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.
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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.”