Second-year defensive tackle Stephen Paea is taking snaps with the first-team defense, as the starting nose tackle for the third-straight practice. Paea came back from injury last year and didn't enjoy the benefit of having a full offseason to develop.
This year, however, Paea is completely healthy and is already showing reasons why the Bears considered drafting him at 29th overall before trading up to grab him in Round 2.
He is the most well-rounded defensive tackle on the roster when it comes to size, strength and overall athleticism. Some DTs are athletic, like Gerald McCoy, and some are extremely strong, like Brian Price.
Paea is a combination of both and appears to have permanently bypassed veteran Matt Toeaina on the depth chart. Toeaina has been a solid starter for the Bears but doesn't bring the added pass-rush dimension that Paea does.
During our podcast last week, we spoke about Paea at length and even had an interview from Rod Marinelli in which he raved about Paea's potential. Marinelli also talked about Paea yesterday in this video.
Paea's emergence isn't surprising given how he was talked about as a high first-round pick heading into his senior year at Oregon State. He suffered a knee injury that hurt his draft stock in conjunction with teams paying him more attention during the 2010 season.
Now heading into his second year, he is starting to build upon the potential that could make him the best DT on the team in the not-so-distant future.
The Bears use different rush packages based on the game situation, and Paea is seeing action in each package. He's lined up as the nose on first and second down and is also a part of the nickel rush package the Bears operate in.
Moving forward, the question is: How big of an impact can Paea have? Will he make the Pro Bowl in his second year? The guess here is he makes a big impact in year two, and in year three he will be in Honolulu.