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There is throwing darts against the wall, taking a stab at something, giving it the ol' college try and taking a shot in the dark.

Somewhere amongst those exercises falls my effort to select the Bears' 53-man roster before it is selected by the men who make the decisions--Jerry Angelo, Lovie Smith and their staffs. The best guess after evaluating training camp, preseason, past history and everything else that goes into trying to enter another man's mind will appear in Thursday's edition of the Sun-Times. We'll lay it out here on Thursday for continued discussion, a much worthier topic than what you're actually looking forward to seeing in the preseason finale vs. the Cleveland Browns. Final cuts, by the way, are due to the league office by 5 p.m. Saturday.

But I'll list some bubble players here, some that made my 53 and others who didn't:

Offense

Adrian Peterson: A coach once called the veteran running back a security blanket for his ability to stick around. He doesn't do anything particularly well where he jumps out at you, but he does everything the right way and is about as reliable a player as you will find on the roster. In my estimation, a roster spot comes down to him and tight end Michael Gaines (more on that in a little bit). Peterson ran hard and ran well last Sunday in Denver, prompting one scout from another organization to inquire about what kind of guy he is. If the Bears let Peterson go, he's likely to find work elsewhere. The obvious plus to keeping a player like Peterson is his ability on special teams, but he wasn't quite as strong in that phase last season as he was in previous years.

Devin Aromashodu: From the looks of things there are three wide receiver battling for two roster spots. Yes, it strikes me as odd that the team that gets off the bus running is going to keep six wide receivers, but that's what happens when they draft three and plan to keep two--Juaquin Iglesias and Johnny Knox. Aromashodu has the least special teams value of the wide receivers on the bubble, at least based on his use in preseason. But he's a big target who Jay Cutler started referencing early in training camp before anyone knew who he was. When Aromashodu is on the field, Cutler looks his way. if the quarterbacks gets a vote, and boy we know he'd like one, he sticks.

Rashied Davis: Of the wideouts who circulate through with the first team, none got less action than Davis. He's trying to regain some momentum after a 2008 season in which he was used completely out of position by the coaching staff. Davis simply hasn't done much on offense and Cutler has not thrown a pass to him in preseason. But if you were starting to cross him off your list, he made tackles on the first two special teams plays of the game at Denver. Davis also has experience in the slot, even if Earl Bennett is getting most of the work there right now, especially in some of the packages where tight end Greg Olsen is flexed out wide.

Brandon Rideau: He opened the preseason as the No. 3 wide receiver on the depth chart and he's remained in that spot as he was the first one off the sideline when the Bears went to three at Denver. But Cutler has not looked his way like he has Aromashodu. Rideau, however, scores points because he's been more active on special teams than Aromashodu. They are both about the same size and offer something different for the quarterback in the system.


Michael Gaines: Signed to be a blocking tight end and an H-back who could also line up in the backfield, Gaines just hasn't gotten a lot of action in preseason. It's hard to justify keeping four tight ends on the roster unless there is going to be a specific duty for each one on Sundays. Typically, the Bears keep a fourth tight end for practice purposes on the practice squad, and the expectation is they will do that again this year. Gaines could help, though, because Jason McKie is the only fullback expected to make the roster. Having Gaines would give the team some flexibility if they needed help at the position during a game.

We've spent plenty of time here the last three-plus weeks discussing the big stories that lie ahead in training camp and how things will shake out. Let's mix it up this morning and go a different direction. Here is a list of eight players not expected to be in the starting lineup but worth watching during training camp and preseason. Some of them will need to perform well and against odds to land a spot on the 53-man roster. We chose only players who have never started a game in the NFL. A look:

Safety Al Afalava. The Bears went into the draft knowing they needed a free safety but with their draft position, they didn't identify any that would fill their need in what was considered a weak class. They wound up grabbing Afalava in the sixth round, and he's a strong safety although the Bears have said he can play both positions. He's a serious hitter and should provide some exciting moments late in some preseason games that are otherwise not exciting. It could be an uphill battle to make the roster and just being a thumper won't get it done for him. He needs to show instincts first. Missing the bulk of the offseason program because of the rules for schools like Oregon State that are on the quarter system didn't help him.

