We flip back to the defense today in our position-by-position previews and take a look at the defensive tackles on the roster. Four Down Territory is coming Friday when we take a break from position previews so get your questions in. Here we go.
Projected starters: Tommie Harris, 6-3, 295, 6th year, Oklahoma; Anthony Adams, 6-0, 310, 7th year, Penn State
Dusty Dvoracek, 6-3, 303, 4th year, Oklahoma
Jarron Gilbert, 6-5, 285, R, San Jose State
Marcus Harrison, 6-3, 312, 2nd year, Arkansas
Israel Idonije, 6-6, 270, 6th year, Manitoba
Matt Toeaina, 6-2, 308, 2nd year, Oregon
Projected depth chart
UT: Harris, Idonije, Gilbert
NT: Adams, Harrison
2009 salary cap numbers
Anthony Adams $1,087,500
Dusty Dvoracek $723,825
Jarron Gilbert $641,500
Tommie Harris $9,090,000
Marcus Harrison $553,851
Israel Idonije $3,488,533
Matt Toeaina $465,200
Number of defensive tackles on 2008 roster at start of the season: 5/6 (6 if you counted Idonije as a tackle)
Projected number of defensive ends on 2009 roster at start of the season: 5
The skinny: This is the position that will draw a lot of attention heading into the season. The Bears believe in building from the line back and that philosophy was evident when the team used its first draft pick on Gilbert back in April. It was not the greatest need, in fact it was far from it, but the organization is committed to collecting quality linemen. Now all Gilbert has to do is be known for more than jumping out of a pool, but more on him later on. Harris is the motor that drives the front seven and he was brought along with care during the offseason. It made sense. Nothing Harris could have done on the final day of minicamp in March or during some of the OTA's in May and June was going to translate on the field in September when it counts. He has a balky left knee and the team is playing it smart. It's all about getting quality snaps out of Harris when it matters. He was on the field for 623 plays last season spread across 14 games. That's a good number for him this season over 16 games. If the Bears get a solid rotation going they will not have to lean on Harris as much and perhaps will be able to preserve him for the stretch run. That figure of 623 was easily tops for interior lineman. The wild card guy here in the bunch is Harrison. He showed sparks during his rookie season when he had five QB hits, two sacks, two passes defended and three tackles for loss, but he also disappeared on occasion. Harrison has a knee issue that lingers with him. Remember, he had an ACL reconstruction entering his final year of school. He's bulked up or ballooned up depending on how you look at it, and that's probably for more action at nose tackle although he'll probably see time at both spots. If he can step forward--some had a first-round grade on him but the knee issue and the drug bust dropped him to the third round--the Bears will be very much improved. But don't forget Adams. He's been the most consistent performer on the interior for two seasons. Lost behind Dvoracek for the first half of the season, he emerged and you had to scratch your head wondering what took him so long to get on the field. He's stout vs. the run and he adds more of an interior pass rush than Dvoracek, who wore down as the season went along. Dvoracek has finished the season on injured reserve each of his three seasons and he's all the way back from a biceps injury. He could be hard pressed to make the roster. The Bears kept nine linemen going into the 2008 season and Alex Brown, Adewale Ogunleye, Mark Anderson, Henry Melton, Idonije, Adams, Gilbert, Harris and Harrison figure to have roster spots the way we break it down. Injuries could happen and we could be wrong. Both have happened before and both will happen again. There's not a person we've encountered who doesn't really like Dvoracek but he will have to have a big camp and preseason most likely. Gilbert is an interesting guy because he's a little light and who knows if he eventually winds up outside, maybe at left end. But he'll get to learn from Harris and that's a good place to start, especially if Harrison is going to be worked more at nose. Idonije will probably play all four spots on the line before the season is over. Picking a spot for him is tough because he's so versatile. Toeaina is in a tough position just like Dvoracek. Some people really like him as a run stuffer but there will only be so many spots under new line coach Rod Marinelli, the man charged with getting the most out of this unit. Notice we're not diving into the whole subject of whether or not Marinelli can be a savior.
The upside: Pretty simple. Harris returns to dominant Pro Bowl form. He started the 2006 season as a legitimate defensive player of the year candidate and when he's on top of his game, that's how good he can be. When he's that good, everyone around him is better. The upside would also involve Harrison blooming and Gilbert being a quality role player getting 10-15 snaps per game. For good measure, the upside also mandates Adams not be lost in the shuffle.
The downside: Just as simple. Harris' left knee makes you wonder what the Bears were thinking when they signed him to a contract extension last
monthsummer. Without a dominant under tackle it's hard to make the Tampa Two work.
On the hot seat: Harris. He's not going anywhere so he's not on the hot seat in that sense, but pressure for him to regain top form is there. Dvoracek will be pushed to make the roster when considering the numbers and his injury history.
Final thought: It ought to be enjoyable watching Marinelli work with his group during training camp. The players have quickly taken to him and he's preaching details, details, details. If the defensive line and the interior shines, the Bears can become a top 10 defense again this season, no question. They'll make the ends better and they'll make the linebackers better. It rubs off on everyone. That's not to say this is where the entire story of the defense is, but it starts with the players closest to the ball. Always has.