Bears

Bears switch to 3-4 means changing faces, roles on DL

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Bears switch to 3-4 means changing faces, roles on DL

Last in a series

Who’s in: Ego Ferguson, Jarvis Jenkins, Ray McDonald, Jeremiah Ratliff

Where do they fit: Will Sutton

The Bears invested two of their top three 2014 draft choices in defensive linemen. One – Ego Ferguson, second round – already has been projected at nose tackle, rotating with veteran Jeremiah Ratliff, to the point where the Bears do not have that position as a major need.

The other – Will Sutton, third round – is less secure and will be squeezed in the new defense. He was drafted for his pass-rush ability, a gap-shooting tackle, and is not naturally a big, physical presence on the scale of the other linemen in the competition mix to be part of the “3” in 3-4. Head coach John Fox has noted that the current nature of the game dictates extensive use of nickel personnel, and Sutton’s niche may lie in a rush alternative to Jenkins and McDonald, who have not been sack threats.

[MORE BEARS: Bears inside linebacker jobs in short supply]

Sutton started five games as a rookie but failed to dominate. He is stretching to be 6-feet, Jenkins is 6-4 and McDonald 6-3, and GM Ryan Pace stressed “length” in his bill of particulars for front seven.

“One of the most important traits is length,” Pace said. “Pernell [McPhee] has got incredible length. A lot of these guys got length. That aids you in your pass rush, it aids you in shedding blocks and gaining separation, so that’s something with pass rushers, defensive linemen and also corners, length is something we really pay attention to.”

The Bears targeted Jenkins and McDonald to muscle up the outside areas of their 3-4, getting players possessed of the size and experience to operate in a two-gap system based heavily on linebacker movement. Sutton has played as big as 320 pounds in college but was ineffective.

And while the NFL may be a passing league, it really only becomes that against defenses who can stop the run, regardless of alignment.

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“A lot of times, you know, people you take that maybe aren’t the big splash when you take them become the big splash when you start playing,” Fox said.

“It’s hard [to project] because the Chicago Bears defense was a 4-3 defense a year ago. Watched these guys, every play they played on tape and now trying to project them into a 3-4 not having ever coached them on the field before…it’s really a lot of wait-and-see. There are guys we saw, they have strengths and weaknesses in our book but until you are in those meeting rooms with them eight hours a day and watching them perform either in the weight room or on the grass.

“I think the good news is sometimes when you come in new there is new light. So guys don’t have preconceived ideas on them. You start from scratch and that is the exciting thing about coming in new somewhere both as players and as coaches.”

The Way We Hear It: Khalil Mack will probably play after all

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USA Today

The Way We Hear It: Khalil Mack will probably play after all

The Bears are back in Chicago and Tom Brady and the Patriots are in town! With a week of practice wrapping up today, here's what's been happening in the lead up to Sunday's Bears-Pats matchup: 

Adam Schefter: Bears plan on Khalil Mack playing vs. Patriots

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USA TODAY

Adam Schefter: Bears plan on Khalil Mack playing vs. Patriots

Khalil Mack has yet to miss a game in his NFL career. He doesn’t plan on breaking that streak on Sunday.

ESPN insider Adam Schefter told the “Kirk and Callahan show” on WEEI in Boston that the Bears expect their star pass rusher to play this week against the New England Patriots.

Mack missed practice on Wednesday and Thursday with the ankle injury he suffered last week against the Miami Dolphins.

Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio indicated this week that the outside linebacker could potentially play even if he doesn’t practice due to the injury.

Assuming Mack does take the field on Sunday, he won’t be 100 percent, and it’s unclear how much of an impact he’ll be able to have.

Last week was his least productive game of the season, and he earned a career-low grade from Pro Football Focus, with two missed tackles and only one pressure generated on 33 pass-rushing snaps.

The Bears are going to need more from Mack to slow down Tom Brady and the Patriots offense that’s averaging nearly 40 points per game over the last three weeks.