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