The journey continues. My offseason review of each unit on the 2010 Bears now arrives at Rod Marinelli's beloved "Rush Men." Without further ado, we start with:
#71 Israel Idonije, Defensive End/Tackle
There are always players who excel in bit roles that become fan favorites, resulting in fans calling for them to receive more playing time. Most of the time the players tend to disappear when they earn more playing time, since (loathe as we are to admit it) coaches tend to know the players on their own roster best and they knew better than to make the guy a starter. Izzy's one of those guys, however, that was finally given a chance to start (after he solidly whipped Mark Anderson's ass in the offseason) and played extremely well, with 8 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, 1 pass defensed, and a ton of pressures, mostly from the left defensive end spot.
Now, I'm aware that Izzy also benefitted greatly from the attention given to Julius Peppers, but that's not an excuse to entirely dismiss his production. Not everybody that plays on the opposite end of a star can take advantage like Izzy did. If you want proof, look at Mark Anderson himself, both in his brief appearances as a Bear this year and his longer stint as the bookend to Mario Williams in Houston. Anderson had just 4 sacks in 15 games. Idonije's also valuable in that his size still gives him the versatility to move inside in pure passing situations, allowing the team to bring in another pure pass rusher like Corey Wootton in those spots. I'd expect nothing but the same next year from Israel, although he may have to split more time with Wootton, but not through any fault of his own.
#98 Corey Wootton, Defensive End
When Corey was drafted in the fourth round last year, we were told he was a first round talent that had fallen to the fourth due to injury. That smelled like bullshit when he didn't dress for the first ten games of the season, but he was activated late once he was 100% and he made an impact throughout the last part of the season. He has only 5 tackles and 1 sack to show for the limited work he got in the last 6 games, but he was coming on strong and even had a tackle for a loss in the playoff game against Seattle. No one's asking much of Corey other than to give a breather to Peppers and Idonije, so the upside he has is a major plus for the job he's asked to do. I'd expect him to earn more playing time next year and maybe even be the pass-rush specialist that Mark Anderson was in 2006, with Idonije doing most of the grunt work like Alex Brown.
Oh yeah, that one sack of Corey's ended Brett Favre's career. He's a f*&king God.
Is it bad that 'erotic' is the word I use to describe that video? It's bad, isn't it?
#69 Henry Melton, Defensive End/Tackle
I was pretty skeptical when the Bears spent a fourth round pick on a fat runningback from Texas to be a defensive lineman, especially when the need seemed too pressing to waste a draft pick on a project, but this year Henry really proved his worth. Henry played in all 16 games and produced 16 tackles, 3 sacks, a forced fumble, and a pass breakup. Not bad for a guy who was new to the position and spent most of the year in a six man rotation with Idonije, Tommie Harris, Matt Toeaina, Marcus Harrison, and Anthony Adams. Henry, like Izzy, can play both end and tackle and my guess next year is that Melton and Toeaina will begin the year as the starters, but I would assume that Paea will work his way in soon and the three will end the year with a similar number of snaps.
#75 Matt Toeaina, Defensive Tackle
Matt was another great practice squad find by Lovie and Jerry (I actually mean that. If there's one position where they've found some value on the waiver wire, it's defensive tackle) similar to Anthony Adams, which is interesting, since he'll probably be the reason why Anthony won't be back this year. Toeaina's not a star, but he's a badass Polynesian (soon NFL rules will require that all offensive and defensive lines shall be at least 40% Polynesian)and he's a workhorse that will give quality reps as part of the rotation Lovie likes to use at that position. For the year he made it into all 16 games, with 24 tackles, 2 sacks, and 2 pass breakups. Again, I look forward to seeing Matt, Melton, and Paea next year as their youth and energy should keep teams from neutralizing Julius Peppers. The Bears appear to have regained the depth in the middle that they had back in the 05-06 heyday, when Tommie Harris, Ian Scott, Tank Johnson, and Idonije would just overwhelm opponents and stifle the run game. This is good news, since...
#91 Tommie Harris, Defensive Tackle
Is gone, and he ain't comin' back. I mean that both in the literal sense, since he's a free agent and won't be re-signed, and figuratively, since the Tommie Harris that we'd all been hoping to see return is gone forever and has been since the end of 2007. I appreciate Tommie for the beast that he once was, and, while I hope Paea can replace some of that production, I'm well aware we're not likely to see a tackle of the caliber that Tommie used to be any time soon. That's the past, though, and I applaud Lovie and Jerry for actually managing to let go of sentiment when they benched and deactivated Tommie this year not out of any disciplinary reason, but simply because it made the Bears a better football team. I wish Tommie well, but I'm quite confident the Bears won't regret letting him go.
#95 Anthony Adams, Defensive Tackle
I said above that I don't think Anthony will be re-signed, even though Urlacher stated recently that they need him. I think the Bears will probably let him test the market and will only bring him back at their price, not his. Anthony's 31, but he is a workhorse and, while his numbers won't wow you for a veteran starter (4 sacks and 2forced fumbles in the last two years) he'd be an upgrade for someone. I'd be happy if the Bears did manage to bring him back (especially since the alternative is giving Marcus Harrison another shot at trying to avoid eating his way out of the NFL), but I think it's unlikely.
#99 Marcus Harrison, Defensive Tackle
The thing most people know about Marcus (if they know anything about him at all) is that he was practically handed a starting job before training camp in 2009 and he showed up completely overweight. Hell, I'd be shocked if he's even at the 312 lbs he's listed at right now (and that's already the heaviest listed weight of any Bears d-lineman). He's a waste of talent and an even bigger waste of space, but I'm not sure if Lovie's entirely soured on him yet, even though he was active for just five games last year and completely flopped when given increased reps in Tommie's place. Hopefully, if the Bears Do let Adams walk, Harrison will finally motivated to put down the fork. I doubt it, though.
#90 Julius Peppers, Defensive End
It's hard to overstate just how awesome Julius Peppers is. I have a tendency to roll my eyes whenever I hear someone say something like "____ just does so many things for a team that don't show up on a stat sheet..." but Julius gives me pause. Every offense the Bears faced this year had to account for Julius Peppers on every single play. I can't remember the last time the Bears had a pass rusher that you could say that about. Ogunleye was alright when he had Tommie making it easy for him, but he disappeared about the same time Tommie did without any injury as an excuse. Peppers is just an absolute wrecking machine.
I'm not going to give him complete credit for turning around the Bears defense, as about half of that credit goes to a healthy trio of Urlacher/Briggs/Tinoisamoa giving the Bears their best linebacking corps since Urlacher/Holdman/Colvin in 2001 and improved safety play from Manning and Chris Harris, but the other half is Peppers by himself. You can't run around him, you have to devote at least two blockers to him on every play, you can't even throw it Over him most of the time, and you sure as hell can't escape him once he breaks free. He deserved his place on the All Pro team, even with just 8 sacks to his name (along with 43 tackles, 2 interceptions, 9 pass breakups, and 3 forced fumbles, of course). He gets my vote for Team MVP. I'd expect an even better season out of him next year, even at age 31, thanks to the relief I hope he'll get from the presence of Stephen Paea. I'd settle for more of the same, though.
Julius Peppers is the balls.