Cornerback Zack Bowman. He's got to be a candidate for the most improved player from last summer to now. Remember, Bowman didn't make the 53-man roster last September and started on the practice squad before getting a promotion. He did well for himself in shorts and a helmet this spring and needs to build off that momentum. The biggest challenge for the fifth-round draft pick from 2008 will be staying healthy. He's got to stay on the field.

Defensive tackle Jarron Gilbert. The real hit-or-miss nature of the Bears' drafts over the last five seasons makes you wonder about the current class of rookies. First-round pick Jay Cutler should look great. Ditto third-round pick Jay Cutler. The rest of the bunch is unknown and you might as well start with Gilbert, who was drafted to come in and help out a problem area for the defense on the line last season. They don't need him to be on the all-rookie team, and he doesn't have to start, but some meaningful contributions would help bolster the front seven.

Quarterback Caleb Hanie. All eyes will be on Cutler but Hanie's basically blank resume is going to make it imperative that he perform well in preseason. The Bears aren't going to panic if it looks sketchy behind Cutler, who has never missed an NFL start, but seeing some solid outings out of Hanie will make them feel pretty good about a potential No. 2 for a few seasons. You can be young and ineffective and hold down a job as a No. 3 a team is looking to develop. The backup needs to be able to come in and get a team through a game.

Who says you need a Pro Bowl wide receiver to win the Super Bowl?

Not Rick Gosselin, that is for sure.

The veteran Dallas Morning News' scribe did an interesting breakdown of Super Bowl winners from 1991 to present and how the makeup of offenses has changed. History proves you don't need an elite receiver to win the Big Game, not anymore any way. It's good news for the Bears, right? They have nine wideouts on their roster right now and two of them have more than seven career catches--Devin Hester and Rashied Davis. The other seven--Devin Aromashodu (7), John Broussard (4), Earl Bennett (0), Juaquin Iglesias (0), Johnny Knox (0), Derek Kinder (0) and Eric Peterman (0)--have 11 combined receptions. Yes, more than half of the receivers on the roster have not caught a pass in the NFL making position coach Darryl Drake's job about as important as anyone's entering this season.

"Neither of the last two Super Bowl champions - Pittsburgh in 2008 or the New York Giants in 2007 - had a Pro Bowl wide receiver that season. Neither had a Pro Bowl quarterback, for that matter. The Steelers finished 17th in the NFL in passing and the Giants were 21st.


"When the New England Patriots won back-to-back titles in the 2003 and 2004 seasons, their top wideouts failed to crack the NFL's top 30 in receiving those seasons. Deion Branch finished 42nd in 2003 and David Givens 40th in 2004. Baltimore's top wideout in its 2000 championship season was Qadry Ismail, who finished 68th in the NFL.


"Only two NFL champions in the 2000 decade lined up a Pro Bowl wide receiver in their Super Bowl seasons - Troy Brown for the Patriots in 2001 and Marvin Harrison for the Indianapolis Colts in 2006. The rest preferred quantity over quality on the flank."

Gosselin provides a chart comparing the top wideout for the Super Bowl champs from 2000 through 2008 to the top wideout for the Super Bowl champs from 1991 through 1999. Five wideouts from the 1991 to 1999 group made Pro Bowls. Two in the more recent group were selected, including Harrison for Indianapolis in 2006, the year the Colts defeated the Bears in Super Bowl XLI.

There are some key points made in this story but the question right now is not if the Bears have an elite wide receiver for new quarterback Jay Cutler. The burning question is whether or not the Bears have enough wide receivers worthy of regular playing time in the NFL? I doesn't matter if you have Cutler or Kyle Orton at quarterback, you're not going to make a living pushing the ball downfield to tight ends and running backs.

