Best Bears pass rushers: Dent is not at the top

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Best Bears pass rushers: Dent is not at the top

Sunday, Feb. 13, 2011
Posted 4:18 p.m.
By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

With the selection of Richard Dent in the Hall of Fame Class of 2011, the NFL electors acknowledged the accomplishments of the most destructive force on the greatest single defense in NFL history. Dan Hampton and Mike Singletary preceded Dent into the Hall but no one preceded Dent into backfields.

But was Dent the best pass rusher in franchise history?

CSNChicago.com combed fact books, available video and other sources to arrive at the top three pass rushers in the history of the NFLs charter franchise. The first two were easy. After that.

The guidelines are for pure pass rusher, not simply the best defensive linemen, although in the cases of Nos. 1-2, they also were the two best ever at the defensive end position. The evaluations also factored in the level of pass rush achieved by players also tasked with playing the run first. Many pass rushers were loosed on quarterbacks without regard for wholistic defense. Bears rushmen were not.

1. Doug Atkins

Big Man was nearly as notable in Bears lore for his antics and tweakings of Papa Bear as for that he did on the field.

But Atkins, like Dent, was the epitome of a player capable of being a dominant player in any era. Atkins was 6-8 and played between 260-280 pounds, with enough athleticism (he went to Tennessee on a basketball scholarship) to have literally hurdled a crouching New York Giants left tackle Roosevelt Brown, also in the Hall of Fame, on the way to sacking Y.A. Tittle.

Atkins was the Julius Peppers of his era; Peppers (6-7, 283) was good enough to be a reserve on the North Carolina basketball team.

NFL Network ranked Atkins No. 9 on its list of All-Time Pass Rushers (although the second half of the list approaches laughable for including Michael Strahan and Mark Gastineau and not Dent). He is No. 1 on CSNChicago.coms list of All-Time Bears Pass Rushers.

2. Richard Dent

The Colonels sack total (137.5) was only a portion of his greatness, which was not to be measured in Pro Bowls (four). He was a superb all-around force on the edge of a defense that was among the best ever against the run as well as obliterating quarterbacks.

Dent was a student of his craft as well as his opponents and mastered techniques that combined with a freakish speed in a pass rusher who was a mismatch against all but a few left tackles of his era.

3. (Tie) Steve McMichael, Julius Peppers

McMichael was the Bears equivalent of John Randle, the undersized Minnesota Vikings Hall of Fame defensive tackle, with McMichael amassing 92.5 career sacks despite playing much of his career in a two-gap scheme. He put up nine seasons of seven or more sacks and set the standard for interior pass rushers in Chicago. He is what the Bears can only wish Tommie Harris had become.

Peppers has had just one Chicago season, making his inclusion a recognition of both what he has been and what he is the focal point of opposing blocking schemes. As with Atkins and Dent, if the tackle assigned to Peppers is left on his own, Peppers is virtually unblockable.

First alternate: Rosevelt Colvin

Trip was a fourth-round selection in the 1999 draft out of Purdue and for the period of a couple years was unquestionably the leading edge force in Chicago. He collected 10-12 sacks in both 2001 and 2002, making him the first Bear since Dent to post double-digit sacks in consecutive seasons.

What made Colvins production particularly remarkable was that he was a strong-side linebacker in the Bears two-gap 4-3 scheme under Greg Blache and Dick Jauron and was not an every-down pass rusher.

Colvin left via free agency for New England in 2003 but the body of work in his early years earned him inclusion on the Bears All-Decade Team along with Lance Briggs and Brian Urlacher.

Bears footnote: Colvin beat out Urlacher for the starting strong-side linebacker spot in 2000 after coaches had given 54 the job on draft day.

Honorable mention (Nos. 5-10)

Dan Hampton, Mike Hartenstine, Alex Brown, Ed Sprinkle, Brian Urlacher, Doug Buffone.

John "Moon" Mullin is CSNChicago.com's Bears Insider, and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information.

The 5 Bears players with the most to prove in training camp

The 5 Bears players with the most to prove in training camp

1. Mike Glennon

Glennon is, for now, the Bears’ unquestioned starting quarterback — a role the Bears made clear he wasn’t going to lose after drafting Mitch Trubisky with the second overall pick in April. It would take a monumental effort from Trubisky — and a disappointing one from Glennon — for that to change. But Glennon has only attempted 11 more passes in the NFL than Trubisky since the beginning of the 2015 season, leaving plenty of uncertainty heading to Bourbonnais. Glennon’s three-year, $45 million contract is structured so the Bears could cut him for $2.5 million next spring, and with a highly-touted player developing behind him, he may not have as much leeway as his contract would appear to give him. As Glennon put it in May: “This is my year. There are no guarantees in the NFL.” The 27-year-old is well aware this year is his best opportunity to prove, either to the Bears or the rest of the league, that he’s capable of being a successful starting quarterback. That process begins in earnest this week. 

