How is it, at 3-0, the Bears seem to be generating as many questions as they are answers?
Losing a Pro Bowler on your defensive line will do that to you.
Much of the focus after the Bears’ first practice since their 40-23 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday night was how they will replace Henry Melton on a defensive front that already was struggling.
“Keep getting better, work the technique and do what we’re supposed to do,” defensive coordinator Mel Tucker said about how the Bears will deal with the loss of Melton. “We’re never going to leave it up to just one guy or one position or call. We’re going to keep working hard together, trust in the defense and get the job done.”
Tucker said Nate Collins, who will move into Melton’s three-technique spot, “is a high-effort guy, high-energy guy, stout with a relentless mentality. He’s a guy who plays with good pad level, has a chip on his shoulder and I really like him.”
None of what Tucker has to say is surprising, considering Collins has been seeing regular playing time in a three-man rotation with Melton and Stephen Paea at the two tackle spots. Collins probably has been the Bears’ most effective defensive linemen this season.
But who will be the backup three-technique and how are the Bears going to get more production out of all four defensive line spots?
I asked coach Marc Trestman on Monday if he was satisfied with the production the team is getting out of veteran defensive end Julius Peppers. Trestman said he hadn’t had the chance to study the Steelers tape yet to answer the question.
When I asked Tucker on Wednesday how Peppers graded out against the Steelers, he said, “In terms of individual grades, I like to leave those in house. But overall, I feel good about what he did in the game. We got more pressure this week than we did the week before and the week before that. We’re still asking for more with all those guys, we’re asking them to play faster and be more physical.”
Although there’s no arguing with Tucker’s assessment, the Bears’ pressure on the quarterback in the Steelers game was the best it’s been all year. There also is no arguing it all came on blitzes.
The bottom line is that, according to the Bears’ own stats sheet, Peppers, Corey Wootton and Shea McClellin each are credited with only two quarterback pressures apiece over three games. Wootton has one sack, McClellin has half a sack and Peppers has none.
There are no answers on the bench. Each of those three must play better, and there might not be any answers on the bench to backing up Collins, either.
Much of the talk about filling that role involved sliding either Peppers or Wootton inside. Peppers has done it before, and Wootton already has been lining up inside next to Melton in pass rush situations.
Trestman said of Peppers at the three-technique: “He’s an explosive guy, he’s extremely agile and he can bend and get low. We had him inside at training camp and, for a lot of the reasons that we may be able to do it now it’s because we’ve had work at it. We had a plan to move people around in training camp for unfortunate situations that happen, so it’s certainly a possibility he could see some work there.”
Perhaps Peppers will rediscover himself inside, but here’s what we know: The more the Bears blitz, the more they pressure their own secondary, and with Charles Tillman banged up at cornerback, that’s a risky proposition this week against a Detroit Lions team averaging 340 passing yards a game.
With New Orleans coming up after the Lions, the Bears have to have more from their front four, whoever’s on the field, and wherever they line up.
• Hub Arkush covers the Bears for Shaw Media and HubArkush.com. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.