There were many people that felt the Bears defense would be in trouble this season even though they acquired superstar defensive end Julius Peppers in free agency during the offseason. There was a lot of discussion surrounding the secondary and how well it would perform.
There were many who felt that the defensive line (aside from Peppers) wouldn’t be that good this season. Most of that centered on the interior defensive line, despite the fact they had Tommie Harris.
And then there were those who felt that even though middle linebacker Brian Urlacher was back and healthy, he was clearly on the decline and wouldn’t factor well this season.
Let’s take a look at those players on defense and how they’ve performed throughout the first seven games of the season. They have also been given a grade based on a grading scale devised by this writer. The grading scale is as follows:
A: Excellent, no flaws, very valuable player
B: Solid, some flaws, valuable player
C: Fair, as many flaws as there is upside, marginal player
D: Poor, many more flaws than upside, not a quality performer
F: Very poor, completely flawed, shouldn’t be in the lineup at all
I-Incomplete, we haven’t seen enough of the player to give them a grade so far this season
Peppers was signed this offseason to help improve the Bears pass rush and he has helped, but it’s still not quite as good as many fans thought that it would be. He has made some great plays but has also not been as productive as many had hoped. His presence has been enough to help the pass rush but sometimes that isn’t enough. Still, for what he has done, we have to give him a good grade. Grade: A
Adams, a player that has been much maligned in the past by the coaching staff, has been playing very well for the Bears and is a quiet, but steady force in the middle. We saw some of the things that he’s been able to do (the play in the Bears game against the Giants is just one example of many that he has had so far this season). Look for him to continue to be solid in the middle and a vital part of the defensive line. Grade: B
Harris has been on the downside of his career for a while now, but the coaching staff thought that with the addition of Peppers, Harris would find new life and turn into the player that he once was. Unfortunately that hasn’t happened. Harris was even inactive for a game this season because the Bears felt that he didn’t fit what they were trying to do in that particular game (against the Packers). That would have been impossible to do when he was playing at a Pro Bowl level.
Harris has his moments, but he’s not doing much to help the Bears with their pass rush. Grade: C
Has anyone seen Harrison? It appears as if Harrison has really fallen out of favor with the Bears, and has only participated in one game this season. It would appear as if he has fallen out of favor with the coaching staff and is no longer a factor. If there is an injury later on in the season, we might see him but for now he’s remaining inactive on game day. Grade: I
Idonije didn’t show us too much while Mark Anderson was here, but after the Bears released him, Idonije stepped up and has been playing pretty well ever since. With Peppers in the lineup, some of the heat came off Idonije and he was able to play well. Look for Idonije to continue to keep making big plays this season and finally show the Bears that he’s one of the better players on the roster. Grade: B
Melton surprised a lot of people by making the team in training camp and has been used extensively to relieve some of the guys in the interior of the defensive line. He has made a few plays that can be considered decent, but nothing too spectacular. He’s a good backup and but not a solid starter. If he has to start on a regular basis, there could be some problems. Grade: C
Toeaina has been a starter for five games and has been playing pretty well. While he may not get his name called that much, he has been effective in the middle of the defensive line and has even gotten some pressure on the quarterback. After struggling to make the roster for the past few seasons, he’s finally stuck and is contributing pretty well on defense. Grade: B
The Bears just called Turner up from the practice squad, and he hasn’t had a chance to play yet. He did have some good plays in training camp, so perhaps he will get a chance to do something on game day in the second half of the season. Grade: I
Wootton has seen just a little bit of action so far this season, and hasn’t had much of an impact on defense yet. Look for the Bears to try to work him into a rotation more often with Idonije and see what he can do. He’s got a lot of talent and the Bears just need to use it. Grade: I
Spicer is a practice squad player and hasn’t seen game day yet. Grade: I
The return of Urlacher has helped Briggs become an even better player this season than he was last season. He has been stout against the run and has helped out a lot in defending against the pass. However, in the last two games, Briggs has missed significant time because of an ankle injury and the Bears defense; in particular their run defense has suffered.
