Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Your Start Kyle Orton Bears Training Camp Preview: The Defense

*- New to team

Defensive Ends: #90 Julius Peppers, #71 Israel Idonije, #99 Shea McClellin*, #94 Chauncey Davis, #98 Corey Wootton, #93 Thaddeus Gibson, #76 Cheta Ozougwu*

The first three spots are obviously set. Julius Peppers is the best pass rusher Chicago's had since Richard Dent and will continue to play nearly every snap on defense so long as he's healthy. Izzy is still solid against the run even if his pass rush declined considerably. He'll probably get the starting nod over McClellin for most of the year, but he'll lose nearly all of his 3rd down reps and more than that as the season goes along. McClellin will get every opportunity to play and play often. Try to remember 2006 Mark Anderson. That's the plan for McClellin.

The real interesting story here is whether Corey Wootton can hang on to a roster spot. The Bears had high hopes for Wootton before he lost nearly all of last season to injury. If he can show the talent that made him a potential first rounder in college before his injuries set in, he'll get an opportunity. If not, I'd expect the Bears to keep the solid, unimpressive Chauncey Davis, who was drafted by Atlanta when Phil Emery was a scout there. Gibson's a long shot over Davis and Wootton, and Ozougwu's awesome name won't be enough to get him to the final 53.

Defensive Tackles: #69 Henry Melton, #92 Stephen Paea, #75 Matt Toeiana, #78 Nate Collins*, #70 John McCargo*, #79 Ronnie Cameron*, #96 Jordan Miller*, #68 DeMario Pressley

The thinnest position on the depth chart, which is scary considering the importance of DTs in Lovie's scheme. I like the starters, as Henry Melton was my pick for breakout player last year and I think he'll be even better and more consistent this year. Paea will take a huge leap forward in year two. He's an absolute monster. Toeiana is a solid runstuffer.

The rest of the lineup is a bunch of flotsam and castoffs. McCargo is a former first round pick who has never done anything. Nate Collins is already suspended for the opener. Cameron, Miller, and Pressley are just bodies. I'd expect someone to be picked up before the season, but if not I assume we'll see plenty of situations where Izzy moves back inside on pass-rushing downs while McClellin takes over at end.

Linebackers: #54 Brian Urlacher, #55 Lance Briggs, #53 Nick Roach, #91 Geno Hayes*, #52 Blake Costanzo*, #58 Dom DeCicco,#97 JT Thomas, #64 Ronnie Thornton*, #59 Patrick Trahan, #95 Adrien Cole*, #57 Jabara Williams

Urlacher and Briggs will take every snap so long as they're healthy, obviously. Roach is chronically underrated and rarely makes a mistake, but Hayes can play all three spots and has more potential (and also makes a ton of mistakes), so that battle should be interesting.

The backup linebackers are all extremely important on special teams, so I'd have to believe the Bears didn't sign Costanzo only to make him compete for a roster spot. He's in. They seem to like Dom DeCicco quite a bit, so he's my best bet as well. The Bears sometimes keep five linebackers and other times keep six, so Thomas and the others will have to show something in order to stay on. I'm guessing Patrick Trahan is most likely to stick out of that group.

Cornerbacks: #33 Charles Tillman, #26 Tim Jennings, #30 DJ Moore, #24 Kelvin Hayden*, #27 Jonathan Wilhite*, #36 Cornelius Brown*, #31 Isaiah Frey*, #39 Greg McCoy, 

Tillman and DJ are locked in as the starters at LCB and Nickel, respectively, and they should be. Tillman's one of the best Cover 2 corners...ever. Moore has so far been the best nickelback of the Lovie Era.

The battle between Jennings and Hayden should be extremely interesting. Jennings is younger and healthier and was solid in coverage last year. He didn't come up with turnovers, however, and that's key in this system. Hayden, when healthy, is a playmaker, and Lovie's coveted him for quite some time. Hayden's been injured often the last couple of years, however, so we'll see if he can crack the lineup. His roster spot is safe, regardless, and he adds quality depth.

Only one of the Wilhite, Brown, Frey, and McCoy group will make it, I believe. The Bears rarely carry six corners, and I think they'll be more inclined to keep six receivers again this year. Wilhite has a slight edge since he's a veteran that they targeted in the offseason, but Frey is the kind of big, physical corner Lovie wants. McCoy's greatest asset is his ability as a returner, and that's a tough way to crack this roster. He seems like a strong candidate for the practice squad or the IR/Redshirt. Cornelius is named Cornelius, so that's something.

Safeties: #47 Chris Conte, #27 Major Wright, #20 Craig Steltz, #35 Brandon Hardin*, #43 Trevor Coston*, #46 Jeremy Jones*, #37 Anthony Walters.

This one's pretty easy. Conte and Wright will start until Hardin takes Wright's job somewhere around week five. Steltz is an excellent special teamer and can play both spots (and played both of them well last year, which I'm still not convinced wasn't an aberration), so he's the primary backup. Walters played well and special teams last year and should get the nod over Jones and Coston for the fifth safety spot.

My prediction for the depth chart, barring injury and the likely free agent signing at defensive tackle:

RDE: Peppers/Wootton
LDE: Idonije/McClellin
3 Technique: Melton/Collins
Nose Tackle: Paea/Toeina/McCargo
WLB: Briggs/Trahan
MLB: Urlacher/DeCicco
SLB: Roach/Hayes
CB: Tillman/Moore/Frey
CB: Jennings/Hayden
FS: Conte/Steltz
SS: Wright/Hardin/Walters

That makes 25. Throw in the 25 I predicted on offense yesterday and add the locks on special teams in Robbie Gould, Adam Podlesh, and Patrick Mannelly and you have your 53 man roster. Seems like a damn fine team.

Go Bears.