2. Mitch Trubisky

While it remains unlikely that Trubisky will be the Bears’ Week 1 starter, if he proves to be better than Glennon at the end of August…why would he not be the starter? It’s not a simple yes or no question, given Trubisky has to learn a largely different offense than the one he ran in college (unlike Philadelphia’s No. 2 pick, Carson Wentz, a year ago) and only started 13 games since leaving high school in Mentor, Ohio. But it’s the job of John Fox and his coaching staff to win games, and if they come to a consensus that Trubisky gives them a better chance of winning, then it would make sense for him to start. What’s more likely in reach for Trubisky during training camp is showing enough to the coaching staff to lay the foundation for him to play in 2017, either as a substitute or as a starter later in the season. 

3. Kevin White

Aside from the quarterbacks, it’s hard to think of a player with more to prove than White. It’s too early to label White a bust, given those two leg injuries limited him four games in his first two years, but the Bears at least need him to be healthy this year to start to figure out what they have in the former seventh overall pick. White was targeted 36 times before suffering his season-ending injury last year and averaged 5.19 yards per target, which was the third-lowest average among receivers with at least 35 targets in 2016. That's surprising for a guy who was drafted with such good speed, so not only will White have to prove he can stay healthy, but he'll have to prove he can be more productive within the Bears' offense. 

4. Leonard Floyd

While White may have the most to prove, Floyd probably has the highest expectations placed upon him in 2017. Floyd’s 7 1/2 sacks last year were promising, and he appears to be past the scary post-concussion malaise he suffered in January and February. If Floyd grows into a double-digit sack guy for the Bears this year, he could be the catalyst for some significant improvements for the entire defense (a better pass rush begets more opportunities for interceptions, etc.). But he’ll also have to prove the issues that led to those two concussions last year — chiefly, poor tackling form — are a thing of the past, and that he’s able to make that Year 1 to Year 2 leap the Bears think he can. 

5. Kyle Fuller

Fuller faces an uphill climb to make the Bears’ 53-man roster, so what he’s trying to prove may be of more value to finding a post-Chicago landing spot. Vic Fangio’s pointed comments about Fuller’s willingness (or lack thereof) to play last year cast doubt on his future, but he’s still still here after being neither cut nor traded in the offseason. The Bears declined Fuller's fifth-year option earlier this year, though, so training camp may be Fuller's last chance at sticking in the NFL, either with the Bears or elsewhere. 

Bullard a prime example of how, why and where Bears can improve

Bullard a prime example of how, why and where Bears can improve

This Bears rebuild has taken longer than expected. Ideally, in year three of a GM/head coach tandem, they should be contending for the playoffs. 

That’s not to say the 2017 Bears can’t. It’s just unlikely. They don’t have enough players opponents have to gameplan for. They don’t have the depth to overcome key injuries. When franchises get on a winning roll, it’s when they have enough of those studs on both sides of the ball, and have the depth to avoid as many emergencies as possible. And that happens when second- and third-year players make a jump in their play.

Offensively, we saw an impressive jump by Cam Meredith, but another left leg injury still have us wondering exactly what Kevin White is, and how good he can be. Jeremy Langford’s growth was stunted by his ankle injury. Second-year center Hroniss Grasu missed the entire year. On the defensive side, we never got to see if Kyle Fuller could’ve proven his first-round status in his third year. Safety Adrian Amos started another full season, but is now in a battle to do the same a third straight year. We can see star qualities in Eddie Goldman, but how much of a difference-maker can he be by remaining on the field? We’ll learn the same about Leonard Floyd if he can do that this fall. And there are a handful of other second-year players we’ll be watching, from Deon Bush to Deiondre Hall to Cre’Von LeBlanc. There’s also 2016 third-round pick Jonathan Bullard, who learned what it took to become a 3-4 defensive end in the NFL.

“It was okay. I got about 17 snaps a game,” Bullard said of his rookie season during last month’s minicamp. “That’s not what I wanted coming in. But it is what is. I want to move on to the next year and hopefully be able to help this team in a big way.”

Rookie seasons for every player lay the groundwork. How high their ceiling goes starts to get established in year two, between the player’s effort, and getting coached-up correctly.

“They asked me to gain a few pounds. I was like 282 last year, and right now I’m at 296, so hopefully that helps me, said Bullard. “I’m just trying to make all this solid and not lose my burst that got me here. So I’m looking forward to it. I got a year under my belt now, I know what they expect. I’m gonna be ready.”

Part of Bullard taking things upon himself was hooking up with a former defensive end, from the same alma mater, who happens to be fourth in franchise history in sacks (albeit in a 4-3 scheme): CSN’s very own Bears analyst, Alex Brown.

“We saw each other at the Florida spring game and we kind of linked up and put in some work at his facility down the road,” Bullard explained. “We’ve met up quite a few times, just working on little things. He’s just trying to give me a better understanding of the game, and some of the veteran things he knows that I want to incorporate into my game.”

So what kind of a teacher is Alex?

“He’s alright. I make him him jump in there. I tell him he’s not that old.”

And while Pace didn’t make the big splash in free agency as he tries to match up salary with his grades for players, Bullard has to prove he’s now better than last year’s starter, Mitch Unrein, as well as a hungry fellow former Gator, Jaye Howard, who was brought in on a “prove it” one-year deal after being cut just before the draft by Kansas City.

“As far as him being a Gator, it’s exciting. But it’s a competition. He’s gonna come in and try to win the starting job, and I’m gonna do the same. It’s just gonna have to be a friendly competition when training camp comes, and may the best man win.”

Let this, and many other Bourbonnais battles, begin.