Next up in our Chicago Bears depth chart projection series, we take a look at the defensive end position:
Starting RDE (right defensive end): Julius Peppers
One of the main reasons why there’s confidence that the Chicago defense won’t have a drop off is because they still have No. 90 on the edge. Peppers hasn’t had a disappointing season yet in a Bears’ uniform. In his three years here, Peppers has accumulated 30.5 sacks, 15 pass deflections and two interceptions. This is coming from a guy who has had to face double and sometime triple teams week in and week out because there was no other real threat on the opposite end.
Peppers has been equally as good against the run. Whether from the RDE or LDE position, he does a great job with edge containment against RBs. Like his linemate Henry Melton, Peppers has been moved around a lot, as defensive coordinator Mel Tucker has been experimenting with hybrid formations in these off-season workouts. Peppers has the versatility to line up as a five-technique DE, along with rushing from a two-point stance. He’s an athletic freak, and Mel Tucker can use him in a variety of ways.
Starting LDE (left defensive end): Corey Wootton
Injuries have often kept Wootton from taking the next step in his development. In 2010, he barely got on the field as he was still recovering from a neck injury. When he did get on the field, however, he made an impact, knocking Brett Favre into retirement on a sack. In 2011, Wootton had a great camp and was poised to become a big contributor, but he suffered a knee injury in the Bears’ first preseason game on the opening kick-off. He later suffered a broken hand and never got on track.
With his back against the wall in 2012, Wootton not only delivered but proceeded to pass Israel Idonije on the depth chart. He finished the season with eight sacks, eight QB knockdowns and 18 QB hurries, according to Pro Football Focus. It was certainly a breakout season for Wootton, who gave the front office a reason not to bring back a long-time veteran in Idonije.
Wootton showcased all-around ability; displaying the speed and hustle off the edge to get to the QB, and also showing discipline in run containment on the edge. In 2013, expectations are for him to become that complementary pass rusher, who can ease the pressure off Peppers on the other side. The arrow is pointing up, and Wootton is just scratching the surface of his potential.
Last year, first round pick Shea McClellin flashed the potential to be an outside pass rushing threat. In 13 games last season, McClellin posted 22 QB hurries, four QB hits and 2.5 sacks. Not too bad for a situational pass rusher, but certainly there’s room for improvement. Going into his second year, I don’t think McClellin is quite ready to be a full-time DE, but he has the talent to make an impact. He’s very explosive off the edge, quickly putting opposing OTs on their heels off the snap. Unfortunately, though, McClellin was too one dimensional as a pass rusher, which, if not improved, could lead to inconsistency and ultimately low production.
This off-season, McClellin has started to take steps toward improvement. One of his weaknesses last season was a lack of strength, but he’s put on eight pounds of muscle since. It will be interesting to find out if he also added a little more functional strength to his body. It will be interesting to see if he has added more moves to his repertoire to compliment his speed rush and spin moves. McClellin has the talent to be one of the better pass rushing DEs in the league, but he needs to become more technique savvy in order to reach that potential.
The consensus amongst draft experts is that Phil Emery got a steal in the sixth round with Washington. Most thought he would go as high as the third round, but he ended up sliding because of off-the-field issues and low productivity at Georgia. One of the reasons for Washington’s low production had to do with how Georgia used him in their 3-4 system. In 2011, they put him at LB where he registered five sacks on the season. In 2012, they moved him to 5-technique DE, which took him away from his specialty as a pass rusher.
With the Bears, Mel Tucker will use Washington as a 4-3 LDE, a position that should best suit his skill-set. Washington has an explosive first step to blow past opposing OTs and the strength to power through blocks. The main issue that could keep him off the field in his first year is his tendency to rush upright. If defensive line coach Mike Phair is able to fix that problem, Washington could possibly see some playing time in 2013. His ceiling is pretty high, and some folks believe he can move ahead of McClellin on the Chicago Bears depth chart if he reaches it.
Defensive End (4)
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