Henry Melton (24 TCK, 7.0 SACK, 4 TFL) *
For the first time in his career, Melton was asked to be the full-time starter at defensive tackle. He was drafted as a defensive end and rotated between the two positions his first two years in the NFL. He bulked up to 295 pounds in the offseason, so as to withstand the pounding a tackle takes inside. Melton rewarded the team with the most sacks from a Bears defensive tackle (7.0) since Tommie Harris (8.0) in 2007. In fact, Melton finished second in the league for sacks by a DT. He has the quickness off the ball to be an explosive pass rusher. Unfortunately though, that might be the limit to his value. Against the run, Melton struggled mightily. Against big NFL guards, he stood no chance, and was tossed around easily on most run plays. If the Bears are going to count on him as the starting under tackle, he'll need to improve at gaining leverage and shedding blockers, otherwise he'll become a liability against the run.
DT Amobi Okoye
Richard Mackson/US Presswire
Amobi Okoye (27 TCK, 4.0 SACK, 1 TFL, 1PD)
Okoye rotated with Melton for most of the year at the 3-technique spot, yet the two were used in tandem on pure passing situations as the season progressed. Despite playing 24 less snaps than Melton, Okoye picked up three more tackles. In fact, his 27 tackles led all Bears DTs, while his 4.0 sacks were behind only Melton at the position. Like Melton, he doesn't play big against the run, yet he's quick off the ball and disciplined. The former first-rounder, signed by the Bears this pas offseason, proved to be a quality member of the defensive line rotation this year.
Matt Toeaina (16 TCK)
Toeaina missed four games due to injury this year, but started the other 12 at nose tackle. His stat line isn't impressive, and he doesn't really stand out on the field, but Toeaina is great at doing the dirty work in the trenches. He plays hard and fast, and contributes well against both the pass and run. The problem with Toeaina is that he doesn't do anything great; he's not an impact player. He had no sacks this year, no tackles for loss, no forced fumbles and no deflected passes. He didn't face a lot of double teams this year, so his lack of production is slightly worrisome.
Anthony Adams (16 TCK, 2 TFL)
What's more worrisome is the play of Adams. Injuries hampered him from the start of training camp and he never looked like the player he's been the past few seasons. He was ponderous inside and too easy to move. As the season progressed, he seemed to get worse, and was a healthy scratch in five of the team's final seven games. Adams turns 32 this offseason. Injuries and age are catching up with him.
Stephen Paea (14 TCK, 2.0 SACK)
Chicago traded away a fourth-round pick in the 2010 draft to move up in the second round to select Paea. He subsequently stunk up training camp and was inactive for the team's first five contests. Then Toeaina went down with a knee injury and Paea was finally given a chance to play. On just his second-ever NFL snap against the Minnesota Vikings, Paea picked up a sack on Donovan McNabb. He was active the remainder of the year, essentially taking over for the ineffective Adams. Paea is amazingly strong up top and has the ability to toss aside blockers. His thick base and squat frame allows him to explode off the ball and gain leverage quickly. He played mostly NT all year, which appears to fit him better than the 3-technique, yet he has the quickness to be an impact player at either position. Expect him to challenge for the starting nose spot next year.
It's been 15 years since the Bears have had two defensive tackles combine for more than the 11.0 sacks of Melton and Okoye this season – Jim Flanigan and Chris Zorich tallied 12.0 in 1995. It's safe to say, as far as 3-technique pass rushers go, Chicago has the best interior duo since the days of Dave Wannstedt. Both struggle against the run but those two more than did their job in getting after the QB. With Paea's emergence as a quality nose, and Toeaina as steady as always, this group performed better than all but arguably one other unit on the entire team: the linebackers. The Bears finished fifth against the run this year and much of that credit has to be given to the interior linemen.
DT Stephen Paea
Melton is signed through next season, and Toeaina through 2013. Both have earned a roster spot for next year. The issue here is Okoye, who was signed to a one-year deal and becomes an unrestricted free agent this offseason. He signed a $1.4 million deal for 2010 and will likely be looking for more years and more money on his next contract. He and Melton made a nice combo at under tackle this year. It would be wise for the Bears to lock him up for at least two more years, at roughly $1.5 million to $2 million per season.
It will be surprising if Adams is back next year. He signed a two-year, $4.5 million deal last offseason, which, given his lack of production, just isn't justifiable anymore. The nose tackle spot will rotate between Toeaina and Paea. Expect Paea to challenge for the starter's spot in camp and to claim it at some point in the season.
As far as additions, this might be one of the only positions that doesn't have an immediate need. With all of the depth issues throughout the roster, Chicago could forego adding any defensive tackles this year, assuming they re-sign Okoye. They could then focus on building the positions of true need, like WR, OL and CB. If Melton and Okoye, both of whom are still in their early 20s, can improve as run stoppers, the DT position could become an area of strength.
*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.