Like It or Not, Changes at Defensive End May Be Looming for the Bears
The fan base knows it. They don't want to admit it, but deep down, they know it.
Perhaps it is because the Bears have gone only one draft this century without picking a DE. Or it could be that everybody is too busy trying to throw Brian Urlacher under the bus and seek out Mike Brown's replacement. Maybe they're still disgruntled about Dan Bazuin.
Whatever the excuse, it doesn't change reality. Come 2010, the Bears could be in desperate need of a top-flight defensive end.
Brian Griese, Matt Ryan, Matt Schaub, and Aaron Rodgers all managed to evade sacks in their games against the Bears in 2008. In fact, the Bears blitzed more than any other team in the NFL and only managed to rack up 28 sacks, their lowest total since 2003.
New Defensive Line coach, Rod Marinelli, has been given his clay to mold with this week's veteran minicamp. He will have the next five months to prepare his edge rushers to strike terror into the hearts of NFL quarterbacks.
However, four of his defensive ends are heading into contract seasons. If the unit fails or nobody manages to have a breakout year, it would not be inconceivable for the team to be looking for top-talent at the position this time next year.
In 2009, the Chicago defense will be targeting the likes of Carson Palmer and Donovan McNabb, sophomore sensations Joe Flacco and Matt Ryan, and Super Bowl quarterbacks Kurt Warner and Ben Roethlisberger, among others.
So, what does Marinelli have to work with this season? What are their roles, and what are their futures? Let's take a look.
Ogunleye has been the premier Chicago Bears defensive end since 2004. While his sack total has fluctuated greatly from year to year, he has recorded more tackles every season that he has been a Bear.
On the downside, Adewale is 31 years old. Despite being the most productive and reliable defensive end on the roster, he could easily find himself playing elsewhere in 2010 if he seeks out a hefty contract next offseason or if the team decides to aim for a youth movement at the position.
Regardless, Ogunleye needs to have a big 2009 season to prove his value before seeking out what will perhaps be the final contract of his NFL career.
Longtime Bear Alex Brown may not be a superstar, but he is reliable weakside end. Despite having never finished a season with a double-digit sack total under his belt, he has posted consistent numbers since his rookie season in 2002.
Brown's work ethic finally began to stand out to casual fans down the stretch last season, but the 29-year-old has forced 14 fumbles over his seven-year career and has been a threat on the defensive field goal unit for some time now. Besides getting his hands in the passing lanes, Brown has had at least one interception for each of the past three years.
One has to wonder if Brown will be looking for a greater amount of appreciation (both financial and otherwise) when he debates his NFL home next offseason.
Behind Devin Hester, 5th-round pick Mark Anderson was the Bears' superstar of the 2006 draft. He totaled 12 sacks and four forced fumbles during his first year in the NFL, including the strip of Matt Leinart that started off the Monday Night Miracle in Arizona. In short, he looked like he could be the closest the team could come to finding a modern-day Richard Dent.
Since then, Anderson has looked nothing like the Sack Man of yesteryear. He was handed a starting job over Alex Brown in 2007 and lost it late in the season after much scrutiny over his ability to play the run.
Anderson may not be an every-down defensive end, but may be able to once again regain his situational pass rusher role after some tutoring from Rod Marinelli.
He will be looking for a new contract in 2010.
Israel Idonije has become a role player in recent years, rotating in on both the interior and exterior lines, as well as coming into the game on nickel downs.
He recorded 3.5 sacks in 2008, as well as six pass deflections. On special teams, Izzy has made key tackles, blocked field goals and extra points, and has anchored down the wedge on the kick return team. At one point, he was even toyed with as a gunner in punt coverage.
The 28 year-old Idonije is a big lineman at 6'6" and 297 pounds, but has been shedding weight recently in an attempt to move back to defensive end for the 2009 season. He bulked up this past season when he was used primarily on the inside of the line.
The Bears are suckers for multipurpose players, and Idonije fits the profile pretty well.
His contract is up after the 2009 season.
As it stands, Ervin Baldwin is nothing more than a project player. He was picked by the Bears in the seventh round of the 2008 draft from Michigan State and spent several months on the practice squad before being promoted to the active roster, reportedly to keep him from being snatched away by Kansas City.
Listed as 6'2" and 260 pounds, Baldwin is signed to a small back-loaded contract through 2011.
Defensive end Joe Clermond rounds out the team's depth. He was signed to a Future/Reserves contract at the end of the season.