The consensus best pass rusher in the 2014 free agency market re-signed with his 2013 team (Michael Bennett, Seattle). The second-best (Michael Johnson) left Cincinnati for Tampa Bay.
But neither inspire comparisons with the elite pass rushers in this or any other era, and the Bears aren’t expecting newly signed defensive end Lamarr Houston to be one, either. Their expectation is a pass-rush collective that starts with a physical stoutness against the run. As former coordinator Rod Marinelli preached, “You have to earn the right to rush the passer.”
In fact, one of the first attractions of Houston, who said he will play around 280 pounds rather than his listed 300, was that he is a physical player against the run. One of the reasons the Bears were among the league’s lowest in sacks was that opponents ran more than 47 percent of the time and simply didn’t need to drop back when the Chicago run defense was the NFL’s worst.
“You do have to stop the run and [Houston] has been very good, at the top of the league at his position in doing that,” GM Phil Emery said on Wednesday.
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The Bears may yet secure an impact situational pass rusher, likely through the draft, or one may blossom out from among David Bass, Austen Lane or Trevor Scott. The draft could possibly yield a starter-grade edge player as well. And Houston has been a “productive” rusher, Emery said, with a career-high six sacks in 2013.
But “the important part about rushing is that you have several together, that they learn to work off of one another and provide pressure as a group,” Emery said. “You don’t want to be in a position where that you have to stunt into that all the time.
“It has to come from that front four, so definitely we want to provide more quality players up front so that we find a group that collectively can sack the quarterback and put pressure on the quarterback and disrupt that quarterback [with] above average [frequency].”
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Emery did not lock the door to a return by Julius Peppers, a salary cap cut on Tuesday, but that would amount to Peppers coming back hat-in-hand, which is less than a long shot.
Jared Allen left Minnesota and has talked to a number of teams, but the price at this point a day into the open market is above the Bears’ plans.
“We’re going to look at a number of players,” Emery said. “Obviously, Jared is one of those… . Jared has been a great pass rusher in the league. What will happen is some of those players will find teams right away. They’ll be a quick opportunity, but then there will be a settling out period where they’re going to look for the right fit. [Allen] would certainly have a good fit here and a great opportunity, so we’ll see how that comes together.”