What can a dominant receiver mean in the postseason? Consider Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald, whose four-game postseason run included 30 receptions for 546 yards and seven touchdowns. To put that in perspective, Hester was the only Bears wide receiver with more yards in 2008, and the Bears haven't had a wideout score that many times since Marty Booker had eight touchdowns in 2001.

Pittsburgh's Santonio Holmes was the third wide receiver to claim Super Bowl MVP honors in the last five years. You might not need a Pro Bowl wide receiver, but you have to have one who can perform big on the sport's grandest stage. It's been 12 years since a running back was named Super Bowl MVP.


*** Over at the National Football Post, Matt Bowen likes the addition of strong-side linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa to the Bears' defense, but the thing that jumps out from this read is his assessment of new defensive line coach Rod Marinelli.

"I doubt they'll disappoint with new D-line coach Rod Marinelli, who's gotten rave reviews from former players I've talked to as well as Bears GM Jerry Angelo. "The best teaching coach in the league," I've heard more than once.''

The Bears injected a little youth into the line with third-round pick Jarron Gilbert and fourth-round selection Henry Melton, but otherwise they're hoping to rediscover their swagger of 2005 and 2006 with virtually the same personnel. Some have questioned the ability of Marinelli to come in, wave a magic wand and make it happen. Bowen and other league insiders believe Marinelli can make it happen, and everyone knows the hard work Marinelli has ahead for the linemen. We've written it before, we'll write it again, pay attention to the individual D-line drills in training camp.

*** It seems that the last month or so has been one projection followed by one list followed by another projection. Well, here's another list ... this time ESPN's John Clayton puts together the top five general manager-coach combinations in the NFL. He ranks Jerry Angelo and Lovie Smith fourth.

"Lovie Smith-Jerry Angelo, Chicago Bears: This one might surprise some because Angelo isn't a vocal general manager and the Bears, as a team, usually slip under the radar. They stay in contention most years in the NFC North, and made it to the Super Bowl in 2006. Angelo made one of the biggest moves of the offseason, acquiring quarterback Jay Cutler, who could take the Bears to 11 wins. In the meantime, Smith has taken over the play-calling duties on defense and expects an improved, more aggressive unit this fall."


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Going over the Bears' 80-man roster right now, one position of need really jumps out at you. We're not covering any new ground when we write that they are banking on considerable production from multiple unproven players at wide receiver in 2009. Donald Driver beat us to the punch on that already.

Earl Bennett is a projected starter with zero NFL catches. Rookies Juaquin Iglesias and Johnny Knox are being counted on and the Bears are hoping they don't require a "redshirt year'' that some in the organization say Bennett had. Then you have starter Devin Hester and veteran slot receiver Rashied Davis. Brandon Rideau could also figure in the mix and he has virtually no NFL experience.

But if Lovie Smith could make one personnel move right now, import one player to his roster, would it be a receiver? Maybe. But think back to five years ago when Smith was first on the scene. The Bears went to training camp at Olivet Nazarene University and before they got out of there Smith made up his mind, he needed a pass rusher to make his defense go. We've heard Smith say it every year as the draft approaches, he can never have enough players who can get to the quarterback.

Well, the price for an elite pass rusher just went up. A lot. All of a sudden you've got multiple pass rushers (Dwight Freeney's $72 million contract is standing up just fine) making more money than some top passers, a trend that is sure to change and maybe before the Bears get around to doing a deal for Jay Cutler. Consider the joy among edge rushers this week:

*** Terrell Suggs beat the deadline that comes with the franchise tag to sign a longterm contract in Baltimore. He bagged $63 million over six seasons, the same money Matt Cassel got in Kansas City this week. According to reports, Suggs will receive $38 million guaranteed and his total bonus money in the first two years of the deal is $33.1 million, just shy of the $34 million in bonus money Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning had in his contract.

