Ten Questions Facing the Chicago Bears in 2015

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Oct 19, 2014; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Bears defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff (90) sacks Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill (17) during the first quarter at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Who will start on the defensive line?

Shifting to a 3-4 mandated that the Bears go on the hunt for new personnel to man the end and nose positions, and they did a sub-par job of doing that, leaving Vic Fangio in a difficult position as he tries to cobble together an even mediocre defense.

The team elected to shift Lamarr Houston to outside linebacker, eliminating one potential starter at 3-4 end. They signed Jarvis Jenkins, an average player who nevertheless has played 3-4 end before. They have an aging and injury-prone Jeremiah Ratliff, who could play nose tackle or end. And they have Ego Ferguson and Willie Sutton, two 4-3 defensive tackles.

Jan 1, 2015; Pasadena, CA, USA; Oregon Ducks running back Royce Freeman (21) makes a touchdown against Florida State Seminoles defensive tackle Eddie Goldman (90) in the 2015 Rose Bowl college football game at Rose Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Gary Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

To complement them, the team drafted 3-4 nose Eddie Goldman from Florida State, and he should get every opportunity to start this season. At 336 pounds, Goldman has the heft to play nose and should be stout against the run. If he can improve his pass rushing skills, Goldman should start at nose tackle.

If Goldman can prove himself, that would allow the Bears to kick the veteran Ratliff, their best defensive lineman last year along with Willie Young, outside to one end spot. Ratliff, who hasn’t played a full season since 2011, needs to be protected from overuse, but he’s a good pass rusher and should be solid against the run.

The third end spot is a crapshoot. Ferguson seems a popular pick, and the little-used Cornelius Washington is a dark horse candidate. Sutton seems to be destined to be a reserve 3-4 nose, leaving Jenkins as the only viable candidate.

Jenkins comes from the 3-4 used in Washington, and he’s likely to get the nod on opening day strictly from his familiarity with a 3-4 approach. He’s not an overly gifted pass rusher, though, notching only two sacks in three seasons, so look for him to come out in pass rushing situations.

The team will line up in a four-man front at times, at which point Jared Allen, Houston and Willie Young could move down from their new 3-4 perches to their more familiar defensive end positions.

With Ratliff, Goldman and Jenkins starting, the Bears would have a mediocre defensive line at best, but that’s the best combination of starters I can come up with. But with Ratliff likely to miss games, Goldman still learning at the NFL level and Jenkins being nothing special, I expect Ferguson and Washington to get their chances.

The depth, though, simply isn’t there for the Bears to have a quality 3-4 line. Look for them to search the 2016 draft for a starting defensive end or two as their overhaul of the defense will continue for a second season.

Next: Overhauling the Linebacker Corps