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A second-round pick of the Bears in 2011, Stephen Paea was expected to become a dominate presence at the nose tackle position.
Despite missing time due to injuries in his rookie season, he showed flashes and appeared to be the team's front-runner to start at nose tackle in 2012.
He started 14 games for the Bears in 2012, finishing with 24 tackles and 2.5 sacks.
Paea injured his ankle in training camp last offseason and struggled with injuries throughout the 2013 season. He played in 13 games, starting 10, but was overshadowed by the play of veteran Jeremiah Ratliff at the end of the season.
He appeared to be the front-runner for the starting nose tackle role again in 2014, but the team drafted defensive tackles Ego Ferguson and Will Sutton in the draft earlier this month.
While Sutton is viewed as more of a 3-technique, Ferguson has the ability to play the nose tackle position and may make Paea expendable this offseason.
Despite his struggles with consistency last season, general manager Phil Emery believes Paea's struggles were due to his injuries.
Emery still appears to have faith in Paea, but this offseason will be critical for him if he wants to remain with the team in 2014 and beyond.
Ferguson is still very much a raw prospect, but he has the ability to develop into a nose tackle. Combine Ferguson's potential with Ratliff's flexibility to play both the 3-technique and nose tackle position and that may make Paea expendable.
If he can shake the injury bug that has plagued him during his first three seasons, Paea still has the ability to impact this defense in 2014. But, if he is again sidelined with injuries and Ferguson develops more quickly than expected, he may be looking for another team for next season.