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Missing: The Bears' pass rush.

If found, please bring to the Weber Center on the campus of Olivet Nazarene University by midnight July 30, you know, so the defense can have its identity back in time for training camp.

The disappearance of the Bears' pass rush, particularly from its front four, was an issue that could not be solved last season when the team registered 28 sacks, the lowest total in five seasons under Lovie Smith. Since expanding to the 16-game schedule in 1978, the Bears have had less than 28 sacks just once, in 2003.

The lack of a pass rush has been conveniently placed at the feet of defensive tackle Tommie Harris by some and that's entirely unfair. No, Harris didn't make it to the Pro Bowl last season but to finger him as the reason for the rush being stuck in rush hour wouldn't be accurate.

Football Outsiders provides an interesting graphic in their Football Outsiders Almanac, and on the surface at least it places the blame elsewhere. Consider this information from Football Outsiders on the distribution of sacks for the Bears over the last three seasons:

Year Pass Attempts DE sacks DT sacks LB/DB sacks Total QB hits per pass

2006 581 25.5 10.5 4 40 14.8 percent

2007 541 18.5 9.5 12 40 13.6 percent

2008 622 12 10.5 4.5 28* 12.4 percent

* On their official statistics the Bears had one sack awarded to "group."

Harris made five sacks last season, tying him for second on the defense, one behind Alex Brown. Harris made a career-high eight sacks in 2007 and had five in 2006. His sack totals--and the numbers produced by the defensive tackles--have remained consistent over the three-year period.

The difference between 28 sacks in 2008 and 40 sacks in 2006? How about Mark Anderson? The defensive end made one sack last season. He had 12 in 2006. Those 11 missing sacks would have given the Bears 39 last season.

"Besides the presence of Mark Anderson at the bottom?'' Football Outsiders managing editor Bill Barnwell said when asked what struck him in his evaluation of the Bears' defensive line. "That jumps out to me. Otherwise, probably Alex Brown's pass-rushing numbers. Not just the sacks, but we also track hits and hurries."

In statistics detailed in Football Outsiders Almanac, Brown was credited with 11 hits and 11 hurries. Combined with six sacks, that means he affected the quarterback 28 times, three more than the next closest Bear, Adewale Ogunleye (5 sacks, 4 hits, 16 hurries). Brown's 11 hits tied for 17th in the league. Anderson had one sack, four hits and six hurries. Harris had five hits and seven hurries.

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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

Others

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.

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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

Others

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.

We have gotten a look at how the Bears constructed the contracts for third-round picks Jarron Gilbert and Juaquin Iglesias and interestingly the deals are put together in similar fashion to how teams usually write contracts for second-round picks.

Both Gilbert and Iglesias, who signed their four-year contracts last week, received signing bonuses and not-likely-to-be-earned incentives (NLTBE) that are guaranteed against the last year of the deal, 2012. What happened was the Bears were under allocated when it came to the rookie pool. When the league last raised the minimum salaries it did not adjust the rookie pool accordingly, making it difficult (impossible in some cases) to squeeze in all the picks while giving the annual bump in pay.

The Bears' rookie pool, essentially a salary cap within the salary cap, was $3,497,111. After signing seven of their nine draft picks there simply wasn't enough rookie pool left for Gilbert and Iglesias to both get proper signing bonuses. So instead of putting the squeeze on one player, the Bears found a way to make it as fair as possible. The NLTBE, in this instance, is earned by playing time and the higher the draft pick, the better chance he has of being on the field to trigger the one-time payment. In theory, any way.

Here is how it broke down:

Jarron Gilbert, $740,000 signing bonus, $146,500 NLTBE, total bonus money $886,500

Juaquin Iglesias, $500,000 signing bonus, $119,900 NLTBE, total bonus money $619,900

Both players have escalators in the final year of the deal and with the base salaries Gilbert's contract is worth $2,636,500 and Iglesias' totals $2,369,900.

