Teams – Bears included – fall upon hard times competitively, financially and just about every other area when they miss on high draft choices. Two seeming misses in last year’s draft, however, may have unexpected futures in a system dramatically different from the one for which they were drafted.
In the 2014 NFL Draft, the Bears invested second- and third-round draft choices in defensive linemen expressly intended to stock the pipeline with youth in a critical foundation part of the roster. Both Ego Ferguson (No. 2) and Will Sutton (No. 3) were ticketed, respectively, for nose tackle and three-technique in a one-gap 4-3 scheme.
Going into training camp 2015, the scheme has changed completely. But in a potentially intriguing twist, Ferguson and Sutton may not only NOT be draft misses, but also may each be in line to play the position the other was supposed to be playing.
Ferguson, once a 315-pounder, has dropped weight and been played at the defensive end slots in the new 3-4 system of coordinator Vic Fangio.
“I’m doing a little bit of everything,” Ferguson said. “They’ve got me playing all over the place so I’m just trying to learn. But I’m getting used to it.”
Bears coaches told Ferguson before he was drafted last year that the plan was to use him in part as a two-technique, playing head-up on a guard instead of shaded to a gap. Playing on the nose of the center (zero technique) seemed a natural transition.
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But the new coaching staff had broader options in mind, beginning with a smaller Ferguson.
“I lost about 15 pounds, to 298-298, just trying to get a little more pass rushing and being able to run around a little more,” Ferguson said. “I think 295-300 will be about right.
“They want you to be strong and explosive, not just big.”
Where there’s a Will… .
Sutton, whose college play at Arizona State declined sharply when he went up from 290 to 320 pounds, is still “undersized” by conventional NFL wisdom. But Sutton found himself at the nose-tackle spot during Bears offseason practices.
“Being at nose is a little different,” Sutton said, laughing, “but it’s something to learn and add to what I know. I’ve played nose here and there, but not in something like this.”
Although Sutton was drafted to be a speed-based three-technique, he had played in a two-gap 4-3 at Arizona State. Meaning: While he doesn’t bring classic mass at nose tackle, he is not unfamiliar with the blocker-control elements of the Bears’ new system.
“I’m not trying to get super-heavy, so I’m around that 290 now and feeling good,” Sutton said. “We’ve just got to get in the weight room and keep our strength up as we’re learning on the techniques.”