Chicago Bears' Pass Rush Tandem Keys Hopes for Defensive Revival
One of the best places to be at training camp is always near the pass-rush drills.
Whether it's one-on-one or players working in small groups, someone is sure to get overaggressive and the end result is shoving or worse.
During one of these drills Monday, the Bears hoped they saw a small glimpse of what their defensive line play will look like this season.
Tommie Harris and Julius Peppers worked against the team's left two starting offensive linemen, and a backup center. They so completely caved in the blocking scheme with their pass rush that quarterback Mike Teel barely had time to look down the field. Both Harris and Peppers played off each other and met at the QB.
"I played with Julius a couple times in the Pro Bowl and I've known Julius since we've been in college," Harris said. "And we worked out together over the summer.
"So we're pretty familiar with each other's styles. So it's good to have him here."
The belief is that tandem will be too much for other offensive lines.
The Bears are certainly having their own offensive line problems—especially with Frank Omiyale jumping another snap count at right tackle Tuesday to bring his camp total up to five.
However, the Peppers-Harris pass rush success hardly looked like the result of someone working against a poor, inexperienced line.
Aside from allowing Mark Anderson a couple sacks in pass rush drills Monday, Chris Williams hasn't fared poorly in general while pass blocking at left tackle. It's just been a matter of a dominant player showing what can be expected from him when the season begins.
"He’s so tough to block because he’s as quick as any guy we’ve got, but he’s 300 pounds," Williams said. "And his arms are long and so, I mean, he’s kind of a mutant."
Harris was once regarded with awe by blockers, but then came his 2006 torn hamstring, followed by a knee problem and arthroscopic surgery. He had some off-field problems and suddenly people questioned the $40 million contract extension he received.
Late last season, however, Harris began showing signs of his old self. His 2.5 sacks came in the second half of the season, as did 11 of his 19 tackles.
"The biggest thing was people were talking about my knee and different things, but I had two back-to-back surgeries and my muscles had atrophied," Harris said. "So they weren't firing at all. They finally started turning on once I started really practicing and pushing it and pushing it.
"Once you get that firing around, it's good to go."
Now he says he feels like he's turned back the clock a bit.
"There's a lot of take two steps forward and one step back and then three steps forward and one step back," Harris said. "You keep getting stronger and stronger.
"But the biggest thing is getting your body conditioned to these little muscles and little movements that I haven't been able to do in a long time. So my confidence is continuing to build up trying new things."
The entire line seems to be firing. Defensive end Mark Anderson has had two practices when he stood out and talked Monday of working on "a signature" pass rush move.
Israel Idonije has moved from tackle to end —after starting his career as an end —and he couldn't be happier. No more losing 30 pounds in the start of a season to play end, then gaining it back to play tackle.
"All I’m doing is playing end," he said. "Before it was end, nose, three-technique (tackle), and I’m excited.
"It’s a great opportunity just to be committed to one position and say hey, this is what we want you to do, and just work on these skills, work on these few things."
The biggest question seems to be depth at three-technique tackle behind Harris. Henry Melton has moved from end to that position and Marcus Harrison can play there, as well. But Harrison has been bothered by heat exhaustion lately after fighting illness throughout OTAs in June.
However, considering they let starting defensive end Adewale Ogunleye go in free agency, cut starting end Alex Brown, tragically had end Gaines Adams pass away, and have a relatively new look, no one can complain.
Having a "mutant" like Peppers makes it easy to stay positive.
If Harris maintains his health, they may be meeting at the quarterback quite often this season in a defensive scheme that depends greatly on the front four to apply pressure.
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