The offseason picture is coming into focus for the Chicago Bears as the draft approaches. A couple of weeks ago, we projected the offensive starters. While Phil Emery went shopping for some big ticket items for the offense, the defense appears to be getting the leftovers.
Now, let’s look at how Phil Emery has set the Mel Tucker’s defensive unit, which keeps a lot of key holdovers from the old era, but definitely takes on new look.
Defensive End – Julius Peppers
There have been a lot of fans calling for the Bears to trade their highest paid player or restructure his monster deal. Trading is not an option and cutting him (which is insane in and of itself), would only put a ton of dead money against the 2013 cap. It’s just foolish. Restructuring his deal is just kicking the can down the road and will only put off the inevitable cap hit. Pep has not had the eye-popping sack stats that fans were expecting, but if you watch him, he’s getting double teamed and held every play. His presence creates opportunities for his teammates. He played 2012 on one foot; expect a bounceback in 2013.
Defensive Tackle – Henry Melton
The Bears’ Franchise player could still get that contract extension he seeks just like Matt Forte did last offseason. I suspect it could be that the Bears are giving him and the Cover-2 defense an audition. If he’s not playing the disruptive 3-technique, his value diminishes. He’s one of the young pieces that the new defense could build around, so let’s hope he proves worthy and sticks around. He needs to be more consistent week to week, game to game and play to play. If he can do that, there’s no telling how many Pro Bowls he could attend.
Defensive Tackle – Stephen Paea
He’s come on and proved worthy of the second round pick the Bears made a couple of years ago. We all knew that Paea had tremendous strength after his feats of strength at the Combine a couple of years ago. Last season, he finally broke through and surpassed Matt Toeaina as the nose tackle. Nate Collins will be in the rotation, but don’t be surprised if the Bears draft someone to add some more depth to the defensive tackle position. Paea needs to be more consistent and stay healthy for continued success.
Defensive End – Corey Wooton
Izzy Idonije could be back, but after finally putting the pieces together Wooton earns the nod as a starting defensive end. I think he and Shea McClellin will have a good battle in training camp, but ultimately Wooton proves to be a more consistent option. McClellin should get reps on passing downs.
Weak Side Linebacker – Lance Briggs
Seeing Briggs out there without Urlacher will be like seeing Robin without Batman. Briggs has been the Bears best linebacker for years, now it’s time to prove it. Briggs, along with Tillman, are the most tenured defenders for the Beloved. Besides picking up some of the slack on the field, he’ll need to step up his leadership in the locker room as Mel Tucker transitions from Lovie Smith’s defense to his own.
Middle Linebacker – DJ Williams
I think the Bears will draft a middle linebacker and hoping that it’s Alec Ogletree and not Manti Te’o. Regardless of who they draft, I expect the veteran Williams to get the Week 1 start. Whether or not he’ll be the Week 17 starter remains to be seen. Williams comes in as a bargain for the Bears and has gigantic shoes to fill. He can’t focus on being the next Brian Urlacher, he can only be DJ Williams.
Strong Side Linebacker – James Anderson
My biggest question about Anderson is whether the former Carolina Panthers #50 will wear the same number, Mike Singletary’s, for the Bears. Anderson will step in for Nick Roach and I expect him to be a solid if not flashy replacement. He’s older and is another Bears defender on a one-year deal, so he has a lot to prove.
Strong Safety – Major Wright
It’s not a stretch to say that Wright had his best season as a Bear in 2012. Look for local favorite Tommy Zbikowski to challenge for playing time, especially if Wright keeps taking bad angles in run support.
Free Safety – Chris Conte
Conte picked up right where he left off in his rookie season, with a solid performance. The key for him will be to stay healthy. Redshirt freshman Brandon Hardin could seek some time and compete with Conte, but he’ll have a tough road to get ahead Conte on the depth chart.
Cornerback – Peanut Tillman
Tillman enjoyed his second straight Pro Bowl season in 2012. He seems to be getting better with age. I expect the Bears to extend his contract and keep him around a few more years.
Cornerback – Tim Jennings
After spending the offseason in front of a JUGS machine learning how to catch, Jennings had a monster 2012, leading the NFL with 9 interceptions. He and Tillman started the Pro Bowl together, so I expect him to keep his spot starting opposite Tillman. I also wouldn’t be surprised if the Bears drafted a cornerback. Jennings has some mileage on him and is in the last year of his deal.
What do you think Bears fans? Do you think the defense will look different? Does Shea McClellin get the nod over Corey Wooton? Does a rookie crack this starting lineup or do they stick with veterans? Let’s see your comments.