Briggs being out has clearly had a negative effect on the Bears. Hopefully he will get healed up during the bye week and be ready for the rest of the season. Grade: A
Iwuh has had plenty of action since Briggs has been out, and while he’s not as good as Briggs by any stretch of the imagination, he has been serviceable if not solid. He hasn’t played as well against the pass as the coaching staff may have liked, but he’s been doing well in many situations and is an adequate backup. Still, we all hope for Briggs to return soon. Grade: C+
We haven’t seen a lot of Roach this season. He ended the preseason recovering from surgery and then had a hamstring issue through a few games. He has seen action in six games this year, mostly on special teams, but hasn’t seen much action on defense. The Bears do realize that they have a more-than-adequate backup at the linebacker position with Roach, and if they need him, they can call on him and not miss much in terms of talent at the position. Grade: B
The Bears didn’t get to see much out of Tinoisamoa in 2009, so they were happy to have him back and starting this season. Tinoisamoa has been strong against the run, but with recent injuries suffered by Briggs, he has been asked to stay in on passing downs and has struggled with that on occasion. He has still made some nice plays and has even got a sack. Grade: B
After many people felt that Urlacher would be washed up, he’s come back with a vengeance. His play in the first few games of the season reminded many of us of his first years in the NFL and fans (as well as his teammates) were certainly happy to have him back. Urlacher has been a force against both the run and the pass and has emerged, once again, as their leader on defense.
He’s a big reason why this defense has been able to do what it has done, and he’s an invaluable part of the Chicago Bears roster. Grade: A
Wilson was signed after the Bears put Hunter Hillenmeyer on injured reserve. He has done nothing more than play on special teams and while he is good there, he did have a key holding penalty on a kickoff return for a touchdown that wiped out the play. Grade: C
As mentioned, Hillenmeyer is out for the season with a concussion. He only played in the first half of the first game (against Detroit). Grade: I
Johnson is on the practice squad and hasn’t played in a regular season game as of yet. Grade: I
Bullocks really didn’t see much action until the Bears' last game (against the Redskins). The safeties have stayed relatively healthy so there hasn’t been too much of a need to have him on the field. Grade: I
Fans were ecstatic when Harris, a former Bear and pretty decent player, came back to Chicago to help the Bears take care of their problems at the safety position. And while Harris has had his good moments, he has had some bad ones. He’s definitely not playing as well here as he did in Carolina and may get replaced by Major Wright if Wright can ever stay healthy. Grade: B-
We haven’t seen much of Steltz this season except on special teams. His injury in the preseason kept him out of competition for a starting stop at safety, so he entered the season as the third player at that position. If there is an injury, Steltz could see some action but for right now he’s good on special teams. Grade: I
Manning struggled at the position in season's past, and it was thought that there was a chance that he wouldn’t even be on the team this season. Despite all the adversity, Manning managed to win the starting job and has performed pretty well. He is also doing well on kickoff returns. As long as he can keep playing like he has been (at the safety position), he should have a pretty solid season. Grade: B
Wright hasn’t seen much action since the Detroit game thanks to a severely pulled hamstring, but it appears as if he will be back when the Bears face the Bills after the bye. Hopefully he comes back and plays as well as he did when he showed some strong flashes of ability in training camp. Grade: I
Bowman has been hot and cold this season so far. He was pulled in the Green Bay game in favor of Tim Jennings after having some trouble making tackles in the running game. After that he didn’t start and then suffered an injury in the Seattle game and missed the Washington game. Bowman has not been consistent in his play this season, which shows that he may not be ideally suited for a starting cornerback role. Grade: C
Graham hasn’t seen any action on defense this season but has been somewhat of a demon on special teams. His role on punt return coverage teams has been an important one and he’s managed to carve a niche out for himself on those units. Grade: B
As Bowman has faltered at cornerback at times, the coaching staff put former Indianapolis Colts starter Jennings in and he has played pretty well. He has been involved in a couple of big plays for the defense and is a pretty decent cover corner. The Bears may have struck a little bit of gold with Jennings thanks to his experience and savvy. Grade: B
Moore is the Bears' starting nickelback, and he has been playing that position very well. He’s collected three interceptions (including two in one game against the Cowboys) and has returned one of those interceptions for a touchdown. Granted, he hasn’t made noticeable plays in every game, but he had a big hand in helping the Bears win the game against Dallas and got the first defensive touchdown of the season. Grade: B
Moore hasn’t seen a lot of action this season and has only been active for one game. With the cornerback position being pretty much injury free (up until Bowman’s injury), there hasn’t been too much of a need to have Moore in the mix. Grade: I
While Tillman’s cover skills may be eroding a little bit, he’s one of the Bears best tacklers and can really get in there and create turnovers. He had a spectacular game against the Redskins and seems to know how to cause turnovers. He’s a big reason why the defense and the secondary have had a lot of success in 2010. Grade: A-