Turning to the defensive side of the ball in our roster projection series, we start with the defensive tackle position and see where they will project on the depth chart opening week.
Active DTs on the roster:
- Ronnie Cameron – Rookie
- Nate Collins – Third-year player
- John McCargo – Seven-year veteran
- Henry Melton – Four-year veteran
- Jordan Miller – Second-year player
- Stephen Paea – Second-year player
- DeMario Pressley – Four-year veteran
- Brian Price – Third-year player
- Matt Toeaina – Five-year veteran
Projected 3-technique starter: Henry Melton
Last season was a breakout season for Melton, who tallied seven sacks and ranked in the top-10 of Pro Football Focus’s most efficient pass rushers at the DT position. This year, it’s time for Melton to take that next step and become a more complete player.
There’s no doubt Melton is one of the better pass rushers on the team, but his run defense leaves a lot to be desired. If he can improve that part of his game and be a little more consistent in all the areas the position demands, Melton could be looking at a Pro Bowl nod and earning a big pay day after this season.
Rotational 3-technique: Brian Price
Before training camp started, I wrote that DT depth was a concern for the Bears heading into camp; Emery looked to address that concern the opening day of camp, acquiring former second-round DT Brian Price from the Bucs.
Looking at past highlights of him (both college and pro), the 6-1, 303-pound DT demonstrates good quickness and burst off the snap, and has active hands that don’t allow opposing OL to get to his body.
If Price stays healthy and returns to a good state of mind, the Bears might have a talented under-tackle rotation.
Projected nose tackle starter: Stephen Paea
For what I thought would be a throw away year for last year second-round Draft pick Stephen Paea, after coming into a compressed camp with a knee injury, he made his way into the DT rotation mid-way through the season and showed flashes despite not being 100 percent.
This year Paea is 100 percent healthy . . .
"I just got to rehab my knee almost every week, getting ready for practice, and then when it came to game time I was tired from practice," Paea said. "This year there shouldn't be any excuses."
With his knee fully healed, fans should expect to see an even more powerful player at the NT position.
"The difference is I can hold double-teams this year even better than before," Paea said. "I can take those. Even though I'm only at 285, 290, I can play like I'm 315."
According to Scout.com’s Jeremy Stoltz, Paea has received 1st team reps at NT; an indication that Paea is having a good camp so far this summer.
Rotational nose tackle: Matt Toeaina
I have Toeaina as the back-up NT this season simply because Paea is the more talented player; he should be able to hold off the veteran. Toeaina should be able to give the Bears good depth at the position, considering he was the starter for most of last season and up until today’s practice.
If they have to, Toeaina could give the team some snaps at 3-tech., but expect him to play mostly at NT this year for the Bears.
Reserve DL: John McCargo
McCargo fills out the DT depth chart here simply because of his ability to play both NT and 3-Technique.
Overall analysis of DT position:
This group is fairly young and has a ton of potential, and that potential starts with the young starting duo of Henry Melton and Stephen Paea. Fans can only hope these two young talents gain good chemistry working next to each other on the line.
Melton provides the Bears an explosive athlete at the under-tackle position, who should be able to give the Bears a good interior rush. Going into his second-year at the position, I want to see Melton become a more all-around dominate player at his position. We know he can pass rush, but we hope to see him make his presence felt against the run also.
Paea gives the Bears a strong physical NT, very capable attracting double teams, and also fighting through them to make plays against both the run and the pass. Paea says his knee is 100%, so he should be quicker and much explosive off the snap compared to last year.
Despite a rough first day of practice, I assume that Price will be able to win a roster spot against the likes of Nate Collins and Ronnie Cameron; he’s too talented not to. The team has him currently learning both positions as they expect him to contribute at both this year.
The fifth and final spot on the DT depth chart came down to McCargo and Jordan Miller. I have McCargo filling out the roster, but don’t be surprise if the Bears fill this spot with a younger player in Miller or Ronnie Cameron.
This position has some good talent, and if they live up to their potential, the line could be one of the deepest rotations in the league.
Current Standing: Good