Knight's going through some changes in Chicago

Two years ago he was Pitt's weakside defensive end, a sack/stuff specialist who concentrated on getting behind the line of scrimmage. This year, Bryan Knight is the odds-on favorite to be the starting strongside linebacker for the Chicago Bears. He'll have to prove that he made the transition from defensive end to linebacker in the pros, but that's not the only challenge that Bryan will be facing.

The two-time All-Big East Conference defensive end registered 23.5 sacks and 54 stops for losses during his career at Pitt. Knight will be called on to fill the big shoes of Rosevelt Colvin, who left Chicago via free agency to go to New England.

Colvin was the Bears' designated pass rusher the past two seasons. Although Bryan specialized in getting into the backfield while at Pitt, the skills he developed during that period are not necessarily the big factor in how successful he'll be as a starter in the Bears defense this season.

On passing situations, the Bears would line up Colvin as a rush end. This season, head coach Dick Jauron plans on lining up all pro middle linebacker Brian Urlacher in that spot. And where many thought that the Bears would be drafting a defensive tackle in the first round of the 2003 draft, they instead decided to trade down and selected defensive end Michael Haynes from Penn State, whom they expect to come in and contribute to the edge pass rush early. They also like the potential of second year defensive end Alex Brown to put pressure on the outside.

All of this means that Knight and weakside linebacker Warrick Holdman will have a heavy responsibility patrolling the field to stop the run when the Bears bring in the pass rush from several angles.

Knight feels he is up to the challenge. When asked about it, he said, ''If you've got a linebacker who can't play the run, something is wrong. You can't just be a linebacker dropping back into pass coverage and then rushing the quarterback. That's the main reason I'm out there for.''

Jauron has faith in him and offered a very favorable comparison of Knight to Colvin. "Bryan's got different skills than Rosey," Jauron said when asked to compare the two. "He's faster than Rosey and probably a little bit quicker athlete. Rosey had a great feel for the game of football and he had a feel for pass rush too, used his hands well, had a sense of what the tackle was trying to do, could work with what the tackle was trying to do to him."

The Bears are asking Knight to maintain a playing weight in the area of 240 pounds. That is another challenge for him as he'll need to maintain the bulk as the season grinds on and he faces NFC North running backs like Detroit's James Stewart, Minnesota's Michael Bennett, and Green Bay's Ahman Green, all of whom rushed for over 1000 yards last season.

Of course, none of this is to say that the Bears will be ignoring Bryan's speed around the edge rushing the quarterback. In fact, depending on how well the Bears' pass rush strategy works and how much opposing teams have to adjust to it, there could be big opportunities for him to bring it on from the outside as he so often did at Pitt. It's just that he'll have some business to take care of at home, as they say.

John Steving
PittInsiders.com


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