Where do we begin? The pass rush was anemic, the defensive tackles got hurt, which crippled the run defense, and the position coach got fired. It’s hard to find bright spots on the 2013 Bears’ D-line.
Julius Peppers shined in a few games (Pittsburgh, Baltimore), but also had three games without recording a single tackle. Shea McClellin won Defensive Player of the Week after his three-sack performance in Green Bay, but he had only one other sack the rest of the year.
Peppers and McClellin combined for 17 quarterback hits. For comparison purposes, Lions defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley had 19 – each.
The reserves at D-end, David Bass and Cheta Ozougwu, showed flashes, while Cornelious Washington remains very much a developmental prospect.
The best defensive end barely played on the edge, and that was Corey Wootton, who was selfless in playing three-technique, which would prevent him from piling up big stats in a contract year. He played through a hip injury and was the most consistent player on the line.
Henry Melton’s stat line showed little, but the Bears stopped the run when he was in the lineup before tearing his ACL in Week 3. Nate Collins performed well replacing Melton, but then he tore his ACL two weeks later. Jeremiah Ratliff made a positive impact late in the season. Stephen Paea started off very effectively, but battled a toe injury most of the year.
In Bears wins, the defensive line stood out with sacks or batted balls, but it gets its share of the blame for the worst ‘D’ in team history.
2014 contract situation
Melton, Wootton, Ratliff, Collins and Landon Cohen are all set for free agency, so there could be a big overhaul at this position. Plus, Peppers’ cap number ($18.183 million per Spotrac) puts his return in doubt.
Wootton makes sense as a priority to re-sign. His numbers and recent hip surgery could keep the price low, and he proved his versatility this season.
Phil Emery made it seem like he needs to see something out of Melton, last year’s franchised player who was arrested in December. “He has to fully dedicate his mind and his focus to football, which is extremely important,” Emery said Jan. 2. Both Emery and Marc Trestman made it clear, however, what an important player Melton is. Collins could be a cheap re-signing for depth, and he proved he’s worth it in limited action.
How much does Ratliff, who will be 33 next season, have left in the tank? His presence was noticeable in wins over Cleveland and Dallas.
The pass rush needs to improve. With McClellin’s position possibly changing, the Bears should look at signing a big-name free agent to cause problems off the edge. If paired with Peppers or Wootton, assuming they’re back, that would be an upgrade.
The three-technique position is important to the defense – we’re assuming Mel Tucker sticks with a 4-3, just has more hybrid fronts and blitzes at times – and that would support bringing Melton, Ratliff or Collins back. Tucker may want both interior linemen to be pass rushers, which could move Paea down the depth chart and move defensive tackles that can penetrate up the needs list.