Play of defensive tackles a silver lining

Chicago has question marks throughout the roster and will need to do a lot of work this offseason to fill a number of gaps. Yet defensive tackle appears to be one position that won't need tweaking.

Tape review from Sunday's 38-14 loss to Seattle indicates solid play from the Chicago Bears defensive interior, who were playing without injured starter Henry Melton. Amobi Okoye, Matt Toeaina, Anthony Adams and rookie Stephen Paea were part of a rotation that helped Chicago hold Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch to 42 yards on 20 carries. Lynch, one of the NFL's most explosive runners, was held to only 2.1 yards per carry – after gaining 100 or more yards in five of his previous six contests. The Bears defensive tackles continually demonstrated quickness off the snap, lateral movement and hustle to chase down the play.

Examining the group individually, Melton has enjoyed a breakout campaign in his third season. The third-year pro out of Texas has always possessed uncanny athletic ability but the uncertainty of where he fit, either at end or tackle, didn't allow him the focus necessary to be consistent in his first two NFL seasons. At 6-3, 295, he bulked up this offseason to play the interior, yet still maintained his quickness.

Melton possesses a quick first step and uses his hands well to gain leverage against opposing linemen. He burst out of the gate this year with an impressive season-opening two-sack performance against Atlanta, and ranks second on the Bears in sacks (7) behind only Julius Peppers (10). Melton still disappears at times, especially against the run, and was on the receiving end of coach Lovie Smith's rare player criticism after the bye week for his uninspired play. Yet he's responded since then with a number of solid efforts and is currently third in the NFL for most sacks amongst defensive tackles.

DT Matt Toeaina
Jerry Lai/US Presswire

Toeaina is an experienced run stuffer and try hard guy who has evolved into a solid two-down contributor. A fourth-year pro out of Oregon, Toeaina has the frame (6-2, 308) and strength that allows him to occupy two blockers, creating opportunities for his line mates. He doesn't offer a pass rush threat – only 2.0 his entire career – but his determination and pursuit show up on tape every game.

Okoye has turned into a solid free-agent acquisition. The 23-year-old is a former first-round draft pick of the Houston Texans. He's earned plenty of playing time this season with the Bears due to his ability to push the pocket inside. Okoye came into the league as a 19-year-old, so his arrow is still pointing up. He's more of a pass-rush threat, able to beat the single blocks when the offensive line double-teams Peppers on the outside. Playing the 3-technique formally occupied by Tommie Harris, Okoye can sometimes get engulfed in the run game when guards lock onto him, but his four sacks and 24 tackles have made him a solid contributor.

Nagging injuries and a lack of consistent production has cost Anthony Adams considerable playing time this season. With Toeaina and Paea getting most of the reps, Adams has been inactive for a handful of games. When he's on the field though, the veteran defender can still make an impact. Adams routinely uses his sneaky quickness to penetrate the line of scrimmage and beat the block. At his size (6-0, 310), he's a better athlete than for which he's given credit. Adams possesses the strength and initial step to track down plays to the flanks.

Stephen Paea's rookie season appeared lost until the Sunday night contest on Oct. 16 against Minnesota. He didn't excite in training camp and was inactive throughout the season's first month. However, given the opportunity against the Vikings, Paea turned in a two-tackle, one-sack outing. He's been steady ever since, demonstrating the initial quickness, strength and high motor he flashed during a star-studded career at Oregon State. Paea is still rounding into shape after a knee injury in last year's Senior Bowl shelved him until late in the spring. The 2011 second rounder should be a key contributor for the defense going forward and figures to improve dramatically following a full offseason of team programs.

While many other parts of the team will need attention this coming offseason, defensive tackle is one of the few spots with which Bears brass can feel comfortable leaving untouched.

Jeff Curts has written for the Bleacher Report,, NFL Draft Dog and published The Slant...NFL Draft Newsletter. Curts is a graduate of Sports Management Worldwide, having completed the Scout & General Manager course under the direction of former NFL scout and current Sporting News draft expert Russ Lande. Jeff is founder and publisher of the Web site Bears Claws and hosts the program "Bears Claws" on BlogtalkRadio.

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