Urgency at defensive tackle? Not so fast

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Urgency at defensive tackle? Not so fast

Monday, March 21, 2011
Posted: 9:49 a.m.

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

The debate started when the Bears parted company with Tommie Harris: that the need for a dominant defensive tackle was officially acute and well could supersede the quest for help on the offensive line, whether in free agency or the draft.

A dominant player right there, especially for our defense, it makes our defense tick, coach Lovie Smith says. It's the reason why we paid our defensive tackle more money than we have any other players on our team. So it's very important to have a disruptive guy there that can cause havoc that will make teams double team him and things like that.

Right now there is no free agency, although there will be at some point. But the urgency at defensive tackle, Im not so sure, for a couple of related reasons.

One is history. The shock of the Alex Brown release last offseason was exorcised for good when Israel Idonije seized the moment and a starting job at defensive end on the way to eight sacks, one more than Brown posted in his best season (2006).

The second is Henry Melton. The coaching staff was right about Idonije last year (maybe not so right about Mark Anderson, but ok) and there is a growing internal buzz building around Melton.

Without the benefit of a formal Bears offseason strength and conditioning program, Melton has quietly built himself up to a ripped 294 pounds and is still the athlete who runs a 4.6 40, was fast enough to be on special teams last season, and was a running back through his freshman year at Texas.

Melton was slotted in the end rotation last year and had 2.5 sacks in spot duty, but the added muscle is the best indication of where he and the Bears see his future.

Considering that only Julius Peppers (23) had more QB pressures last season than Meltons nine, if coaches see Melton as the 2011 version of Idonije, you can understand the thinking.

The Bears have selected at least one defensive lineman within the first four rounds in eight of the nine drafts directed by Jerry Angelo. They took two in 2009 (Melton and Jarron Gilbert) and two in 2004 (Harris and Tank Johnson). So not addressing the position group somewhere in the first four rounds at least once would be the only real surprise.

But unlike safety last year and tackle in 2008 (Chris Williams), and given that there will be free agents like Cullen Jenkins and Brandon Mebane available at some point for the defensive line, the absolute must-pick isnt necessarily for the next Tommie Harris.

That hurts

Not sure how your brackets played out but I got three of four through into the third round in three of the four regionals. The only one that Im mad about missing on is Butler, because I am a huge Bulldogs believer after covering them and the Horizon League for a few years and know what Matt Howard can do. Now Pitt does too.

But the Southwest bracket is officially dead to me. Purdue was going to the Final Four after getting past Vanderbilt. Oooops. Ohio State will take UNC and then Duke to get past BYU for the National Championship; thats my story and Im stickin to it.

But that Southwest mess? Dont ask.

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.

Good or better? Why offseason moves are making 2017 Bears better

Good or better? Why offseason moves are making 2017 Bears better

Improvement typically comes in incremental steps, not leaps. And the Bears of 2017, based on what they have done at a handful of positions, the latest being Thursday’s signing of wide receiver Victor Cruz, fit that template.

The clear organizational commitment is to build through the draft, even if injuries have undermined some otherwise apparent upgrades to starting lineups on both sides of the football. But if there is a “theme” to what GM Ryan Pace is doing to muscle up a sluggish roster, it is that the Bears are willing to take flyers on veteran players – with additions like four veteran wide receivers with injury and issue histories – that arguably point to a win-now mindset while draft picks develop and contribute.

Jaye Howard and John Jenkins. Make the defensive line “better?” Than Jonathan Bullard and Will Sutton, probably. But “good?” Mmmmm…..

The game-one tight ends last year were Zach Miller-Logan Paulsen-Gregg Scruggs. Now they’re Miller-Dion Sims-Adam Shaheen (based on a second-round draft choice). “Good?” Maybe, maybe not. “Better?” Obviously, based on Sims alone.

Mike Glennon-Mark Sanchez-Mitch Trubisky. Bears “better” at quarterback? Than Jay Cutler-Brian Hoyer-Matt Barkley, probably. “Good?” Mmmmmm…..

The decisions to sign Glennon and Sanchez to the quarterback depth chart have sparked their shares of understandable cynical skepticism. But Kirk Cousins and Jimmy Garoppolo were not available in trade, so the Pace decision was to gamble on upside with Glennon over the known quantity of Brian Hoyer (the preference of some coaches) and certainly Jay Cutler, for whom “potential” and “upside” no longer applied.

Add in the aggressive draft of Trubisky and the result was three possibilities of hits on a quarterback (Sanchez and Connor Shaw being combined here as a pair entry in the hit-possibility scenarios). All three were deemed an improvement over Cutler and/or Barkley.

The results may not vault the Bears all the way up to “good” at the pivotal position for any franchise. But “better” is sometimes all you can realistically manage.

Taking a wider-screen look at wide receiver in this context… .

Coach John Fox has cited the need for the Bears to establish the ability to get yardage in bigger chunks. Accordingly, all four of the veteran wideout signings this offseason – Cruz, Rueben Randle, Markus Wheaton, Kendall Wright –  have posted yards-per-catch seasons of 14 or longer.

All four won’t be on the opening-day roster, but all four offer the promise of major impact. Cruz, Randle and Wright have had seasons of 70 or more receptions, and Wheaton topped out at 53 in 2015 with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Randy Moss, Terrell Owens and Jerry Rice weren’t available, so “good” was hard to achieve in an offseason in which Alshon Jeffery and Eddie Royal were expected departures long before their exits. But are Cruz, Randle, Wheaton and Wright, with Kevin White and Cameron Meredith, a “better” starting point than Jeffery, Royal, White, Bellamy, etc. of a year ago?

Obviously. But players with even moderately established NFL “names” (like Cruz, Randle, etal.) are typically available for a reason; teams do not routinely give up on talent. And none of the four come without significant shadows on their NFL resumes, whether for injury or other questions.

Cruz missed most of 2014 and all of the 2015 season, and hasn’t played a full season since his Pro Bowl year of 2012.

Randle was described as a head case by scouts and was so bad that he was let go in the Eagles’ cutdown to 75 last year, followed by disparaging comments from those in and around the organization.

Wheaton flashed promise in his 2014-15 opportunities as a part-time starter but played just three games before a shoulder injury landed him on IR last season.

The Tennessee Titans thought enough of Wright, their 2012 first-round draft choice, to pick up his fifth-year option going into las season. But by week 14 he was benched for tardiness and was a healthy DNP in game 16, announcing after the game that he already knew he was not in the Titans’ plans for 2017.

The prospect of the Bears going from 3-13 to “good” borders on fantasy. But if being among the NFL’s busiest this offseason hasn’t propelled the Bears to that level, the results point to “better.” At this point, that’s something,.

How big of an impact will Victor Cruz have on the Bears?

How big of an impact will Victor Cruz have on the Bears?

The Bears inked Victor Cruz to a one-year deal on Thursday, adding another receiver to an already crowded corps.

But it never hurts to add a veteran one to a young group, especially with a new starting quarterback.

Cruz is 30 years old and isn't the same Pro Bowl-caliber player he was before missing the entire 2015 season with a calf injury, but he surely has a lot left in the tank and can serve as a great mentor for the Bears receivers.

Just how big of an impact will he have on his new team? See what the SportsTalk Live panel had to say in the video above.