When the Bears used two of their first three draft picks on defensive linemen, one of the first questions we had was where are they going to carve out some playing time?
As coaches like to say, that will sort itself out. That is the refrain that signals competition is on the way, the one thing that sorts out players and pecking order more than anything else.
Tackle Jarron Gilbert and end Henry Melton have been added to the mix and all of the linemen from 2008 are back this season.
"They're big, athletic guys,'' new defensive line coach Rod Marinelli said of the draft picks. "They have speed, and they bend very well. In terms of just the size and movement they show, we're very happy with them."
Israel Idonije has been bounced outside to end again but none of the players have left. They're all in the mix for 2009 so it is going to be an interesting situation. The Bears carried 10 linemen on the roster at times last season. They opened with nine but expanded when they promoted end Ervin Baldwin from the practice squad in November to prevent losing him to Kansas City. They went back to nine after tackle Dusty Dvoracek landed on injured reserve in December for the third consecutive season.
So adding Gilbert, the third-round pick from San Jose State, and Melton, the fourth-round pick from Texas, to the roster the Bears now have 13 players for what should be nine or 10 slots. That includes postseason addition Joe Clermond, who was a camp body last summer and spent some time on the practice squad. Clermond and Baldwin, a seventh-round pick a year ago, face an uphill battle. The Bears look locked into keeping five ends--Alex Brown, Adewale Ogunleye, Idonije and Melton--and that means the remaining cuts will have to come from the interior. Matt Toeaina has had a role as a well-liked backup but simply hasn't been given any real opportunities.
But beyond the roster spots, let's take a close look at playing time by evaluating the number of snaps that were shared on the line last season:
TOTAL DEFENSIVE PLAYS: 1,111
Tommie Harris 623 plays, 56.08 percent, 14 games, 13 starts,
Israel Idonije 475, 42.75 percent, 16 games, 1 start
Marcus Harrison 419, 37.71 percent, 16 games
Dusty Dvoracek 401, 36.09 percent, 12 games, 12 starts
Anthony Adams 300, 27.00 percent, 9 games, 4 starts
Adewale Ogunleye 878, 79.02 percent, 16 games, 16 starts
Alex Brown 853, 76.78 percent, 16 games, 16 starts
Mark Anderson 490, 44.10 percent, 16 games
FINAL DEFENSIVE STATISTICS
Harris 33 tackles, 18 solos, 9 tackles for loss, 13 QB hits, 5 sacks, 1 fumble recovery
Idonije 28 tackles, 18 solos, 2 tackles for loss, 5 QB hits, 3 1/2 sacks, 6 passes deflected
Harrison 25 tackles, 10 solos, 3 tackles for loss, 5 QB hits, 2 sacks, 2 passes deflected
Dvoracek 40 tackles, 16 solos, 6 tackles for loss, 3 QB hits, 1 pass deflected
Adams 30 tackles, 16 solos, 2 tackles for loss, 5 QB hits
Ogunleye 58 tackles, 34 solos, 8 tackles for loss, 11 QB hits, 5 sacks, 1 interception, 4 passes deflected
Brown 39 tackles, 19 solos, 13 tackles for loss, 16 QB hits, 6 sacks, 1 interception, 1 pass deflected, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery
Anderson 21 tackles, 6 solos, 3 tackles for loss, 9 QB hits, 1 sack, 4 passes deflected, 1 fumble recovery
When looking at the statistics in relation to playing time, Adams clearly was more productive than the other players used at nose tackle. His playing time spiked and Idonije's took a dip when coach Lovie Smith became more involved in running the defense later in the season.
How does the playing time get divided with Gilbert and Melton on board? There looks to be an opening for Gilbert at tackle, particularly if Idonije remains outside and Harrison spends more time at nose tackle.
Playing time for Melton could be more difficult to come by if Anderson makes the steps the Bears are hoping are possible under Marinelli. Less playing time for Ogunleye and Brown could make them more effective. They're both solid two-way ends who play the run well, though. Anderson was at his best as a situational pass rusher and Melton could likely be used in a similar role.