The Bears passed up the rest of the league last Friday when they reached terms with seven of their nine draft picks. Contract negotiator Cliff Stein let it be known that his goal was to have all of the players under contract by mid-June and the Bears have about 10 days to make that happen.

Stein was the subject of a recent piece on ESPN.com by Len Pasquarelli right here. It outlined part of the philosophy in what the Bears do in keeping their rookie contracts uniform. Starting in 2003 with safety Todd Johnson, the Bears began signing all draft picks from the third round on down to four-year deals. At the time, they were permitted to sign second-round picks to five-year deals. Now, it's four-year deals for second-round picks on down. It's a good read and covers some of the ground we've hit on here.

After agent Frank Bauer's visit to Halas Hall earlier this week, defensive lineman Jarron Gilbert, the club's first third-round pick, is believed to be close to a deal. Bauer represents Gilbert as well as the power brokers on the coaching staff--Lovie Smith, Ron Turner, Bob Babich and Rod Marinelli. The Bears also have to sign wide receiver Juaquin Iglesias, the second pick from the third round.

All nine draft picks will receive four-year contracts with the following base salaries:

2009 $310,000
2010 $395,000
2011 $480,000
2012 $565,000

That makes for a base value of $1.75 million.

Add defensive end Henry Melton to the list of draft picks the Bears have come to terms with today.

The fourth-round draft pick has agreed to a four-year deal and becomes the seventh draft pick to reach terms with the Bears and contract negotiator Cliff Stein today. The Bears easily led the league in draft picks signed. The only remaining picks are defensive tackle Jarron Gilbert and wide receiver Juaquin Iglesias.

Earlier, the team announced it had reached agreements with D.J. Moore, Johnny Knox, Marcus Freeman, Al Afalava, Lance Louis and Derek Kinder.

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Plenty of football lies ahead. The team's fan expo is scheduled for Sunday at Soldier Field and the first OTA will be held on Wednesday at Halas Hall. Let's get right to the mailbag. We've received several questions recently about defensive lineman Israel Idonije and we'll address two.

Q: My question is about Israel Idonije. It seems like every year he gets moved from tackle to end and then back again the next year. I understand a key to the 3-4 defense is finding the rare player with the attributes to play defensive end. Typically they are players that are too small to be a nose tackle but are bigger than a typical rush end in a 4-3. Doesn't that describe Idonije? Apparently players like Idonije are so rare that Kansas City used the third pick in the draft to grab Tyson Jackson even though some would call it a reach. Jackson is listed at 6-4, 294 pounds and Idonije is nearly identical at 6-6, 297. Wouldn't Idonije be better served by playing in a 3-4 defense? Doesn't he have some trade value? I know he's a big contributor on special teams but isn't the defensive line crowded with the addition of the new draft picks? If idonije was a good fit for the Bears wouldn't he have settled into a position by now?

Chris F., Homer Glen, IL

A: You make some interesting points but we would suggest that a quality nose tackle in the 3-4 is probably the most rare thing. The whole concept of the 3-4 is to tie up the blockers with three down linemen so the four linebackers can make plays. That starts with a tackle who can command double teams and create pileups in the middle of the field on every snap. I am not going to dispute that Idonije has value. There were a couple of games where he really stood out last season. He had a sack, QB hit and four tackles against Philadelphia. He had 1 1/2 sacks, a QB hit and a pass deflection against Jacksonville. There were other moments too. But there were times last season when Idonije wasn't as noticeable, and his playing time dipped over the final third of the year. Idonije has been a career role player for the Bears and for him to have real trade value, some team would have to view him as a starter and a top starter for them. I am sure the Bears would listen to offers but I also know that they believe strongly that you can never have too many defensive linemen, particularly versatile ones like Idonije. He can play all four spots on the line, even the nose in a pinch, and guys like that are hard to find and make life easier on coaches come Sunday.

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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:

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