Chicago Bears Still Looking For a Few Good (Rush) Men

Gene ChamberlainCorrespondent IAugust 20, 2010

The Bears came out of their Bourbonnais portion of training camp knowing that at the very least, they have defensive line depth.

It all starts with defensive end Julius Peppers, of course. His freakish quickness and athleticism for someone 6'7," 300 pounds has been put on display almost every day of practice.

“There are things he does every day that I will watch film on and I'll be like, ‘God, how does he do that? A guy that size?’ " said linebacker Brian Urlacher.

No one doubted this ability when Peppers came to Chicago. Instead, one of the big question marks about the defensive line was whether defensive tackle Tommie Harris would be able to regain the physical status he had four years ago before a series of knee, hamstring and ego injuries rendered him little more than an average player.

Each training camp since 2006 the Bears have reported Harris would go through as much practice as possible and each camp that meant a few days of practice, followed by a day or two off.

However, in this camp Harris escaped unscathed and stronger in his legs than any time since the Bears’ Super Bowl season.

“No reason to believe Tommie isn't going to have a very very good season for us,” general manager Jerry Angelo said. “So, again, we're excited about that.

“A healthy Tommie, a practicing Tommie should be a very, very good football player.”

For Harris, it all started prior to camp by being healthy enough to participate in the team conditioning program, minicamp and OTAs.

"I wasn't injured this off-season, so I practiced like I did before I got injured," he said.

Nose tackle Anthony Adams looked his usual consistent self, swing tackle Marcus Harrison has come on after problems with heat exhaustion and the battle between Mark Anderson and Israel Idonije for starting left defensive end rages on.

“It’s not going to be a big issue who starts,” Idonije said. “We’ll use a three-man rotation at end like we always have.”

The real issue is who the backups will be and whether second-year defensive end Jarron Gilbert will be on the roster. He could get sqeezed out by a few younger players or if veteran nose tackle Matt Toeaina is retained.

After a handful of practices, Gilbert had done enough to warrant some looks with starters. As camp concluded, Gilbert was nowhere to be found and rookie Corey Wootton and second-year player Henry Melton had begun attracting attention.

“Henry, we think he's really going to blossom this year,” Angelo said. “He's put on some weight in the off-season. He's looked real good in certain aspects of the scheme.

“(Defensive coordinator) Rod (Marinelli) is starting to play him a little bit outside as a defensive end. That's what he played in college. But he's got all of the necessary traits that we look for at the under tackle. Obviously pass rush is what we see in his future with us.”

Melton started camp 260 pounds but gradually has been adding weight. Playing at 260 inside wouldn’t be easy, but Marinelli sees something he likes.

“He’s got a certain hardness to him inside,” Marinelli said. “He’s a physical player. He’ll hit. This guy will really get after it in terms of those things.”

With Marinelli saying he needs a “couple more” rush men, Gilbert went the opposite way of Melton in more ways than one. While Melton went from end inside to tackle, Gilbert has gone from tackle outside to end—but without the same kind of success.

“He had a handful of plays,” Angelo said about the game against the Chargers. “He looked OK.

“He's got to pick it up obviously. We need to see something out of Jarron. That probably can be said with a handful of players at other positions as well.”

A general manager saying a player has to pick it up can be best described as pro football’s version of a cattle prod. Gilbert may have been able to jump out of swimming pools in that now famous YouTube video he did, but he’d better start making jumps up the depth chart or he could wind up on the way out of town.

If the Bears had no one behind Gilbert, he could languish on the bottom of the regular-season roster another season. However, Wootton has made greater strides after a slow start at end.

“Other than playing too tall - he stands up too much, too high—what I’ve really been impressed with is his mental toughness,” Marinelli said. “I mean every down, he plays hard and he’s physical, he listens, he’s not thin-skinned and he’s getting better every day.

“I mean he plays hard now, I’m impressed with that. He just plays too tall right now.”

Toeiana has played well enough at nose tackle to take away some of Harrison’s and Adams' first-team snaps. So it all will come down to how many linemen they decide to keep among the final 53 players. Angelo pointed out that they usually kept nine defensive linemen in the past.

“Again, we like to think we have nine good defensive linemen and those nine defensive linemen will be our best 53,” he said. “If that’s the case, that is the number we are going to go with.

“We’re not going to get fixated on numbers. We really want to get focused on keeping the best players because it’s a long season, players get hurt and you don’t want to drop off radically at any position in terms of talent.”


Gene Chamberlain is an imbedded reporter with the Chicago Bears for CBS RapidReports and his reports can be found daily at


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