Need No. 4--Defensive end
Players on roster
DE Alex Brown (signed through 2011)
DE Adewale Ogunleye (2009)
DE Mark Anderson (2009)
DE Israel Idonije (2009)
DE Ervin Baldwin (2011)
DE Joe Clermond (2010)
If the 2010 draft was three days away, you could be looking at the No. 1 need for the club. The plan is for new defensive line coach Rod Marinelli to have a major impact on the players he's inheriting. That won't do the Bears a lot of good if three of the top four ends are elsewhere after this season. Marinelli believes he has a player who is ready to take a big step in Brown, and that would be worth seeing. You could make a case he has been the most consistent player on the defense over the last several seasons, even during the ill-planned 2007 season when Lovie Smith and Bob Babich put Anderson where he was least effective, in the starting lineup. Brown is a solid two-way player and if Marinelli can have an impact on his pass-rushing ability, right end will not be a need spot for another few years. But as Smith says, you can never have enough players who can pressure the quarterback.
Ogunleye figures to be primed for a big season. The last time he had the hint of a deal hanging in front of him, he was spectacular in recording 15 sacks with Miami in 2003. If healthy, there's no reason to believe Ogunleye cannot reach 12 sacks in 2009. He's reached double-digits just once with the Bears, getting 10 in 2005. He leads the team with 35 1/2 since arriving in 2004. He will turn 32 in August and with another big season he could set himself up for another pay day, although it's unlikely he'll be in position to cash in like he did when the Dolphins shipped him here. Anderson is the mystery player for Marinelli. After his 12-sack rookie season in 2006, he's failed to be a consistent rusher off the edge. Stats are not the only indicator. Anderson just hasn't been the same guy. He's still young and healthy enough to regain his form and if he does, perhaps the Bears target him for a contract extension. Of course, they'd have the right to place the franchise tag on him but that can be a super-expensive proposition at the position. Look no further than Julius Peppers for evidence. The versatile Idonije has shed weight to move back outside and will be a solid contributor. Baldwin will have to distinguish himself to make the roster and Clermond figures to be a camp body right now. As general manager Jerry Angelo pointed out Tuesday, the Bears have no problem going into 2009 the way their line is constituted right now. "When we have our talks throughout we have to cover all of our bases,'' Angelo said. "[Defensive end] has come up. We do like our defensive line. If we did nothing to our defensive line this year we feel good going into '09 that we're going to have a pretty good front just with our present players. But that does come into equation and we'll see on draft day. We've done all of the defensive linemen like we do every year. I've always said it, we treat them like quarterbacks and if the right one is there at the right round, we'll pull the trigger.''
Who the Bears have been looking at
The Bears brought a couple of interesting prospects for the later rounds in to Halas Hall for official visits--Texas' Henry Melton and Rutgers' Jamaal Westerman. Melton is a former fullback who outgrew that position. He's very raw but has some great tools to work with and could be the kind of project that excites the Bears as a late-round option. Westerman is undersized, like the Bears like them here, and is explosive off the ball.
Coming Thursday: Free safety.