Current Bears personnel in a 3-4:
With only 4 of the Bears opening day defensive starters under contract right now, there are going to be some personnel changes next year but for the purposes of this article I am going to examine how Bears from the 2013 roster would fit into a 3-4 if the Bears decide to change schemes.
Jeremiah Ratliff (6-4, 303) is a little small for the NT position, but Ratliff made four Pro Bowls playing NT in the Cowboys 3-4 scheme so it’s clear he has the ability.
The rest of the Bears DTs are a bit small for the 3-technique. Stephen Paea (6’1, 300) is close but can’t seem to stay healthy anyway.
Landon Cohen was signed off the street this year and if he is back on the roster in 2014, then something went seriously wrong in the offseason.
Ratliff could be a solid anchor for the Bears 3-4, but they would need to either sign a veteran back-up or draft one. If they go the draft route, it would have to be a relatively high pick as there aren’t many good NT prospects and they traditionally are snatched up early.
The Bears current DEs weren’t good at rushing the passer in 2013 (17 total sacks) so in theory some of them should be a good fit in the 3-4. Unfortunately they were even worse at stopping the run last year.
Despite criticism for taking entire games off, Julius Peppers was clearly the Bears best DE last season. He has slowed down a bit since his double-digit sack days, but he might actually be a better fit for a 3-4 scheme in his old age. He has prototypical size for a 3-4 DE (6’7, 287) and can provide the ideal mix of pass rushing and rush defense that the position requires.
The best option on the roster for other DE spot is current DT Henry Melton (6’3, 295). An ex-RB in college, Melton has unusual speed for a DT and could provide a consistent pass rush as a 3-4 DE while still maintaining gap responsibilities. Unfortunately there are a lot of complications involved with bringing Melton back as a DE. Is Melton expecting to be paid as the Pro Bowl DT he was in 2012? Would the Bears pay that price for a 3-4 DE? Is Melton going to be close to the same player after his ACL injury?
A more realistic candidate for the other DE spot is Corey Wootton (6’6, 270). He is a little smaller than you would like for the position, but his ability to play well against the run while providing occasionally pressure is ideal. Of course the Bears will need to resign him first, but considering that he proved he can play DT adequately in a 4-3, the Bears should bring him back regardless of the defensive scheme.
The rest of the DEs on the roster are better suited for the OLB position which I’ll cover next. The Bears would definitely need some depth at the DE position even if they re-sign Wooten. Luckily, 3-4 DEs are much easier to find than 4-3 pass rushing ends.
Shea McClellin (6’3, 260) was a stud OLB at Boise St in their 3-4 defense, so he has experience in that scheme. McClellin is a classic tweener. He’s not strong enough to play the run as a 4-3 DE and he isn’t quick enough in coverage to be a 4-3 linebacker. The switch to a 3-4 scheme might benefit McClellin more than any other Bear currently on the roster. For all his faults, he is a pretty good pass rusher and being able to come off the edge without having to fight off a tackle’s blocks could make a huge difference in McClellin’s future production.
Lance Briggs in his prime could have played inside or out in a 3-4, but depending on his health (& weight) next year he might be better suited to an ILB role in a 3-4. He’s never been a great blitzer and looked like he lost a step or two late in 2013. If Briggs shows up at training camp in shape, then he can be a good weak side OLB.
Free agent OLB James Anderson is a better fit in a 4-3 scheme and most likely wouldn’t be brought back if the Bears switch schemes.
Khaseem Greene played in a 3-4 alignment at Rutgers so should be able to adapt quickly to the change in scheme and provide some quality depth at OLB. Greene had 9.5 sacks in two years at Rutgers as a 3-4 OLB.
The Bears have a few other undersized DEs who could be better as rush only OLBs if McClellin doens’t pan out. David Bass (6’4, 256) showed some flashes in his rookie year as a pass rusher, but he was out-muscled in the run game. He could have an impact as a pass rushing LB. Rookie 5th round pick Cornelious Washington (6’4, 265) was inactive most of the year, but has the ideal size / speed ratio for a 3-4 OLB.
Jon Bostic struggled all year to shed blocks which rules out the one of the ILB positons (TED). His best bet in a 3-4 would be as the Mike linebacker who is normally the most athletic linebacker. Bostic would be more protected by the NT and TED ILB picking up the blocks from the interior OL allowing him to use his athleticism to make plays all over the field.
DJ Williams is a free agent but has expressed his desire to return to the Bears. I hope the Bears bring him back because he is a good fit as either the MLB in a 4-3 or as an ILB (TED) in a 3-4.
The Bears don’t have any real depth on the roster currently at MLB so that is a position they would need to target in free agency or the draft.
¹ On the defensive line, the two most common schemes are the “2” and “1” gap. In the “2” gap, the defensive lineman are responsible for the gap to either side of where they line up. In the “1” gap, the defensive lineman are only responsible for 1 gap with the ILBs picking up the remaining gaps.
Defensive Coordinator (1/6)
Defensive scheme: 3-4 (1/7)
Current Bear Free Agents: (1/8)
NFL Free Agents: (1/9)
Possible Defensive Draft Picks: (1/10)