The Oakland Raiders of Al Davis went into the 1967 draft looking for an offensive lineman with a specific task: give the Raiders an answer to Buck Buchanan and Ernie Ladd, the massive defensive tackles of the Kansas City Chiefs. The Raiders found Gene Upshaw, a Hall of Fame anchor at left guard to an offensive line on which Upshaw became the first player in NFL history to play in Super Bowls in three different decades.
When the Bears drafted Kyle Long, it wasn’t specifically to handle Ndamukong Suh, the Detroit Lions’ interior scourge of the NFC North. But Suh undeniably added a degree of urgency that resulted in the Bears drafting a guard at No. 20 of the first round. Among Bears offensive linemen, only tackle Chris Williams (No. 14, 2008) was selected higher in the 30 years since the Bears grabbed Jimbo Covert at No. 6 in 1983.
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But now Suh is a Miami Dolphin, and matchups do influence both drafts and position decisions. If Long is ticketed, as expected, for tackle after two Pro Bowl seasons at right guard – where he faced Suh twice a year – it won’t be because Suh isn’t on the schedule (other than the Aug. 13 first preseason game). But still.
In Suh’s place the Bears will see Haloti Ngata, an All-Pro run stopper acquired via trade from the Baltimore Ravens. But Suh has averaged 7.2 sacks per season; Ngata has never had more than 5.5 and the only time he hit that total was five years ago. Ngata, 31 this season, had two sacks last season, same as Bears rookie Ego Ferguson.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Ngata’s transition has not been entirely smooth, either to Detroit or to a scheme change. He has been a five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle but is also 31, meaning that Jared Allen is not the only 30-something Pro Bowl defensive lineman in the NFC North trying to start over in a new scheme, albeit in opposite directions.
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Allen has been a career 4-3 defensive end. Ngata spent most of his early career in a Baltimore Ravens’ 3-4 and now finds himself in a 4-3 with the Lions.