Bears DL Draft Preview: 3-4 means new 'types' up front


Bears DL Draft Preview: 3-4 means new 'types' up front 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.

[DRAFT PREVIEW: Offseason moves lower LB need level]

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.

[DRAFT PREVIEW: OL Rebound in 2015 a must but not via draft]

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 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).

[NBC SPORTS SHOP: Gear up, Bears fans]

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, OregonHas size (6-foot-7) for a 3-4 defensive end.

Malcom Brown, TexasSimilar physically to Ferguson, may be more polished as a pass rusher for a big (319 pounds) man.

Danny Shelton, WashingtonProjected at NT, may be too good to pass up if he slips down somehow, with nine sacks in 2014.

Roquan Smith helps shear a sheep at Bears community event

Roquan Smith helps shear a sheep at Bears community event

Roquan Smith has more sheared sheep than tackles on his stat sheet as a pro football player.

Smith and several other Bears rookies participated in a hands-on community event at Lambs Farm in Libertyville, Illinois on Monday where he assisted farm staff with the sheep's grooming. Smith said it was a first for him despite growing up around animals. 

"It's like on the norm for me though, playing linebacker you're in the trenches," Smith said of the experience.

"Shaving a sheep, I never really envisioned myself doing something like that," Smith said via "I was around animals [growing up], but it was more so cows and goats here and there and dogs and cats. I've petted a sheep before, but never actually flipped one and shaved one."

Bears rookies got up close and personal with more than just sheep.

Smith was selected with the eighth overall pick in April's draft and will assume a starting role opposite Danny Trevathan at inside linebacker this season. Here's to hoping he can wrangle opposing ball-carriers like a sheep waiting to be sheared.

The Bears' defense is ahead of its offense, but Matt Nagy doesn't see that as a problem

USA Today Sports Images

The Bears' defense is ahead of its offense, but Matt Nagy doesn't see that as a problem

Asking players about how the defense is “ahead” of the offense is a yearly right of passage during OTAs, sort of like how every baseball team has about half its players saying they’re in the best shape of their life during spring training. So that Vic Fangio’s defense is ahead of Matt Nagy’s offense right now isn’t surprising, and it's certainly not concerning. 

But Nagy is also working to install his offense right now during OTAs to build a foundation for training camp. So does the defense — the core of which is returning with plenty of experience in Fangio’s system — being ahead of the offense hurt those efforts?

“It’s actually good for us because we’re getting an experienced defense,” Nagy said. “My message to the team on the offensive side is just be patient and don’t get frustrated. They understand that they’re going to play a little bit faster than us right now. We’ll have some growing pains, but we’ll get back to square one in training camp.”

We’ll have a chance to hear from the Bears’ offensive players following Wednesday’s practice, but for now, the guys on Fangio’s defense have come away impressed with that Nagy’s offense can be. 

“The offense is a lot … just very tough,” cornerback Prince Amukamara said. “They’re moving well. They’re faster. They’re throwing a lot of different looks at us and that’s just Nagy’s offense. If I was a receiver I would love to play in this offense, just because you get to do so many different things and you get so many different plays. It just looks fun over there.”

“They’re moving together, and I like to see that,” linebacker Danny Trevathan said. “We’re not a bad defense. They’re practicing against us, so they’re getting better every day, and vice versa. It’s a daily grind. It’s going to be tough, but those guys, they got the right pieces. I like what I see out there. When somebody makes a play, they’re gone. Everybody can run over there. It’s the right fit for Mitch, it’s the right fit for the receivers, the running backs.”

Still, for all the praise above, the defense is “winning” more, at least as much as it can without the pads on. But the offense is still having some flashes, even as it collectively learns the terminology, concepts and formations used by Nagy. 

And that leads to a competitive atmosphere at Halas Hall, led by the Bears’ new head coach. 

“He’s an offensive coach and last year coach (John) Fox, I couldn’t really talk stuff to (him) because he’s a defensive coach and it’s like Nagy’s offense so if I get a pick or something, I mean, I like to talk stuff to him,” Amukamara said. “He’ll say something like ‘we’re coming at you 2-0.’ Stuff like that. That just brings out the competition and you always want that in your head coach.”