Julius Peppers (37 TCK, 11.0 SACK, 6 TFL, 4 PD, 3 FF, 2 FR, 2 BK)*
The six-time Pro Bowler had another solid season, easily outperforming his line mates in 2011. He led the team in sacks and fumble recoveries, was second in forced fumbles, and blocked two field goals. His stat line was slightly down but he was still a beast for most of the year. He was double teamed more often than not, yet was second in the league in quarterback pressures (53) according to Pro Football Focus. He was stout against the run as well and, at 33-years-old, is showing no signs of slowing down.
DE Julius Peppers
Kyle Terada/US Presswire
Israel Idonije (52 TCK, 5.0 SACK, 6 TFL, 1FF, 2 FR, 1TD, 1BK)
Idonije's numbers don't look too bad until you consider the attention Peppers receives on the other side of the line. Last year, he posted a career-high 8.0 sacks playing with Peppers for the first time. Yet Idonije's production dropped off in their second season together. He struggled mightily against the run, often getting manhandled by tight ends, and just could not take advantage of the one-on-one matchups that Pepper's presence afforded him. Idonije, a 31-year-old, is an unrestricted free agent.
Chauncey Davis (9 TCK, 1.0 SACK, 2 TFL)
The Atlanta Falcons cut Davis this past offseason and he sat at home for the first two-thirds of the 2011 campaign. The Bears then signed him in Week 10 to replace the ineffective Nick Reed. The seven-year veteran played just 106 snaps – far less than the 944 and 919 Peppers and Idonije played. He didn't light up the field, especially as a pass rusher, but Davis was very good against the run. His career-high for sacks in a season is just 4.0, so he'll never turn into a quality edge rusher, but his ability to set the edge against the run gives him value as the team's No. 3 defensive end.
Corey Wootton (4 TCK)
Wootton came into training camp healthy and looked like a breakout candidate for 2011. Then he tore up his knee on the opening kickoff of the preseason opener and was never the same. The knee, along with a hand injury, kept him out of all but one of the team's first nine games. He saw playing time in the following six contests, yet showed absolutely nothing. The Bears didn't even bother to activate him in Week 17, a game where fringe players like Wootton typically get one last look.
Outside of Peppers, this group was pretty disappointing. The team came out of camp with Nick Reed and undrafted rookie Mario Addison as the backups to Peppers and Idonije, yet both were cut by mid-November. Davis was a pleasant surprise but he's not an impact player, and Idonije took a step back. With the defensive tackles on this team racking up 13 sacks, the ends should have had far more production as pass rushers. When you consider Minnesota's Jared Allen had more sacks (22.0) than this entire group combined (17.0), it can't be considered a good season.
DE Julius Peppers
Peppers is signed through 2015 and will anchor this unit for the remainder of his contract. The big decision comes with Idonije, who is unrestricted. At 31, it's tough to see the Bears offering him anything more than a one-year deal. He said he fully expects to come back next year but I'm not sure the team is as confident. While Idonije isn't a bad player, he's really nothing more than average. Ideally, he would make a perfect No. 3.
Davis is signed through next year, and Wootton through 2013. Both will likely return to training camp next season but their spots on the roster are far from secure. This is especially so for Wootton, the team's fourth-round pick in 2010, who has done nothing more than end Brett Favre's career in his first two years.
The Bears need at least one upgrade at the defensive end position. The draft would be a good place to look, especially when you see the impact that rookies like Denver's Von Miller and Houston's J.J. Watt have had on their respective defenses this year. Pairing up a hungry young guy with Peppers would pay dividends.
There are also a number of free agents that would fit the bill, including Detroit's Cliff Avril and Indianapolis' Robert Mathis. Both would provide the edge rush needed for Chicago's Cover 2 scheme to be successful. Issues in the secondary can often be masked, or at least mitigated, by a dominant pass rush.
*Stats: TCK (tackles), SACK (sacks), TFL (tackles for loss), PD (passes defended), FF (forced fumbles), FR (fumble recoveries), TD (touchdowns), BLK (blocked kicks)
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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of Bear Report magazine and 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.