Switching to defense for our second positional breakdown in our daily countdown to training camp, we'll examine the roster at defensive end.
Projected starters: Alex Brown, 6-3, 260 pounds, 8th year, Florida; Adewale Ogunleye, 6-4, 260, 8th year, Indiana
Mark Anderson 6-4, 255, 4th year, Alabama
Ervin Baldwin 6-2, 260, 2nd year, Michigan State
Joe Clermond 6-2, 250, 1st year, Pitt
Israel Idonije 6-6, 270, 6th year, Manitoba **** listed on Bears official roster as a DT
Henry Melton 6-3, 260, Rookie, Texas
Projected depth chart
Right end: Brown, Anderson
Left end: Ogunleye, Idonije****
2009 salary cap numbers
Mark Anderson $1,054,339
Ervin Baldwin $390,200
Alex Brown $2,882,514
Joe Clermond $315,200
Israel Idonije $3,448,533
Henry Melton $437,808
Adewale Ogunleye $6,464,056
Number of defensive ends on 2008 roster at start of the season: 3/4 (Idonije was listed as a DL at the start of the 2008 season)
Projected number of defensive ends on 2009 roster at start of the season: 5 (including Idonije)
The skinny: Basically you're looking at the same group from 2008 with the addition of Melton, a fourth-round pick out of Texas who is a project. The Bears have to get more production from this unit in terms of the pass rush. Idonije looked to be headed back outside as he dropped weight, but every time you turned around during the offseason program, there he was lined up at defensive tackle. There were a handful of players on the inside who were rested--most notably Tommie Harris and Marcus Harrison--and that was probably a big reason for Idonije's whereabouts. It's probably fair to say at this point that he'll play both spots and that could spell trouble for a tackle when it comes time to make final cuts. Ogunleye is entering the final year of his contract and knows that a strong season will position him for a pay day. Brown could be in line to hit double-digit sacks for the first time in his career and the hope is new line coach Rod Marinelli has the same kind of effect on Mark Anderson that the team believes Jay Cutler will on the team's wide receivers. The Bears used a strict three-man rotation at defensive end last season, so it will be interesting to see how this plays out. Ogunleye (878), Brown (853) and Anderson (490) combined for 2,221 snaps in 2008. There were 1,111 total snaps so some two-man combination of those three players was on the field for all but one play over the course of the entire season. That's why we're not sure where Idonije and Melton will fit in. Obviously, if Melton shows some strong pass-rushing capabilities, they'll make time for him to get on the field. Stay tuned here.
The upside: Marinelli proves to be as good as advertised by Lovie Smith and Jerry Angelo and the position combines for 30 sacks with Ogunleye or Brown getting a Pro Bowl nod. The starters are proven two-way ends who play the run well. The Bears must ignite their pass rush with the front four to take some pressure off some of the other areas. The position combined for 25 1/2 sacks in 2006 and just 12 last season.
The downside: It can be written about virtually every position--they have to stay healthy. There isn't a lot of quality, proven depth here, but that's a cop out. The downside would be the explosive Anderson who starred as a rookie in 2006 remains missing, making it even more evident that finding a pass rusher will be the team's No. 1 priority in the offseason heading into 2010.
On the hot seat: Anderson isn't going to have a job with the Bears after this season if he doesn't step up but Melton is going to have to prove himself in training camp. The Bears are slowly getting away from their policy of giving nine lives (or more) to every Angelo draft pick.
Final thought: Brown has been an underrated player on this defense for some time. He made 19 stops behind the line of scrimmage in 2008 with six sacks and 13 tackles for loss to go with an interception, forced fumble and fumble recovery. It will be interesting to see if at age 30 Marinelli can help him elevate his game to a new level. There's no queston Marinelli was instrumental in improving the play of the linemen in Tampa Bay. Between Anderson and Melton the Bears need to find a situational pass rusher, someone who can come fresh off the sideline and give a quality effort in nickel situations.