Last season, the Chicago Bears kept five defensive tackles on the roster. To begin the year, Henry Melton started at under tackle and rotated with Amobi Okoye, while Matt Toeaina started at nose tackle and rotated with Anthony Adams. Stephen Paea, the team's second round pick in last year's draft, was a healthy scratch through the first five weeks of the season.
Yet due to an injury to Toeaina in Week 6, Paea finally saw the field on game day. During just the second play of his NFL career, Paea picked up a sack on Vikings quarterback Donovan McNabb. Paea was active for the remainder of the season, rotating between nose tackle and under tackle depending on who was injured.
Melton and Okoye, the 3-technique players charged with one-gap penetration, combined for 11.0 sacks – the most from a Bears defensive tackle duo since 1995.
Due to numerous injuries, including a lingering back problem, Adam's production dropped off severely from his solid 2010 campaign. As such, one of GM Phil Emery's first moves as head of the team was to cut Adams.
DT Amobi Okoye
Dennis Wierzbicki/US Presswire
Okoye then left via free agency, signing with the Buccaneers a few weeks ago – a big loss to the club. As of yet, Emery still has not acquired any new defensive tackles, neither through veteran free agency nor the draft.
The club signed undrafted rookie Ronnie Cameron shortly after the draft ended. He may be able to challenge for a roster spot but Bears fans better hope the team isn't relying on a player that wasn't even good enough to get drafted this year.
Jordan Miller is also on the current roster. He was signed in the last week of the 2011 season and will be given a shot to make the squad this year, something he wasn't able to do coming out of Bears training camp last season. Like Cameron though, Miller is not an ideal option.
More likely, the club is going to have to make an additional roster move through veteran free agency to find a suitable No. 4 defensive tackle.
The problem with that, and likely the reason Chicago has yet to make an acquisition, is that the free-agent defensive tackle market is paper thin, especially in regard to 3-technique players.
The best available under tackle is Tommie Harris, who played for the Bears from 2004-2010. The three-time Pro Bowler was cut following the 2010 season after leg and knee injuries sapped him of the quickness he displayed earlier in his career. The eight-year veteran played for the Chargers last year, earning 3.0 sacks in 13 games as a backup.
For a veteran minimum contract, Harris would be a nice fit in a rotation with Melton.
Chicago's other option is to slide Paea to under tackle and pick up a veteran nose tackle. With Paea, whom can play either position, the club has that type of flexibility.
If the Bears want to go that route, Aubrayo Franklin would be a nice fit. The nine-year veteran is in the twilight of his career but he still has enough left in the tank to be a solid inside presence versus the run.
If a free agent is yet to be picked up, then he won't be in much of a position to demand a large contract, meaning whoever Chicago signs will likely get paid a veteran minimum salary.
From a fiscal standpoint, that puts the Bears in a good position. Yet from a production standpoint, it puts the club in a bind. Emery needs to find a player that can help solidify the defensive line in 2012, and he needs to do it quickly. Waiting too long to solidify the defensive line could come back to haunt him.
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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.