The Bears currently have only nine defensive linemen on their roster, but clearly defensive coordinator Vic Fangio isn’t worried.
Even after the release of troubled Ray McDonald late last month, the Bears haven’t added any new faces to the position. A big reason why is the fact that five players listed at linebacker (Jared Allen, Pernell McPhee, David Bass, Lamarr Houston, Willie Young) all have the ability to play defensive end when Fangio employs a 4-3 front at times.
Allen, Bass and Young are playing linebacker for the first time in their careers while Houston and McPhee have experience in the 3-4 scheme and can play various positions along the line if need be.
The Bears ranked 16th with 39 sacks in 2014 with Young leading the way with 10 sacks in eight starts.
Here’s an Inside Look at the current Bears defensive line in the fourth installment of this series. You can read the previous story about the linebackers.
-Ratliff is the most accomplished player on the Bears defensive line. At age 33, he is still a force on defense and since coming over to the Bears late in the 2013 season he has made 15 starts, recording 46 tackles and 7.5 sacks. In 11 starts a year ago, Ratliff generated 6.5 sacks which marked his highest total since 2008 with Dallas. He projects as the starting nose tackle, but is expected to be play at one of the defensive end positions with his power. Ratliff is the leader of the defensive line and heading into the final year of his contract, he is likely playing for one last payday this off-season.
-A 2014 second round pick, Ferguson finished his rookie campaign with 23 tackles, two sacks and three pass breakups. His two sacks came in back-to-back weeks against New York in primetime and Green Bay in Week 4. His best game of the season was in Week 10 when he recorded four tackles against the Packers. Hopefully his limited success against Green Bay can translate to big things against them and the rest of the league in 2015. He is better suited at the nose, but will likely have to play at end plenty.
-Jenkins latched on with the Bears this off-season and quite frankly he is a very underappreciated player. In four seasons with Washington prior to arriving to Chicago, Jenkins made 33 starts in 44 appearances. The Clemson product has 75 tackles and two sacks in his NFL career. He made 14 starts in 2014, recording 28 tackles at left defensive end. At 6-foot-4, 315 lbs, Jenkins is a big run stopper and that’s what his role will be once again with the Bears. He has the experience in the 3-4 scheme and that should put him in the starting lineup to begin the year.
-Just like Ferguson, Goldman was selected in the second round. This year however. The Florida State product has a big chance of being a starter sooner rather than later. With the Seminoles, he made 62 tackles, 12 tackles-for-a-loss and six sacks in 36 games, 27 starts. He was a two-year starter. His game translates well to the next level and with the Bears he can play nose or end in due time. He could push Jenkins for the starting gig or even take over at the nose taking pressure off of Ratliff and Ferguson.
-Sutton failed to record a sack as a rookie last season, but he made five starts, totaling 22 tackles and two pass deflections. The Arizona State product had 10 tackles from Week 3 to Week 5. At 6-0 and 303 pounds, Sutton has some serious pass-rushing ability which should earn him snaps often in blitzing situations, but he is rather undersized in terms of the prototypical lineman for Fangio. “I’m a ‘D’ lineman. It’s really not that hard of a transition,” Sutton said via the Sun-Times on Monday. “You just have to adjust to defense and the scheme.” Sutton could easily emerge as a key contributor this season.
-Entering his third season, Washington is still a rather unknown face in the NFL. He picked up his first career sack in a Week 12 win over Tampa Bay in 2014, a sack which he called “relief” in an exclusive interview with Bears Backer. It appeared earlier this off-season that Washington could have been used as a linebacker much like he was at times in his collegiate days at Georgia. However, at 6-4, the Bears like what he can bring at defensive end and he will have to work to prove his worth with this new regime. Special teams is where he thrived last season and now he is looking to earn a defensive role. That shouldn’t be out of the question. Washington has plenty of talent.
-Dunn appeared in three games late last season, adding one tackle. The 22-year-old Louisville product appears to be a run stuffer which could give him a shot at earning one of the last spots on the roster. Pierre and Williams are undrafted rookies who look like practice squad candidates. Pierre is the biggest of the Bears defensive line at 6-5, while Williams is a pure nose tackle at 6-1.
Stephen Paea wasn’t re-signed this off-season despite his career-high six sacks in 2014. He didn’t really project in the 3-4 scheme and quite frankly he wasn’t worth the big payday. He is a good player, but the Bears have plenty of young talent to keep them afloat in 2015.
Ratliff, Ferguson and Goldman are the three best inside guys. Sutton and Washington have the best ability to get after the quarterback.
Fangio should be able to get more than what is expected from this group.
Next up: Offensive line
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