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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Your 2014 Bears Training Camp/Roster Breakdown: The Defense

The Monsters of the Midway. The fearsome guardians of the line of scrimmage. The bringers of the black and blue to the black and blue division. The defense! The pride of the Chicag-

What  the hell that's not BEAR FOOTB---

                                                               Oh goddammit.

NOW I remember. This defense was ass last year. It was worse than ass. It was boils on ass.   It was the worst defense in franchise history, and it ruined all of the unreserved joy we should have had over the offense's progress. Such is life.

So here we are now, with a defense that will, at the very least, look very different this year. Will it play better? Well, yeah. That's not that hard to do. Will it be good enough to make the playoffs? I say yes. What did you really expect?

#99 Lamarr Houston, #69 Jared Allen, #97 Willie Young, #91 David Bass, #94 Cornelius Washington, #76 Trevor Scott, #73 Austen Lane, #72 Tracy Robertson
Lamarr Houston is without a doubt the defensive player I am most interested in seeing this year. My love of Israel Idonije is well known and Houston is basically a bigger, stronger, and faster version of Izzy. Like Izzy, he's relentless as a pass-rusher even if the sacks end up on someone else's stat sheet and he can completely dominate half the line of scrimmage in the run game. I think he can have his most effective year yet as a pass rusher as he'll kick inside to 3T on passing downs and I think that's a great fit for him.

I love the Jared Allen signing, obviously, but I'm also realistic. The hope is that Willie Young keeps Allen fresh as a pass-rusher, and hopefully they can manage to keep teams from singling out Allen too  much in obvious run-situations, where he's become something of a liability. Either way I think he's certainly an upgrade over what Peppers gave the team last year.

Willie Young is my pick to lead the team in sacks. There, I said it.

Emery said the team is struggling to decide if they want to keep 9 or 10 defensive linemen.  Considering 5 defensive tackles are already locks for the roster in my opinion (Paea, Ratliff, Sutton, Ferguson, Collins) that means the battle for the 4th DE position should be something to watch. If they only keep four, I think the survivor is David Bass. He's a much more polished player than Washington, he's much younger than Scott, obviously, and he has the size to play Houston's position in the hybrid scheme. Lane and Robertson should just focus on enjoying the preseason.

#90 Jeremiah Ratliff, #92 Stephen Paea, #98 Nate Collins, #95 Ego Ferguson, #93 Will Sutton, Some Other Guys
Yeah there'll be no roster surprises here, me thinks. Ratliff and Collins are probably your starters, with Ratliff looking healthy for the first time in years and more than capable of anchoring the run defense at the nose, and Collins reportedly looks just as explosive post-ACL surgery. Paea will probably spend most of his time keeping Ratliff fresh, since Emery seemed down on what Paea was able to do as the three technique last year and understandably so. The question is whether Paea or Ratliff can play well enough in 2014 to return in 2015, or if Ego will emerge as the unquestioned future at that position. Collins should eventually lose some snaps to Sutton once Sutton can master some technique to pair with that brilliant first step of his. Ferguson is definitely a project, but I would still expect to see his bulk taking up some space on the goal-line or in heavy packages.

I'm not even listing the other guys. They aren't making the team. Fin.

#55 Lance Briggs, #50 Shea McClellin, #58 DJ Williams, #57 Jon Bostic, #96 Christian Jones, #52 Khaseem Greene, #53 Jerry Franklin, #60 DeDe Lattimore, #49 Conor O'Neill, #59 Jordan Senn
Briggs was great last year before he got hurt, although his missed tackles were a bit more painful than usual given the lack of support around him. Hopefully he's got enough left to still be the devastating force in the backfield that he was early last year.

Sounds like, to begin with at least, Shea will be the SAM in the base 4-3 and give way to Bostic in the nickel. I'm sure Shea will have his fair share of blitz packages and he may also get the occasional snap as a DE in the nickel defense on 3rd down. Shea has all of the talent you could conceivably want a SAM to have, but he's been so atrocious at everything else he's tried so far you'll forgive me if I take a wait and see approach with this one.

