Urgency at defensive tackle? Not so fast

416804.jpg

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.

Bears Camp Shorts: Kyle Long out, 'The Interceptor' is in the house

Bears Camp Shorts: Kyle Long out, 'The Interceptor' is in the house

BOURBONNAIS — As expected, right guard Kyle Long was absent from practice on Friday, nursing a calf strain that the Bears will handle conservatively and not rush their Pro Bowl offensive lineman back onto the field.

Long strained his left calf late in Thursday’s practice and Friday saw veteran Ted Larsen step in at right guard with the No. 1 line, as the Bears leave rookie Cody Whitehair in place as the starting left guard for now.

- Additionally, rookie outside linebacker Leonard Floyd was able to make his way through lunch but not onto the practice field after leaving due to ongoing illness Thursday.

[MORE: Bears wide receivers give defense a taste of its own medicine]

- Former Bears cornerback Nathan “The Interceptor” Vasher is in camp as a defensive intern, and the Bears also have brought in former New York Jets center Kevin Mawae to work with the offensive line and young center Hroniss Grasu. Vasher is part of the NFL’s internship program while Mawae is in as a guest instructor, something routinely done for stretches of training camp and preseason.

Vasher earned his nickname in 2005 when he was a Pro Bowl and All-NFL selection after collecting eight interceptions — the Bears combined total for all of 2015 — for Lovie Smith’s first playoff team.

“The league instituted [the internship program] a while ago,” Bears head coach John Fox said. “Have had a lot of guys that were ex-players that are now coaching in the league. I think everybody kind of searches for what they want to do when they retire at a very young age from the game, so I think some guys have coaching in them, some don't. I think Kevin was a very smart player in his career; he can help in the NFL in the coaching profession."

- The Bears secondary could use a little dose of “Interceptor” right about now. Demontre Hurst managed an interception of a Brian Hoyer pass on Friday, but that represents the lone takeaway by the defense through two days of practice. The lack of takeaways proved lethal to the Bears last season, with the lowest full-season total (17) in franchise history.

[SHOP: Gear up for the 2016 season, Bears fans!

- Thursday’s rains appeared to leave the Olivet Nazarene University fields healthy but apparently a little treacherous, as a number of Bears had their feet slip out from under them through Friday’s practice.

- Officials were on hand to “work” the Bears’ practice on Friday, throwing flags where warranted and drawing occasional sharp disagreements with certain Bears coaches.

“You know, you try to simulate as well as you can a real game and they're out there in games,” Fox said. “These aren't NFL officials; they'll be here next week as we prepare for our Fan Fest at Soldier Field to build towards getting ready for games, but obviously it's helpful. They get to monitor the players and kind of do's and don't's and I think it's good simulated football.”

Bears wide receivers give defense a taste of its own medicine

Bears wide receivers give defense a taste of its own medicine

BOURBONNAIS — For much of this offseason’s practices, the Bears’ offense has had to put up with spirited mouthiness from a feisty Bears defense. On Friday, the day before the Bears get into full pads for the first time in nearly seven months, a touch of the smack flowed the other way, set in motion by one of the smallest players on the roster.

Wide receiver Daniel Braverman, the diminutive (5-9, 185) seventh-round pick of the Bears in this year’s draft, outfought fellow rookie Deiondre' Hall (6-2, 201) for a contested ball across the middle, bounced up and let out with a yell to confirm exactly which side of the ball came away with it.

The catch was the first of many by Braverman, whose day was mirrored by starting wideout Kevin White also making repeated, sometimes acrobatic catches against what until now was a defense firmly holding the upper hand this offseason.

[MORE: Akiem Hicks sees Tom Brady qualities in Jay Cutler]

“I think [Braverman] is a guy who was very productive in college, our scouting department really liked him, that's why we drafted him,” said coach John Fox. “I think you know he caught our eyes as far as putting it all together in the offseason and he's continued on that so far this camp.”

Running back Jeremy Langford added several long bursts on runs through the interior, and various receivers added to the day that belonged in large measure to the offense despite missing starting right guard Kyle Long (calf injury).

The defense did have its highlights. Defensive lineman Akiem Hicks generated a pair of dominating pass rushes that produced a simulated sack of Jay Cutler and a throwaway, Willie Young blew up a pass play coming clean on a blitz, and safety Harold Jones-Quartey threw Langford to the ground on a non-tackle tackle after the latter had ripped off one of his gashes through the defense.

[SHOP: Gear up for the 2016 season, Bears fans!

Braverman also has been worked on kickoff return and will have myriad chances to be a roster surprise, given the four preseason games and handful of practices in New England with the Patriots.

“These coaches preach every day how important special teams is, and that's something I have to learn to get adjusted to because I was just a returner,” Braverman said. “But now here you have to be a ‘gunner’ and and R2, L2, [position] stuff on kickoffs. It's just getting one day better in every little detail and aspect you can possible in 24 hours of a day.”

Bears: Akiem Hicks sees Tom Brady qualities in Jay Cutler

Bears: Akiem Hicks sees Tom Brady qualities in Jay Cutler

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. – Akiem Hicks has spent the better part of his four-year NFL career intent on annihilating quarterbacks. The defensive lineman also has spent those four years in the presence of two of the greats of this or any NFL era – Drew Brees in New Orleans and Tom Brady in New England.

He has seen some of what makes them great. And since joining the Bears last March, Hick has seen similar traits in his current quarterback – Jay Cutler.

“They have those intangibles,” Hicks told CSNChicago.com on Thursday. “All the stats that you see – the 4,000-yard seasons, the 50-touchdown [seasons] – they also have things that people don’t get to really get to see all the time. It’s something when you’re close to it and see it all the time… . Tom Brady, for instance. This is a real leader.

“And I see the same qualities in Jay Cutler – somebody who knows how to motivate his guys, knows when to get on his guys’ heads, all that. You see it all the time in practice and then it translates into the game. Guys believe in them more.”

Brady has won twice as many Super Bowls than Cutler has playoff games. The two are rarely mentioned in the same sentence.

But Hicks’ assessment of Cutler is not the first by a teammate to focus on the “L” word – Leadership. As Hicks says of Brady and Brees, outsiders do not see what teammates say. And that is the bigger point.