By the last week of the 2015 season, the Bears were starting players on the defensive line that they had picked off the waiver wire throughout the season. Greg Scruggs, Mitch Unrein, and D’Anthony Smith were the three starting D-linemen for the Bears by the end of 2015. If you haven’t heard of them, don’t feel bad… most NFL fans haven’t either.
Unrein will be part of the 2016 Bears, but ideally not as a starter and hopefully the Bears will have more talent on the d-line by week one of this season. I’ve already covered one starter, NT Eddie Goldman, and will cover the options for the other two starting positions on the defensive line spots below.
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The Bears have added some defensive ends through free agency (Hicks, Adeyemi), the draft (Bullard, Robertson-Harris), and development (Browner, Ferguson, Sutton, Washington). It is a crowded depth chart to be sure and roster spots are limited. I’ll break down the favorites for starting jobs, position battles, and competitions for the final DE spots on the roster. I’ll also highlight my player to watch at the position and make my prediction for who I think the two starting defensive ends will be in 2016.
Depth Chart: Defensive End
Free agent Akiem Hicks has one starting defensive end position locked down. Hicks will be the Bears starting 5-tech in 2016. He’s not Justin Smith, but he has the size (6’5, 324) to anchor against double-teams while having enough power and quickness to overwhelm blockers when faced with just one o-linemen.
The other defensive end spot is a legitimate question mark. Coming into the 2015 season the Bears had Ray McDonald, who played the position under DC Vic Fangio in San Fran and Pro Bowl veteran Jeremiah Ratliff to handle the left DE position. Unfortunately both players had legal troubles and mental breakdowns and were released by the Bears by week eight.
The left DE position in Fangio’s scheme is sort of a cross between between the 3-tech DT utilized in a 4-3 and the 5-tech DE in a 3-4. The ideal player at the position has the power to handle double-teams when needed, but is also quick enough to beat 1-1 blocks and generate pressure on the QB.
With Mitch Unrein being the primary back-up behind 5-tech DE Akiem Hicks, that leaves a pretty deep, but untested group of players fighting for the 3rd and final starting DE job. I’ll break them down below:
Right DE (5-TECH): Akiem Hicks is the starter w/ Mitch Unrein as the primary back-up
Left DE (4-tech): Undecided. It’s Johnathan Bullard, Ego Ferguson, Will Sutton, or Cornelius Washington. Most likely it will be a rotation of a few of them depending on the situation, but I’ll break down the options to start below.
Next: Potential Starters at Defensive End