Mullin's 2011 draft capsules: Defensive line

Mullin's 2011 draft capsules: Defensive line

Wednesday, April 27, 2011
Posted: 10:39 p.m.

By John Mullin

Fifth in a series

The Bears defensive line got two major talent infusions in 2010. One was the signing of Julius Peppers to the largest contract in franchise history. The second was the emergence of Israel Idonije, who was allowed to settle in at defensive end and produced eight sacks, matching his total for the first six years of his career.

But the pass rush was not at the level that coach Lovie Smith and coordinator Rod Marinelli wanted and something will be done. The question is whether or not the Bears can afford to wait for some form of free agency or do they need to address needs in the draft.
The Bears

Peppers and Idonije have the edges secured and 2010 fourth-rounder Corey Wootton is first-alternate after a quiet rookie season. There is always room for another edge rusher, and Idonije and Peppers are both 30-plus, but the Bears can win with their current ends.

Tackle is another matter. Tommie Harris Chicago career effectively ended several years ago and ended officially this offseason with his release. Henry Melton was a bright light that came on throughout the year, he is now above 290 pounds, and coaches believe he can be Harris replacement at the three-technique.

Anthony Adams in an unrestricted free agent but expected back once a signing period opens, and 2008 third-rounder Marcus Harrison is getting a last chance inside. Matt Toeaina played well enough to take Harris job and receive a contract extension but not well enough to project as more than quality depth.
Need: Green Bays Cullen Jenkins is expected to be targeted when free agency opens and he would be another 30-something force at tackle. But defensive tackle could well be the Bears first choice in the draft as GM Jerry Angelo is adamant about keeping a strength strong.

The 2011 draft

The draft class is considered one of the best in recent memory on the defensive linemen, so the Bears will have options at No. 29 if they elect to address that side of the ball sooner rather than later.

The trouble for the Bears is that the defensive line depth is at end rather than tackle, and the number of potentially elite interior players is small. What that means is that if the Bears do not move on one of the top few, their chances of finding a true Tommie Harris-type diminish significantly. Temples Muhammed Wilkerson had 9.5 sacks last season and may be the type of player the Bears can find after the first round.

Ends and at least two tackles, probably three, will come off the board early and probably before the Bears are within reach.

The Best Bets:

(Because the Bears emphasis is on defensive tackles, ends are not included in this Neither are Marcell Dareus from Alabama, Nick Fairley from Auburn, considered virtual locks to go within the first 10-15 picks, well before the Bear select.)

1. Corey Liuget, Illinois The Bears would love the draft to fall such that this interior disruptor came within range for them. Its unlikely but Liuget projects as an immediate starter in the Tommie Harris mold.

2. Marvin Austin, North Carolina Austin has moved up on most draft boards as teams look past his 010 suspension for contact with an agent. He has first-round talent and is another fit at the three-technique if he decides to play every down.

3. Stephen Paea, Oregon State Among the strongest DL in this draft and a reasonably productive inside force (6 sacks, 10 TFL in 010).

John "Moon" Mullin is'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.

Bears In-Foe: Vikings defense is Purple People Eaters, Part II

Bears In-Foe: Vikings defense is Purple People Eaters, Part II

It's bad enough that Jay Cutler will be rusty and he may not have Kyle Long and Josh Sitton protecting him. But even if all the Bears' offensive hands were on deck, Monday night's challenge would've been formidable anyway.

The Vikings' defense leads the league in fewest yards allowed (279.5 per game), is tied for the league-lead in allowing fewest points (14.0), third in rushing defense (81.7), fourth in pass defense (197.8), and sixth in third-down defense (34.2 percent). And oh yeah, they lead the league in turnover ratio (plus-11), courtesy of their nine interceptions (tied for second), seven fumble recoveries and 19 sacks (seventh-most in the NFL).

It's nice to have quality and depth up front. That's where that push comes from, especially off the edges, with ends Brian Robison, Everson Griffen and sophomore Danielle Hunter supplying four sacks apiece. That trio combined for 21.5 sacks a year ago (when the Bears totaled 35 as a team). And while injury-prone Sharrif Floyd finds himself sidelined again since the opener, tackle Linval Joseph (three sacks) is back playing at the All-Pro level he was at a year ago before an ankle injury slowed him. And Tom Johnson contributed 6.5 sacks a year ago rotating in with Floyd at three-technique.

[RELATED: Bears In-Foe: Purple a fitting color for Vikings' battered, bruised offense]

Reunited UCLA linebackers Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks are in their second year together in a run the Bears will likely have to deal with for another decade. This is the 11th and final year they'll see Chad Greenway, who's more leader than playmaker now in the middle of that defense.

