CSNChicago.com Bears Insider John "Moon" Mullin goes position-by-position as the Bears approach the 2015 NFL Draft, taking a look at what the Bears have, what they might need and what could be in store.
Bears pre-draft situation
After more than a decade of staffing the defensive line with players suited for a one-gap, up-the-field 4-3 defense, the Bears tasked new GM Ryan Pace with taking a completely different direction, into a 3-4. That involved a different type of defensive lineman, ones typically larger and suited for accounting for the gaps on either side of an offensive lineman (two-gap) rather than for attacking and disrupting through an assigned gap (one-gap).
Pace and the Bears made that an offseason prime directive, signing Jarvis Jenkins from the Washington Redskins and Ray McDonald from the San Francisco 49ers, where he played for new Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. Neither qualify as pass-rush threats, but both represent physical two-gap players responsible for keeping blockers off linebackers and handling the run.
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In what may be a fortuitous irony, the players that Phil Emery drafted to fit into that one-gap speed-based 4-3 scheme may emerge as better fits into an entirely different system under an entirely different coaching staff.
Ego Ferguson was selected in the second round of the 2014 NFL Draft as either the replacement or successor to Stephen Paea. Ferguson performed respectably in spots last season but did not play his way ahead of Paea, who will show up at Soldier Field Dec. 13 wearing a Redskins uniform.
But when Pace was asked about options at nose tackle in the developing 3-4 under Fangio and head coach John Fox, Pace said that he considered the roster to have two, meaning Ferguson and veteran Jeremiah Ratliff. And also meaning that Ferguson already had impressed the incoming staff to earn inclusion in Pace’s thinking, one of the few clear endorsements handed out by either Fox or Pace ahead of on-field minicamp time.
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Will Sutton was Emery’s third-round pick last year, had little impact in his rookie season, improving dramatically through training camp and the preseason but proving unable to overcome a size disadvantage with his speed and quickness. Sutton started five games – the ones that Ratliff had to miss for a concussion (three) and knee injury (two). Sutton had a solid game against the New York Jets, his first start, but despite playing the fifth-most snaps of any member of the front seven, had the second-lowest rating of any Bear defensive player, according to ProFootballFocus.com evaluations.
Sutton is in a competition for a roster spot behind Jenkins and McDonald as the five-techniques, a position that is effectively a blend of end and tackle. Sutton is listed as 6-feet but Pace and the Bears value length in the front seven, evidenced by the Jenkins (6-foot-4) and McDonald (6-foot-3) signings. Whether Sutton can work into the new scheme will play out over the next several months.
Bears draft priority: Low
Fox and Pace come from backgrounds that tilt heavily toward high draft picks on defense. And in spite of the offseason additions, the Bears will not pass up a value pick for the defensive line if one escapes selection on days one (round 1) and two (rounds 2-3).
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But the presumptive starters for the “3” of 3-4 are in place and greater needs exist elsewhere (receiver, rush-linebacker). The Bears will snag another lineman if a value pick falls to them but the front-three is less a need that a couple other areas.
Keep an eye on...
Arik Armstead, Oregon: Has size (6-foot-7) for a 3-4 defensive end.
Malcom Brown, Texas: Similar physically to Ferguson, may be more polished as a pass rusher for a big (319 pounds) man.
Danny Shelton, Washington: Projected at NT, may be too good to pass up if he slips down somehow, with nine sacks in 2014.