1. Julius Peppers: As I mentioned before, Julius Peppers is extremely versatile. From a pure height/weight/speed perspective, he could fit into any number of positions in any number of
schemes. A few short years ago, I might even have said he could play 3-4 outside linebacker, but that time has passed. At 6’7″ and 287 lbs. with extremely long arms, Peppers has more than enough size to stack and shed an offensive tackle as 3-4 defensive ends are regularly asked to do. The move may also be the best option for the Bears as Peppers’ athleticism declines in the twilight of his career. I remember when the San Francisco 49ers signed Justin Smith, who was a 4-3 defensive end with the Cincinnati Bengals, he said that he had always felt a step slow in the 4-3, but in the 3-4 he felt a step fast. While Peppers has clearly lost a step, I think he would be one of the most athletic 3-4 defensive ends in the league. NFL Comparison: Calais Campbell, Arizona Cardinals. Standing 6’8″ tall and weighing 300 lbs., Campbell is one of the most dominant 3-4 defensive ends in the game today. In college he weighed in at around 280, played in the 4-3 and drew comparisons to Julius Peppers.
2. Corey Wootton: I’ll be the first to admit this does not seem like an ideal fit at first glance. Weighing in at 270 lbs., Wootton would be the lightest 5 technique playing the game today. His play this season on the interior of the Bears’ defensive line, however, has really opened my eyes. He has been remarkably stout at the point of attack and in a non-traditional, penetrating 3-4 (the type of defense I would expect the Bears to run, were they to start running the 3-4), I think he could succeed. I also think he has the frame (6’6″) to add 10-15 more pounds and not lose his quickness. NFL Comparison: Cameron Jordan, New Orleans Saints. Not a perfect comparison, but the best I could find. Jordan, like Wootton, was drafted originally to play in the 4-3 and has added weight to fit into his new role. Jordan is also exceptionally athletic for the 5 technique and uses that athleticism to great advantage, as I expect Corey Wootton would.
Stephen Paea: I know you all think I’m crazy right now, but hear me out. I know that 6’1″ 300 lbs. seems too small for a 3-4 nose tackle, but comparisons for this one abound. The Houston Texans have two nose tackles listed on their roster: one is Earl Mitchell at 6’3″ 300 lbs. and the other is Terrell McClain at 6’2″ 293. The San Francisco 49ers staring nose tackle is currently Glenn Dorsey listed at 6’1″ 297, and I think their defense is alright. Once again, not every 3-4 scheme is requires a 350 pound monster in the middle to eat up space and blockers. With a quick, undersized nose tackle you just have him shoot a gap instead of taking up space, and the results can be tremendous because he starts out so close to the ball that disruption of the play is all but assured. NFL Comparison: Jay Ratliff, formerly of the Dallas Cowboys. At 6’4″ 303 lbs., Ratliff not only played nose tackle in the Cowboys’ 3-4, but made 4 Pro Bowls doing it. His play from 2008-2011 is a perfect blueprint for how the Bears should use Paea in this scenario.
1. Shea McClellin: This is the obvious one. Shea isn’t working out as an every down defensive end, and the best plays I’ve seen from him this year are when he starts from a two-point stance. The Bears have to find a way for him to be more productive and I think his unique athleticism and instincts would lend themselves well to the 3-4. NFL Comparison: Connor Barwin, Philadelphia Eagles. Part of me wanted to go for Clay Matthews here, but I don’t think I want to draw that comparison before I’ve seen more out of McClellin. Barwin is similar in size to Shea and is a solid starter for the Eagles who had one awesome year
with the Houston Texans. At this point, I think I would be happy with that result from Shea McClellin.
2. David Bass/Cornelius Washington: This is the position I am most unsure about. David Bass looks the part, but looking the part and fitting the part are two very different things (see: Vernon Gholston). Washington, on the other hand, played in the 3-4 in college. He wasn’t a good fit and his lack of production led to his dropping to the 6th round despite being a physical freak, but maybe with NFL level coaching he could figure it out and be productive. Neither of these rookies inspire a wealth of confidence in me and if the Bears were to make a complete system change I think this position would be high on the list of offseason priorities, but for the handful of snaps a game that I am talking about, I think they’d be alright. NFL Comparison: Elvis Dumervil, Baltimore Ravens. This comparison is more about size and a similar position change than actual ability. I haven’t seen enough from either of these rookies yet to make a truly accurate comparison.
Any of the linebackers on the Bears’ roster: More is made of this position change than should be. Will all of the linebackers on the Bears’ roster work in the 3-4? Probably not. Will at least two of them work? Probably. 4-3 linebackers make the switch to inside linebacker in the 3-4 all the time and vice versa. Remember a few years back when the 49ers got in trouble for tampering with Lance Briggs while he was still under contract with the Bears? Their interest in Briggs was to have him play inside linebacker for them. Dannell Ellerbe played inside linebacker for the Ravens last year and now plays in the dolphins 3-4. D.J. Williams even briefly played in the 3-4 for the Broncos a few years back.