new word yesterday — copious notes. They were taking great notes. And they’re quick twitch. So there are a lot of really good things to like about both guys.”
A good bet to make it
The Bears opened up with eight on the defensive line last year, so if they go four each on the interior and off the edge, then the other d-tackles will be fighting for a practice squad spot.
On the bubble
Then again, they ended the season with nine d-linemen on the 53-man roster, so if one of these guys flash, they could force the Bears’ hand.
Seventh-round rookie Travis Bell might need a year to hone his technique after playing at tiny Kennesaw State.
Andrew Brown played in five games for the Bears last year, but he’s been bouncing around the NFL (seven teams) since 2018, so he’s probably maxed out his potential.
At 325 pounds, Donovan Jeter is Chicago’s heaviest defensive tackle, but he seems destined for the practice squad as a fourth nose tackle.
Undrafted free agent D’Anthony Jones played off the edge at Houston, but at 6’0”, 276 pounds, he may not have the length to play defensive end. We’ll find out where he lines up when camp opens.
How many defensive tackles do you think the Bears open the season with?