Chicago Bears All-Decade Team: 2000s
Alex Brown, RE
With the 104th pick overall pick in the fourth round of the 2002 NFL Draft, Alex Brown was selected by the Bears out of the University of Florida. He would go on to have an eight-year career in Chicago thru 2008 before being released and playing his final NFL season with the New Orleans Saints in 2009.
Brown’s versatility and exuberance — he would bust out the Florida-inspired Gator chomp after a big play — won me over early in his career and he was one of my favorite Bears of the decade. He was never a player that would put up big yearly sack totals, but in his prime he was as well-rounded of a defensive end as there was in the league and his statistics reflect that he did a bit of everything.
In 2006 Brown seemed to be all over the field, notching two INTs and four passes defended to go with seven sacks, three forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and 46 total tackles (40 solo). In team history Brown has the fourth-most sacks (43.5), the third-most forced fumbles (16) and second-most INTs for a defensive lineman (Brown has five, Richard Dent had eight).
Adewale Ogunleye, LE
In 2003 while in his fourth season with the Miami Dolphins, Adewale Ogunleye posted a conference-leading 15 sacks and was named a starter in the Pro Bowl. A contract dispute the following summer resulted in him being traded to the Bears in exchange for Marty Booker in 2004, and all of a sudden we Bears fans had to learn how to pronounce his name.
Booker had regressed a bit in 2003 for the Bears after two-straight 1,000+ yard seasons the previous two years, so seeing him traded away wasn’t all that concerning. I just didn’t know who Ogunleye was at that point. Learning he was a Pro Bowler and a sack artist assuaged any concern I had, however, because the Bears badly needed help rushing the passer after finishing dead last in the NFL with 18 sacks in 2003.
In 2005 Ogunleye became the first Bear since 1995 (Jim Flanigan) to record double-digit sacks, finishing the year with 10. Over the course of his six seasons with Chicago (2004-2009) Ogunleye never had less than five sacks in a year and finished with 42 for his career with the Bears. That total is good for sixth most in team history.
The Other Guys at DE….
B-Rob (Bryan Robinson) and Philly D (Phillip Daniels) pictured above, are the other two players who garnered some consideration here. From 2000 thru 2003 Daniels accounted for 23 sacks while Robinson, splitting time between LE and DT, produced only 11. Robinson and Daniels were key members of the 2001 defensive line that gave up the second-fewest rushing yards in the league en route to a 13-3 season.
Israel Idonije also deserves mention, but during the 2000s he spent more time on the interior of the defensive line. It wasn’t until the current decade that his sack numbers took a jump while playing LE.
Mark Anderson made a significant impact as a rookie in 2006 with 12.5 sacks, but the excitement over his potential waned as his sack total dropped to five in 2007 and one in 2008.
A case can easily be made that he benefited greatly from the championship-caliber defense around him, a theory perhaps proven in 2011 when he collected 10 sacks while with New England Patriots. The Pats went all the way to the Super Bowl that year, but much like Anderson’s first trip to the big game while with the Bears, he came away without a ring.
Tommie Harris, DT
Heading into the 2004 NFL Draft the expectation was that the Bears would be drafting a defensive lineman. New HC Lovie Smith was set to begin molding the team in his image and needed a disruptive force up front for his Tampa-2 defense. I actually wanted the Bears to take Vince Wilfork (21st pick, New England) who was pegged by many as the best DT in the draft, but instead Tommie Harris was chosen with the 14th overall pick due to his better fit in Lovie’s defense.
Lining up next to the likes of Ian Scott and Alfonso Boone on the d-line, Harris started all 16 games as a rookie and played well enough to garner consideration for defensive rookie of the year (won by Jonathan Vilma). Harris continued to emerge as a dominant player in 2005 and was regarded as one of the best, if not the best DT in football. Appearing in the Pro Bowl for the first time after the 2005 season, he would go back the following two years as well.
In 2006 the Bears were cooking with gas en route to the second Super Bowl appearance in team history when, in week 13 against the Vikings, Harris went down with what turned out to be a severe hamstring injury. Harris missed the remainder of the ’06 season and was never quite the same after, although he did record eight sacks in 2007 en route to his third-straight Pro Bowl appearance. Harris was with the Bears thru 2010 and played one more year in San Diego in 2011.
Keith Traylor, DT
Joining the Bears in 2001 in his tenth year in the NFL, Keith Traylor previously had stints with Denver (x2), Green Bay and Kansas City. Along the way he even sat out a season, not playing at all in 1994. In the two years prior to Traylor signing on with the Bears — the first two under HC Dick Jauron — the Bears had a combined record of 11-21 behind an underperforming defense with Mike Wells and an aging Jim Flanigan as the starting DTs.
Arriving in Chicago the same offseason as Traylor was fellow DT Ted Washington, and the two of them immediately established a formidable run-stuffing duo. In 2000, before the arrival of these twin towers, the Bears were 19th in the league in rushing yards allowed. In 2001 with Traylor and Washington clogging up the middle and the linebackers flowing freely behind them, the rushing yards allowed were reduced to 1,313 (2nd-best in the NFL) and the Bears gave up the fewest points of any team in the league.
Traylor’s signature moment with the Bears came in that 13-3 2001 season in their final regular season game against the Jacksonville Jaguars. With the Bears already leading 13-0 in what would turn out to be a blowout victory, the defense blew up a screen play and Jacksonville QB Mark Brunell’s pass attempt was snagged one-handed by the hulking DT. Traylor proceeded to rumble 67 yards to the delight of the home crowd before being dragged down at the 7-yard line.
The Other Guys at DT…
Already mentioned as one half of the early 2000s run-stuffing tandem, Ted Washington deserves a shout out. Washington had a very similar career trajectory to that of Traylor, joining the Bears in his 11th year in the NFL after stops at San Francisco, Denver and Buffalo. Interestingly enough, Washington’s one year spent in Denver was in 1994, the one Traylor sat out after being a Bronco from 1991-1992 and a Packer in 1993.
After two successful years next to Traylor in Chicago, Washington headed to New England in 2003 and then Oakland in 2004. In a fitting twist to their intertwined NFL careers, Traylor left Chicago in 2004 and went where? New England, of course. As fate would have it, only the Bears organization was able to bring these two behemoths together, and it was fun while it lasted.
Some other names worth mentioning in a long list of DTs that played for the Bears thru the 2000s include Tank Johnson, Alfonso Boone, Anthony Adams and Izzy Idonije. With Lovie Smith leading the team for the majority of the decade and employing a defensive line rotation, the Bears roster was always stocked with contributors, but really only Tommie Harris from that era made a huge impact.
Remember This Guy?
The Bears occasionally take a flyer on a veteran in the twilight of his career to see if there is anything left in his tank, and in 1999 they did just that with Clyde Simmons. Simmons joined the Bears after 13 years in the league with Philadelphia, Arizona, Jacksonville and Cincinnati. In ’99 he actually had seven sacks, seemingly justifying the signing, but for the purposes of this team we’re only considering his 2000 output. Simmons tossed in a half sack while playing DT for the Bears in ’00 and then called it a career, finishing with 121.5 sacks over 15 years.
Next: All-2000s Linebackers