When Israel Idonije was shifted to defensive end on a permanent basis in 2010, it appeared to be a prudent move. That season, with Julius Peppers being double-teamed on the other side, Idonije tied for the team lead with 8.0 sacks. He had been shuffled between tackle and end for most his career before that, and solidifying his place on the team seemed to give him focus.
Yet last year, despite Peppers playing like a man possessed, Idonije regressed and could muster just 5.0 sacks. The team re-signed him this offseason, but only to a one-year deal. On top of that, the Bears drafted Shea McClellin, a pure pass rusher, in the first round.
The organization obviously doesn't view the 31-year-old Idonije as a long-term option at defensive end. In fact, the coaches began this week moving Izzy back inside to tackle on passing downs, with McClellin coming off the edge. It's a move few saw coming but one that, at least during last night's preseason game, paid dividends.
"It felt good," Idonije told Bear Report after the game. "All through training camp I've been working at it. It's been three years since I've been inside [at tackle] so it was just good to get in and make some plays, get some pressure."
During the team's second preseason matchup versus the Washington Redskins, the defense mustered 3.0 sacks in the first half, 2.5 of which came from Idonije. Obviously, he has plenty left in the tank.
"Every year I have something to prove but tonight is what is expected of me," said Idonije. "They expect me to get in the game and make plays. They expect me to get in the game and have an impact. That's why I'm here."
Idonije's second sack made the most impact on the outcome of the game. It was a 1st and 10 and he was lined up on the left edge. The Bears brought S Major Wright on a blitz from the opposite side, forcing Redskins QB Robert Griffin to step up in the pocket. Idonije then disengaged from the blocker in front of him and tackled Griffin from behind, picking up the sack and forcing a fumble. Peppers recovered the loose pigskin. Two plays later, the offense scored to give the team a 14-point lead.
"The play that was called, it put me in a great position against the tight end. I came around the edge and Major just missed a sack," Idonije said. "Fortunately the quarterback was scrambling and I came around and was able to cause a fumble. And Julius was able to secure the ball. It was just a great play."
Idonije finished second on the team in total tackles (5). He said it was good to show improvement, after getting drubbed 31-3 by the Denver Broncos the week before.
"It was good; a step in the right direction," said Idonije. "Typically you want the game after that first preseason game, you want to make some progress and just show improvement moving to the second game, and we did that."
In Chicago's system, pressure from the front four is crucial, as it allows the secondary to sit back in its bread-and-butter Cover 2 shell. Idonije's versatility, quickness and power were on display last night, which is a great sign for the team going forward. If he can carry that over into the regular season – combined with Peppers doing his thing on the other side, as well as contributions from McClellin and Henry Melton – the Bears' defensive line could develop into one of the team's strongest units in 2012.
Follow me on Twitter: @BearReport
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.