Wednesday, April 27, 2011
Posted: 10:39 p.m.
By John Mullin
Fifth in a series
The Bears defensive line got two major talent infusions in 2010. One was the signing of Julius Peppers to the largest contract in franchise history. The second was the emergence of Israel Idonije, who was allowed to settle in at defensive end and produced eight sacks, matching his total for the first six years of his career.
But the pass rush was not at the level that coach Lovie Smith and coordinator Rod Marinelli wanted and something will be done. The question is whether or not the Bears can afford to wait for some form of free agency or do they need to address needs in the draft.
Peppers and Idonije have the edges secured and 2010 fourth-rounder Corey Wootton is first-alternate after a quiet rookie season. There is always room for another edge rusher, and Idonije and Peppers are both 30-plus, but the Bears can win with their current ends.
Tackle is another matter. Tommie Harris Chicago career effectively ended several years ago and ended officially this offseason with his release. Henry Melton was a bright light that came on throughout the year, he is now above 290 pounds, and coaches believe he can be Harris replacement at the three-technique.
Anthony Adams in an unrestricted free agent but expected back once a signing period opens, and 2008 third-rounder Marcus Harrison is getting a last chance inside. Matt Toeaina played well enough to take Harris job and receive a contract extension but not well enough to project as more than quality depth.
Need: Green Bays Cullen Jenkins is expected to be targeted when free agency opens and he would be another 30-something force at tackle. But defensive tackle could well be the Bears first choice in the draft as GM Jerry Angelo is adamant about keeping a strength strong.
The 2011 draft
The draft class is considered one of the best in recent memory on the defensive linemen, so the Bears will have options at No. 29 if they elect to address that side of the ball sooner rather than later.
The trouble for the Bears is that the defensive line depth is at end rather than tackle, and the number of potentially elite interior players is small. What that means is that if the Bears do not move on one of the top few, their chances of finding a true Tommie Harris-type diminish significantly. Temples Muhammed Wilkerson had 9.5 sacks last season and may be the type of player the Bears can find after the first round.
Ends and at least two tackles, probably three, will come off the board early and probably before the Bears are within reach.
The Best Bets:
(Because the Bears emphasis is on defensive tackles, ends are not included in this Neither are Marcell Dareus from Alabama, Nick Fairley from Auburn, considered virtual locks to go within the first 10-15 picks, well before the Bear select.)
1. Corey Liuget, Illinois The Bears would love the draft to fall such that this interior disruptor came within range for them. Its unlikely but Liuget projects as an immediate starter in the Tommie Harris mold.
2. Marvin Austin, North Carolina Austin has moved up on most draft boards as teams look past his 010 suspension for contact with an agent. He has first-round talent and is another fit at the three-technique if he decides to play every down.
3. Stephen Paea, Oregon State Among the strongest DL in this draft and a reasonably productive inside force (6 sacks, 10 TFL in 010).
John "Moon" Mullin is CSNChicago.com's Bears Insider, and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information.