Bostic is competing with Williams for the MLB spot more than Shea at SLB, and I don't think Williams is entrenched. The new system places more emphasis on the defensive line controlling gaps and frees up the LB to react rather than play assignment football, and that should help Bostic seem less lost than last year (as will not playing next to Khaseem Greene and James Anderson behind a defensive line of undrafted players and castoffs). If he wins the job that'd be great, if not I'm not sure when he'll ever have a better opportunity.

The most interesting dilemma roster-wise is Christian Jones vs. Khaseem Greene. The Bears may opt to keep both, but if they keep just six LBs like last year and your first four are Briggs, Shea, Bostic, and Williams, Jones and Greene may be battling each other and one of the special teams aces (either Senn or Franklin, most likely) for the last spot. If one of them does end up leaving I doubt it'll be Jones.

#33 Charles Tillman, #26 Tim Jennings, #23 Kyle Fuller, #24 Kelvin Hayden, #31 Isaiah Frey, #27 Sherrick McManus, #30 DeMontre Hurst, #39 Al Louis-Jean, #36 Derricus Purdy, #35 Marcus Trice
Tillman was never healthy last year, and appears to be in better shape this year, so I'd expect him to bounce back a bit, but I have no idea where he'll fall on the very big gap between his 2012 and 2013. Hopefully good enough.

Tim is always a solid #2. The hope is that Fuller grows up quickly enough to be the #1 next year, because I don't think Tim can really carry that weight on his shoulders. As for this year I'm excited that the Bears seem to have a good plan to ensure that Fuller plays a lot while not being completely exposed. I hate when teams shove rookie corners who have never been nickelbacks into that role, and as mentioned before the Bears have no intention of doing that, so that's good. I wouldn't buy for a second any of the noise about Hayden actually possibly beating Fuller for the #3 CB job, but he'll make the roster. When healthy he's a passable Tillman imitation. The Bears kept six CBs last year so I can't imagine Frey, who was at least not an embarrassing nickel last year, would end up on the street. As for the sixth spot I would guess McManis, as he's excelled on special teams for a few years now, but Derricus Purdy is an awesome name and it'd break my heart none if he made the team.

#21 Ryan Mundy, #37 MD Jennings, #47 Chris Conte, #20 Craig Steltz, #44 Adrian Wilson, #45 Brock Vereen, #29 Danny McCray.
This group is the hardest to call of any of them. There are two guys on this list in Conte and Wilson who are either going to win starting jobs or be cut outright. Neither of them gives you anything on special teams so they're either your best guys at the position or they're nothing.

I'd be surprised at this point if Conte can manage to make up for so much lost time and win the job, but I also won't immediately start slashing my wrists if he does. In 2011 and 2012 the Bears had a very solid pass defense with Chris Conte playing the deep half. If he's got a decent front seven in front of him, he's a guy who can play one role and play it adequately. If not, well, we saw what happens. This line should be able to generate a pass rush and the corners will hopefully require a little less help this year, so if things fall in place the way they should, Conte could be fine.

Then again, if the front seven is that good you could conceivably also hide Vereen back there the way they used to hide Conte, and Vereen certainly still has upside at this point that Conte doesn't,  I'm not sure why you wouldn't go with Vereen if those are the two you're picking from.

The choice may not come down to those two, though, if Adrian Wilson actually has anything left. If Wilson can still be a serviceable strong safety than the Bears may opt to try Mundy at FS for a while at least to keep from throwing Vereen right to the wolves. In that scenario Conte is still most definitely f*&ked, so congrats, everyone.

Last year the Bears only kept four safeties, so I would have to assume MD Jennings, Steltz, and McCray are all battling for one spot after Vereen, Mundy, and Conte/Wilson assuming one of them wins the job. If neither Wilson or Conte can lock down a starters spot my guess for the four survivors would be Vereen/Mundy/Jennings/Steltz. If everything about these last five paragraphs has you running to the bathroom with the nervous shits, well, you ain't alone, brother.

That's all for now. Looking at the defense as it stands I certainly feel confident in projecting a defense closer to the middle of the pack than anything else, but there's a lot of potential to swing either way based on the impact/lack thereof that Vereen/Fuller/Sutton/Shea/Bostic can have. Certainly there's a long way to go down before they even come close to approaching the disaster of last year, but if they can climb the other way then the sky is the limit.

TOMORROW: I discuss the special teams and coaching staff and probably maybe cry a little bit when I think about Patrick Mannelly. Oh God I'm doing it already.

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