With the Chicago Bears going through a multitude of changes this year, there are many positions to look over. The defensive line has been one of the focal points of these changes. Especially after the departure of Israel Idonje within recent weeks.
After the Bears failed to reach an agreement on a new contract with Henry Melton, many are wondering how this could effect the rest of the defensive line. If Melton plays at the high level that he accustomed to playing at, it shouldn’t effect much.
Based on what I saw during the mini-camps and OTAs, it seems like the Bears starting D-Line is already set in stone. During those working the first team defensive line was as follows….
LE Julius Peppers
LT Henry Melton
RT Stephen Paea
RE Corey Wootton
This alignment should stay the same barring any unforeseen circumstances such as injury or someone losing their starting position. But so far this unit looks good on paper.
Peppers will be the leader of this unit once again. Even though he is in his mid-30’s, he is still capable of playing at a high level. I have very high hopes for Henry Melton, especially that he will now be playing for a brand new contract. Even though his primary position is on the interior, Melton in the past as lined up on the outside as well.
Being able to play multiple positions always increases your chances of making a roster. Stephen Paea trimmed down during the offseason to increase his speed. If he indeed is faster on the field, it would make him a bigger threat to opposing offenses than he already is.
Corey Wootton will be the sleeper out of this bunch this year. He also shed some pounds in the offseason to be faster off the edges. His 6-6 frame gives him the reach and wing span advantage to fight off blocks faster. If he can put the two attributes together, he can double his sack total from last season (7).
Behind the starters is a much more complicated situation. There are an additional 12 defensive lineman who are fighting for what will only be about four roster spots. Out of these 12 players, six of them are defensive ends. At the top of the list is second year player Shea McClellin.
Last year’s first round draft pick started strong but was ineffective towards the end of the season. He did have some minor injuries here and there, but there were very high expectations for the Boise State alum.
McClellin has put on some weight in order for him to get stronger and better compete with the bigger linemen that he will line up against. Not only does he need to get better at shedding blocks, he also needs to become the sack machine that got him drafted in the first place.
Another player that has a good shot to get in the rotation is rookie Cornelius Washington. He was mostly an outside linebacker in college but he did get plenty of reps at defensive end. While he is currently on the roster as an outside linebacker, the Bears are expected to give him looks as a pass rusher.
Washington has stated that his size and body type suit him better as a defensive end. He has solid speed off of the edge and can shed blocks as well. If he can show the same skills that he did in college, he could wind up in the rotation.
The rest of the players at this position all have an uphill battle ahead of them. Although Turk McBride is a veteran, he is also a journeyman who just hasn’t been able to stick with a team long enough to put up decent numbers. He only has 9 1/2 career sacks.
Kyle Moore has been in the league almost as long as McBride but has the same issues. His career total of three sacks puts him behind curve as well. The rest of the unit is rounded out by Aston Whiteside and Cheta Ozougwu who are young and inexperienced.
As for the defensive tackles behind Melton and Paea, they also have their work cut out for them. Nate Collins is in his second year with the team but he is not a lock to make the roster. He only has a 1/2 sack in his entire NFL career, it must be noted that he did line up with the second team defense during the offseason workouts.
This was largely attributed to his seniority with the team. He will still need to prove himself to Marc Trestman and his staff if he is to keep his roster spot. One player that is already a favorite to get in the rotation is Sedrick Ellis. He was signed during the OTA workouts to bring depth to the position after Israel Idonije signed with Detroit.
His experience in the league is why the Bears brought him into the fold. Although he did struggle at times in New Orleans, he is confident that the Bears defensive scheme will suit his abilities better. All eyes will be on Ellis throughout the rest of the summer.
Corvey Irvin has been around the NFL block but does not have the numbers to show for it. He will have to compete for a roster spot. The other interior linemen are rookies in Zach Minter, Brent Russell and Christian Tupou. Change is never easy but there is always the chance that the Bears organization could find a diamond in the rough among the lesser known players.
The NFL preseason always has a funny way of showcasing the talents of players who would otherwise be cut or end up on a practice squad. But rest assure that the 2013 addition of Bears training camp will be a grind from start to finish.
Follow me on Twitter @GabeSalgado82