What can I honestly say about Julius Peppers? I mean, hell, look at that stat line. The man's incredible, considering he did all of that despite battling a knee injury for most of the season. Who can forget when he left the game against the Eagles and came back to sack Vick and end an Eagles drive on his first play? There's no way to overstate just how much he means to the entire Bears defense. For long stretches over the last two years he was the only effective pass rusher, he completely dominates one half of the field in the run game, and he's a turnover producing machine, considering he's created 8 of them during his time in Chicago. The only major concern with Julius going forward is that he just turned 32 in January, but he's in great shape and guys like Bruce Smith, Michael Strahan, and Reggie White had 10.5, 18.5, and 13.5 sacks respectively in their age 32 seasons. If you think I'm wrong to compare him to three Hall of Fame defensive ends, well, you need to watch Julius Peppers play football.
#69 Henry Melton, DT: 15 games, 15 games started, 24 tackles, 7 sacks.
Henry Melton was my pick for breakout player of the year before the season, and for once I managed to get one of those predictions right. The former runningback took over for Tommie Harris, but he personally reminds me of John Randle. Melton ended the season tied for third among all NFL defensive tackles in sacks, and he was Pro Football Focus' highest rated pass rushing DT. Unfortunately, he sometimes struggled against the run and he was also inconsistent, with some huge games and some games where he completely disappeared. Lovie called him out midway through the season and he seemed to respond with a strong finish. Next year I'd expect Melton to play even better with a year of experience. Hopefully he can develop into a guy that can create on his own without having to rely on the favorable matchups generated by the attention teams devote to Peppers. If Melton and the rest can carry pick up more of the slack the Bears can prolong Peppers' effectiveness.
#75 Matt Toeaina, DT: 12 games, 12 games started, 16 tackles, 0 sacks.
Like most of the nose tackles in Lovie's scheme, Toeiana doesn't have much in the way of statistics to show for his efforts. He's a nice player, although I'm not sure he can hold off Stephen Paea's challenge to his job. He plays the run well and he's a high motor guy. Regardless of whether or not Paea becomes the starter as I suspect, Toeaina will be a key part of the rotation.
#71 Israel Idonije, DE: 16 games, 16 games started, 53 tackles, 5 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 2 fumble recoveries, 1 TD
I love Izzy. Who doesn't? He's a classic over-achiever who has been a Bear for longer than most people even realize (2004). Unfortunately, his production tailed off considerably this year. His sacks and hurries both declined, and he just didn't profit as much from being the bookend to Julius Peppers as you would like him to do. Obviously the Bears understand this, which is why they brought him back on a much more cap-friendly deal and they're taking a good hard look at young defensive ends in the draft that they can bring in and rotate with him. We'll see if fewer snaps will lead to greater productivity for Idonije next year.
#95 Anthony Adams, DT: 11 games, 4 games started, 16 tackles.
Anthony seems like a nice guy, and he was a solid but unspectacular contributor from 2007-2010. Last year, however, he was one of the biggest weaknesses on the team during the horrid start on defense in the first five games. He was no longer the run stuffing presence he once was and it showed, considering the run defense improved from 124.5 yards allowed per game to 87 yards per game after Anthony was pulled from the starting lineup. The Bears smartly made the decision to let him walk in free agency. Thanks for everything, Anthony.
#91 Amobe Okoye, DT: 16 games, 1 game started, 27 tackles, 4 sacks, 1 pass defensed.
Let's give Jerry Angelo credit for one of the last good signings of his tenure as Bears GM. Okoye was a solid bargain pickup and he paired with Melton to give the Bears more production from the under tackle position than they've had since Tommie Harris fell apart in 2007. Unfortunately, he priced himself right out of the Bears' budget and Melton's next backup will have to come from the draft. Still, I wish Okoye the best because he's a very good pass rusher when he's used correctly in a 4-3 defense.
#92 Stephen Paea, DT: 10 games,14 tackles, 2 sacks.
Stephen Paea is an intriguing player. He's incredibly strong, as he set an NFL combine record with 49 bench press reps at 225 lbs last year. He's got a quick punch and he's a rare player who can be effective at both under tackle and nose in Lovie's defense. It took him a while to crack the rotation, but he was a very effective sub over the last 10 games and he graded out against both the run and pass according to Pro Football Focus. If the Bears can find a way to get one of the top edge rushers in this year's draft, a front four of Peppers, Melton, Paea, and Coples/Ingram/Mercilus would be very frightening for opposing passers on third down. Either way, I think the Bears future at DT is bright with Melton and Paea.
#98 Corey Wootton, DE: 7 games, 4 tackles.
So far in his NFL career Corey Wootton has been exactly what everyone was afraid of when the Bears drafted him: fragile. He's flashed some potential in training camp and the preseason, and he started to come on late in 2010:
Yes, I did just want an excuse to post that video. Unfortunately, injuries have derailed any opportunities Corey's had to develop. The team could really have used him last year as Izzy struggled. We'll see if he can be healthy and effective enough to hold on to a roster spot with the addition of 1st or 2nd round defensive end to compete with him.
#94 Chauncey Davis, DE: 6 games, 9 tackles, 1 sack
A decent rotational DE who was an okay waiver-wire pickup from the Falcons. He may make the roster again next year if Wootton under-performs again, but he's nothing special.
#94 Nick Reed, DE: 6 games, 6 tackles, 1 pass defensed
No, that's not a typo. Reed wore #94 first, then was waived to make room for Davis. He knocked down a pass against the Falcons. That's about it.
#78 Mario Addison, DE: 2 games
An undrafted rookie out of Troy, Mario did nothing remarkable in 2 games before he was waived in November and claimed by the Colts. Bright future, I'm sure.
#93 Thaddeus Gibson, DE: 2 games
A late season pick up from Pittsburgh. He played some special teams and his still on the roster, so he may get a look in camp this year. I don't expect much, though.
The Bears got 30 sacks from their defensive line, which is acceptable, but they're still too over-reliant on Peppers. As I said, I don't expect Peppers to tail off much this year, Melton will be more consistent in his second year as a starter, and Paea will also improve in year two. As it stands now, though, they only have Melton, Paea, and Toeina under contract at DT and only Peppers, and Idonije seem like locks to make next year's roster at DE, so I'd expect both a defensive end and a defensive tackle at some point in the draft.