Ryan Pace, Vic Fangio and position coach Ed Donatell must also be jealous of the Vikings' deep defensive backfield. Top cover man Xavier Rhodes, last year's top pick Trae Waynes and Andrew Sendejo have two picks each. Waynes still hasn't taken a job away from ageless 37-year-old Terence Newman. The Vikes were trying to upgrade on Sendejo, who answered the challenge and should be able to play Monday after departing the Eagles game with an ankle injury he suffered almost taking an interception to the house. It's almost unfair that second-round rookie Mackensie Alexander can't even surpass fourth cornerback Captain Munnerlyn for playing time.

But we must not forget Harrison Smith. The humble Golden Domer, humorously nicknamed "Gangsta White Boy" by Adrian Peterson, became the NFL's richest safety by inking a five-year, $51 million deal this summer, is coming off a first Pro Bowl that probably would've come sooner if not for a couple injuries. Two of his four career pick-sixes have come against the Bears, and Pro Football Focus has him as the only safety to grade positively in coverage, run support, and pass rush over each of the last two seasons.

Special teams

Just as Robbie Gould fell under the microscope of the current Bears brass with last season's rough finish, the strong-legged Blair Walsh probably feels a few more eyes on him after missing the 27-yard game-winning attempt in the frigid playoff loss to Seattle. He's 10-of-13 on field goals this season, 11-of-13 on extra points.

But while the Vikings' kickoff coverage was burned by Josh Huff's return Sunday in Philadelphia, the Bears coverage units have to be disciplined and smart against Cordarrelle Patterson and Marcus Sherels. Both have burned the Bears more than once before. With more than his seven kick returns, Patterson's 29.9 average would lead the league. Sherels' 14.6-yard return average on punts ranks third in the NFL. He's already returned two for touchdowns this season after burning the Bears at Soldier Field a year to the day short of Monday's contest.

Bears In-Foe: Purple a fitting color for Vikings' battered, bruised offense

Bears In-Foe: Purple a fitting color for Vikings' battered, bruised offense

Mike Zimmer couldn't hold back his frustration after Sunday's 21-10 loss in Philadelphia.

Realistically, big picture-wise, he should feel fortunate. Not that his team isn't any good. We've seen these Vikings coming for awhile. But his offense, minus so many pieces that have been subtracted due to injuries, hadn't turned the ball over once in its 5-0 start.

That's when Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, who'd seen Sam Bradford for all of training camp before he was traded a week before the opener, dialed things up. The result? Four turnovers, including Bradford's first interception of the season, coupled with a pair of fumbles. Schwartz doesn't have as many pieces as the Vikings' defense, but he had enough to sack Bradford six times, deliver 19 hits and 14 knockdowns.

Bradford's managed to step in for Teddy Bridgewater more easily than starting tackles Matt Kalil (hip) and Andre Smith (triceps) have been replaced. T.J. Clemmings is capable after starting all of his rookie season a year ago, but the hope that former No. 1 overall pick Jake Long had anything left took a serious hit Sunday. He'd gone unclaimed for quite a while (even reportedly going through a workout with the Bears), and we saw some of the reasons against the Eagles. He was replaced by journeyman Jeremiah Sirles. The middle of that line seems OK, thanks in part to the free agent signing of guard Alex Boone to anchor the interior with Brandon Fusco and center Joe Berger.

[RELATED: Bears In-Foe: Vikings defense is Purple People Eaters, Part II]

The great Adrian Peterson's torn meniscus in week two has him on injured reserve, with little hope he'll make it back. And while Jerrick McKinnon (3.2 yards per carry) and Matt Asiata (3.3) are serviceable, the line hasn't been able to help those replacements rush for an average of even 75 yards per game (31st in the NFL).

And think about this: Yes, the Bears have played one more game than the Vikings, but they have four receivers who've matched or surpassed the dangerous Stefon Diggs' team-leading total of 27 receptions. Three of Bradford's seven touchdown passes have gone to tight end Kyle Rudolph. Former Illinois High School Player of the Year Laquon Treadwell was targeted to be the big target Bridgewater/Bradford needed, but had just two snaps the first three games and has yet to catch his first NFL pass. It's part of the Zimmer Way to bring along draft picks slowly (think Trae Waynes last year, albeit at a much deeper position on this team). Zimmer's indicated the 23rd overall pick's still too mechanical, still thinking too much at this level to earn snaps over Adam Thielen, Charles Johnson and now, even the once-exiled Cordarrelle Patterson, who scored the Vikings' lone touchdown Sunday on a pass from Bradford.

Like the Bears, this banged-up unit has trouble in the red zone (touchdowns on just 47 percent of their trips inside), and their 21.5 points per game average is boosted by four touchdowns combined from its defense and special teams. It'll be interesting to see if Leonard Floyd, Willie Young and perhaps Pernell McPhee can have themselves a good night next Monday against that susceptible line, and who's able to go among the Bears' defensive backs versus a passing offense that's averaged only 225 yards a game.