Like many teams, the Chicago Bears' success on defense is predicated on the performance and pressure that it gets from its defensive line. The more well-known players are those rushing the quarterback from the defensive end position (Julius Peppers, Shea McClellin), but the interior linemen are just as important as those on the outside.
After the firing of Lovie Smith as head coach, the Bears brought in offensive minded Marc Trestman to take over as head coach and he hired Mel Tucker to run the Bears' defense.
Tucker is expected to continue implementing a version of the Cover 2 defense, and the defensive tackle depth will be just as important as ever.
Starters: Henry Melton, Stephen Paea
Henry Melton proved his worth last season in a contract year, registering 43 tackles, two forced fumbles and six sacks en route to his first career Pro Bowl. His strong 2012 season continued a pattern of improvement that resulted in the organization placing the franchise tag on him for the 2013 season. His strength is being a pass-rusher, but he has shown improvement as a run-stopper and has benefited greatly from having Julius Peppers lined up next to him at the defensive end position.
Expected to start alongside of Melton, Stephen Paea is looking to add to his strong sophomore campaign from 2012 heading into the 2013 season.
While his numbers don't exactly jump off the page (13 tackles, 2.5 sacks), his strength and quickness off of the line of scrimmage at the nose tackle spot makes him the perfect compliment to Melton at the three technique. His strength and ability to move offensive linemen clogs up holes and often forces runners to alter their running route and funnels them toward the Bears' linebackers.
As long as they are healthy, Melton and Paea are expected to remain the starting duo in 2013.
Veteran Backups: Nate Collins, Corvey Irvin
Nate Collins found a spot in the defensive tackle rotation after a strong showing in training camp and the preseason in 2012. He showed flashes at times last season and has the ability to not only stop the run, but showed the ability to get off the ball quickly and get pressure on the quarterback. Expect him to continue to push for more playing time in the rotation, and he could possibly push Paea in training camp for the chance to start at the nose tackle position.
A former third-round selection of the Carolina Panthers in 2009, Corvey Irvin has also spent time with the Detroit Lions and Tampa Bay Buccaneers before signing with Bears in May after a tryout during the team's rookie minicamp. He appeared in 12 games last season for the Bucs and considering the lack of depth at the position after Melton, Paea and Collins, he has a strong shot at making the team out of training camp.
Undrafted Rookies: Zach Minter, Brent Russell, Christian Tupou
Zach Minter might be the most intriguing of the undrafted rookies, as he was an under-the-radar player coming into the draft but was a two-time All-Big Sky first-team selection while at Montana State. He was not invited to the NFL combine but did participate in one of the regional combines, turning in a 4.80 in the 40-yard dash and a 34.5-inch vertical jump—which would have been good enough for the best 40-yard dash time and second-best vertical jump at the NFL combine in Indianapolis.
He has good footwork and shows explosiveness off the ball. He could find himself working toward playing the 3-technique position, the same as Melton.
Brent Russell started 52 games while at Georgia Southern and finished with over 230 tackles, 54.5 tackles for loss and 25 sacks. He has the strength and ability to play the nose tackle position, but will have to prove he can play up to the level of competition in the NFL after playing at an FCS school.
Christian Tupou impressed the coaching staff enough to be signed to a contract following the team's rookie minicamp after having been brought in on a tryout basis. He plays with a great motor and intensity, but will have to prove to the coaching staff that he can work on his explosiveness and improve his footwork in order to stay on the roster.