BOURBONNAIS, Ill. — The intrigue playing out at linebacker in the Bears’ emerging 3-4 scheme — Jared Allen at linebacker? Shea McClellin? Christian Jones? — is being matched or exceeded by the position competitions going on in front of that group, the defensive line that is the starting point for a successful defense.
Linebacker, the question mark in the scheme appears to be considerably further toward resolution, however, than the defensive line.
Rookie nose tackle Eddie Goldman is getting more time with top units. Ego Ferguson has settled into the new scheme nicely, moving from a 4-3 nose tackle to a potential five-technique working farther from the ball.
But right now the positions and reps taken at those positions are only prelude to what happens once the preseason games begin. Because right now the Bears have exactly one defensive lineman they are sure of.
“Well, we need to find our D-line,” said defensive coordinator Vic Fangio on Friday, adding, “coaches don’t pick the team, the players do.
“Somebody’s got to step out and be an obvious pick as to who’s the starters, who makes the team. Right now we have one really good player in Jay Ratliff. The other guys are fighting for that second, third, fourth, fifth and potentially sixth spot. There’s a good fight going on right now.”
Not just the “who” is still in question. So also are the “how many” and the all-important “where” developments. No longer are the Bears breaking the defensive huddle and having the predictable front four putting hands on the ground.
Offensive lines are conventionally established based on “the five best guys will play.” The 4-3 lines similarly were “the four best guys will play,” with rotations as needed.
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The Bears need those positions after Ratliff to fill in because they are part of a “wave” philosophy.
The three best, “they'll start,” coach John Fox said. “If you look at most defenses in this league, the backup offensive linemen very rarely play unless it's an injury situation or an emergency. Not really the same case on the defensive line.
“Generally speaking. It's more of a ‘wave’ of D-linemen really on most defenses in the NFL now. There will be 5-6 guys that will be there. We'll refer to it as a wave. I think generally speaking, how it will develop with us yet I'm not sure until later, but that's something that Lord willing we get to.”