The Chicago Bears traded up in the second round of this year's draft to select defensive tackle Stephen Paea out of Oregon State. Throughout training camp, he was a disappointment. He never showed the strength he did at the Scouting Combine when he broke the all-time bench press record. And his quickness was lacking as well.
When he was a healthy scratch through the team's first five weeks this year, it looked like Paea might be driving in the fast lane down Bust Avenue.
Then, as usually happens, an injury opened the door for the rookie. DT Matt Toeaina injured his knee and the Bears called on Paea to step in and fill a big set of shoes. Many, including myself, did not expect much from him and felt Toeaina's absence would be felt along the defensive line.
DT Stephen Paea
Dennis Wierzbicki/US Presswire
Paea then exploded out of the gates, picking up a sack and a safety against Minnesota's Donovan McNabb on the second play of his career. He's gone full bore ever since and he's arguably the team's most disruptive defensive tackle right now. His contributions aren't always felt on the stat sheet though, so let's take a look at the film from Sunday's 24-18 win over the Bucs to get a grasp on Paea's strengths, as well as his potential.
-1st and 10. Tampa Bay QB Josh Freeman drops back to pass. Paea lines up across from LG Ted Larsen. The two lock up off the snap. Paea stumbles a bit and quits moving his feet. Once he regains his balance, he uses his left arm to quickly and easily toss Larsen aside. He then gets into Freeman's face right before the QB releases the pass.
Paea didn't do much here to change the outcome of the play but effortlessly tossing aside a 305-pound lineman just shows how strong this kid is.
-2nd and 12. Paea lines up at nose tackle, over the center and shaded toward RG Davin Joseph. At the snap, Freeman hands the ball to Kregg Lumpkin running up the middle. Paea comes off low and gets leverage on Joseph, standing up the offensive linemen. He keeps moving his feet and drives his way into the path of the ball carrier. Lumpkin has to sidestep Joseph's big frame, giving Israel Idonije the time to come down the line and drop the runner for a loss.
Paea's work on this play won't show up on the stat sheet. Yet his ability to drive Joseph, a Pro Bowl guard, backward and into the path of the runner completely disrupts this play and leads to the negative play.
-3rd and 10. Paea lines up across from Joseph. Freeman gets the snap in shotgun. DT Anthony Adams crashes inside and Paea swings around behind him. He clears the mass of linemen and explodes into the QB just as he's throwing the ball.
Paea showed good quickness and burst on this pass rush. He did get on the stat sheet here with a hurry and a knockdown.
-1st and 10. Freeman fakes a hand off to Lumpkin running off-tackle left. Paea explodes into C Jeremy Zuttah, driving him backward and tripping up Joseph, who is pulling behind the center. Paea drives Zuttah back, which trips up FB Erik Lorig and knocks him to the ground. At the same time, Freeman bootlegs out to his right. LB Nick Roach holds contain on the outside and is in the quarterback's face immediately. He hits Freeman as he's trying to throw. The pass falls short and incomplete.
DT Stephen Paea
This was a great play by Paea of using his strength and quickness to take out three blockers inside.
-2nd and 8. Paea lines up at nose tackle across from Larsen. At the snap, Paea rocks Larsen backward, nearly spinning the blocker all the way around. Paea then swings around and gets a hand on the ball carrier three yards in the backfield. This gives Brian Urlacher enough to fill and make the tackle for a loss. For his efforts, Larsen is charged with holding on Paea.
Again, Paea completely dominates the opposing lineman off the ball, then sheds the player and gets a piece of the tackle. On top of it all, he forces a holding call.
-3rd and 7. Freeman lines up in shotgun with Lumpkin to his left. At the snap, Lumpkin stays in the pocket for a second then releases on a three-yard hook in the middle of the field. Paea locks up with the center, yet doesn't rush hard. He instead holds his ground and waits for Lumpkin. When the runner clears the line, Paea backpedals into the passing lane. Freeman has to go elsewhere with the pass.
The Bucs used a lot of dumpoff passes over the middle of the field. On this play, Paea recognizes the middle dump and has the presence of mind to get in the passing lane. Even as a pass defender, Paea was effective.
The Bears used Paea at both the nose tackle and under tackle, and he performed well at both spots. His versatility, to go along with his ridiculous strength and explosive legs, has made him an instant asset to Chicago's defensive line rotation. Expect him to remain active when Toeaina returns. And if he continues on his current pace, he could be the starter by the end of the season.
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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.