BOURBONNAIS, Ill. The first significant movement on Bears depth charts appeared Tuesday with Stephen Paea playing his way into a substantial amount of playing time at a No. 1 spot at defensive tackle.
Paea, projected to be the prototype attacking nose tackle sought in the defensive scheme of Lovie Smith and Rod Marinelli, spent much of Tuesdays practice with the No. 1 unit in place of two-year starter Matt Toeaina.
A player earns opportunities with the first unit by his performance and weve been pleased with what weve seen from Stephen, Smith said.
While the spotlight has been on the competition at left tackle between JMarcus Webb and Chris Williams, the situation at defensive tackle has quietly been more of a concern for Bears coaches and staff.
The organization felt secure enough not to use a 2012 draft choice or major free-agency move along the offensive line. But since the end of last season, the Bears have added Nate Collins, John McCargo, DeMario Pressley and most recently Brian Price all with NFL game experience to their mix at defensive tackle.
Paea, however, has been viewed as a key to the future ever since the Bears traded up in the second round of last years draft to select him. And the Bears with the SmithMarinelli defensive scheme do not trade up to draft nose tackles.
They dont believe in big guys taking gaps; its more playmakers putting your hand down, Paea said. His playing weight at Oregon State was 300-305 but coaches want him at 292 and he is now around 290 the weight at which Tommie Harris was at his best.
I can hold my ground and at the same time, they want me to be fast to the ball, Paea said.
Paea started slow last year with injury setbacks in training camp. He did not dress on game day until week six when he celebrated his NFL debut with a safety on a sack of Donovan McNabb.
He never moved into the starting lineup until Tuesday.
Marinellis template for a defensive-tackle tandem was his pairing at Tampa Bay of Warren Sapp at three-technique and Booger McFarland at nose with the ability to create disruption of his own inside.
With the Bears in full pads Saturday and Sunday, Paea did just that, earning a meaningful share of work at the spot where Toeaina has started 22 games over the past two seasons.
I really believe in him right now, Marinelli said. He's really got really good quickness, he's healthy, he's really healthy right now, and he looks extremely fast.