Former Bears GM Jerry Angelo held to a theory that there were in fact three true “franchise” positions on a football team: quarterback, running back and pass-rushing defensive lineman, usually an end.
The “franchise” identifier did not refer expressly to the monetary value of the position. It was rather to the fact that those are the three positions capable of dominating a football game, as much as any one player can in the ultimate team sport.
Quarterbacks, obvious. See: Packers, Green Bay/Rodgers, Aaron. Running backs, same. The Bears have an entire indoor practice center named for one of theirs who was effectively the offense for too much of his career.
As for defensive end, the Bears’ results of the past several weeks are proof enough.
Their two victories have come in no small measure because of game-turning plays from defensive ends, critically important at a time when their defensive tackles and linebackers and defensive backs are in and out of the infirmary.
In Green Bay it was the three sacks by Shea McClellin, one taking out Rodgers with a shoulder injury. More than that, the plays ended drives in a game when the rest of the defense was proving unable to stop running back Eddie Lacey too much of the time.
“I wasn’t doing anything different, nothing different before the game, just went out there and played, have fun,” McClellin said. “I just keep that same mentality, go into it and have fun.”
The Bears had zero sacks in the loss to Detroit.
Then against Baltimore it was rookie end David Bass, who played a season-high 56 snaps (72 percent), intercepting Joe Flacco and returning the pick 24 yards for the turning-point play of a game that was getting away from the Bears early.
On the first possession of the second half, the Ravens reached the Chicago 32 on a 13-play drive. It ended with a sack and strip of Flacco by Cheta Ozougwu on an attempt at a fourth-down conversion with the Bears already trailing by four points.
The dominant overall defensive performance for the game, by either team, belonged to Julius Peppers, credited with 11 tackles, two sacks, four tackles for loss and two other quarterback hits.
Notably, Peppers and end-turned-tackle Corey Wootton played the most snaps (71) of any other defensive lineman on either team.
“How do I feel?” Peppers said. “Not as fresh. This is Game 11, so it’s a long season. We just got to adjust, whether it be getting extra treatment, managing practice time or you just got to find what works for you.”
Right now, defensive ends are working for the Bears.