Chicago Bears: Who is the 3rd Starting D-Linemen?

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /
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Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

GM Ryan Pace has made impressive strides in adding talent to the Bears roster this off-season but there are still plenty of questions marks on both sides of the ball for the Bears. I’ll be breaking down some of biggest remaining questions for the 2016 Chicago Bears.

1.) Who is the third starter on the defensive line?

Last year’s 2nd round pick Eddie Goldman established himself as a force at nose tackle against both the run (which was expected) and the pass (which wasn’t) with 4.5 sacks and consistent interior pressure. He looks like a long-term starter at the position and the Bears have promising 2nd-year NT Terry Williams (The Swamp Monster!) backing him up.

One of the Bears most important free agent acquisitions was 6’5, 324 pound Akiem Hicks as their primary 5-tech defensive end. They also re-signed journeyman DE Mitch Unrein to back up Hicks at the position. Unrein isn’t going to make many highlight reel plays, but is a solid run-stopper who understands his role and plays with a high motor.

That leaves the third DE position as a question mark for the Bears. In Fangio’s scheme the left defensive end usually plays as a 4-tech, lining up between the guard and tackle. It’s a position that is somewhat of a cross between the 5-tech, where players face consistent double teams, and the 3-tech which is a position expected to generate interior pressure.

With the 49ers, Bears DC Vic Fangio used Ray McDonald at the 4-tech position and he had the ideal skill set for the role. He could handle double teams when needed, but when lined up 1-1 could beat his man and get in the backfield against both the run and the pass.

The Bears brought in McDonald to play the position last year, but didn’t last long due to his legal issues. His replacement Jeremiah Ratliff played very well, but was released after a dangerously emotional outburst at Halas Hall.

So where does that leave the Bears at the position? Well they drafted an ideal 4-tech DE in Jonathan Bullard in the 3rd round, but it’s a lot to expect a rookie to step in and be productive right away. The Bears do have a player who has the necessary skill-set already on the roster in 2015 2nd round pick Ego Ferguson, but he is coming off a patellar tendon injury that ended his rookie season early.

Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports
Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports /

Ferguson isn’t mentioned much as a factor for the Bears this year, but there was a reason he was a second round pick in 2014. He has as much talent as any d-linemen on the team, but hasn’t had much of a chance to show it. Here is a scouting report on Ferguson before last season: Athletic, raw, developmental three-technique with clear upside, though he is inexperienced, aimless and unrefined at this stage of his development. Needs more glass in his diet and simply does not impact games the way he should. Is likely to test well and be drafted higher than his performance dictates in the hopes a defensive line coach can tap into his potential.

I think that scouting report accurately sums up what the Bears have in Ferguson; he clearly wasn’t ready for a starting job last season, but wasn’t expected to be. Who knows how far the injury set him back, but Ferguson has the talent to be a legitimate force on the defensive line and has had a full season with the Bears coaching staff to hone his talent.

Has Ferguson put the work in during the off-season? If he has and is healthy, Ferguson has the ability to control the interior line of scrimmage and collapse the pocket in the passing game, but if he hasn’t improved from what we saw last season than he may not make the roster. He’s a wild-card, but an extremely important one for the Bears in 2016.

Ideally Ferguson and Bullard are a productive duo at the other DE position, but if not… what other options do the Bears have?

Next: More Defensive End Options