Veterans Julius Peppers, Israel Idonije and Anthony Adams will hold three of the four starting spots on the Bears' defensive line in 2011. They're reliable and all aged 30 or older. The Bears know what to expect from them.
Then there are the less proven members of the Bears' D-line.
There's a group of younger players on the D-line that could be stepping into significant roles this season and their ability to rise to the occasion, or not, will have a lot to do with how the defense fares.
Four D-linemen looking to establish themselves — Henry Melton, Amobi Okoye, Stephen Paea and Corey Wootton — are less than 25 years old, and Melton is competing for a starting spot. The release of DT Tommie Harris left a void at the three-technique and the versatile Melton is the Bears' first choice to start at the position.
Melton reportedly has added 30 pounds of muscle and the Bears are counting on him to help spark the interior pass rush. The '09 fourth-round pick showed flashes last season, with 2½ sacks, and after reviewing the tape, the Bears wished they had used him even more. The team is expecting him to make a much bigger impact this season.
The Bears added Okoye in free agency, signing him to a one-year deal. Head coach Lovie Smith and defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli thought very highly of Okoye when he was drafted 10th overall in ’07. While he never panned out with the Texans, who cut him, the Bears seem to think they can help him play to his potential. He will be involved in the rotation at the three-technique and it's a low-risk signing that could be well worth it if Marinelli can get more out of him.
Wootton started slow and didn't earn consistent playing time until late in his campaign last season. He was active in only six games, including the final four contests. A fourth-round pick, Wootton could be the primary backup at defensive end and the team needs him to become more of a factor off the edge. Former Jet Vernon Gholston, who turned 25 in June, is also getting a look at defensive end. While he didn't have a sack in his three seasons with the Jets, the Bears believe the former first-round pick will be a better fit for the 4-3. He played defensive end in a 3-4 with the Jets.
Paea, a second-round pick this year, is versatile enough to play nose tackle or three-technique and he could see time at both spots. The strong, high-motored Paea already seems to have moved ahead of 2008 third-round pick Marcus Harrison in the pecking order. Harrison reported to camp out of shape and has yet to practice as of this writing. He's testing the team's patience.
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