Wootton finally healthy, playing well

Corey Wootton has dealt with injuries throughout his career so far and has yet to reach his potential. Yet he's healthy this year and has provided Chicago critical depth at defensive end.

The Chicago Bears are leading the league in sacks (14.0) through the first three weeks of the season. This hasn't been a dominant act by any one player, as the team leader in sacks has just 3.0. Instead, it's been a matter of every player along the defensive line contributing to the team's pass rush. In fact, all seven members of the regular frontline rotation have at least half a sack:

Henry Melton, 3.0
Julius Peppers, 2.5
Israel Idonije, 2.5
Shea McClellin, 2.0
Corey Wootton, 1.5
Amobi Okoye, 1.0
Stephen Paea, 0.5

The pass rush has been the main reason the defense is ranked 6th overall, 6th against the run and 6th against the pass, and the reason the Bears (2-1) are tied for the lead in the NFC North.

The depth the team has along the defensive line has allowed them much creativity in scheme, play calling and alignment.

At defensive end, the starters get most of the publicity, as well as the first-round rookie McClellin. Yet Corey Wootton has had just as big of an impact as those headline grabbers. To go along with his 1.5 sacks, Wootton has two tackles, four QB hurries and a forced fumble, production that's come in a limited number of snaps. Of the club's four active defensive linemen, Wootton has gotten the lowest number of reps, meaning his per-play production has been as good as anyone's on Chicago's roster.

It's a great sign for the Bears when Wootton (6-6, 270) is the fourth best defensive end on the club.

The potential has always been there for Wootton, who was drafted in the fourth round of the 2010 draft out of Northwestern. Yet injuries have so far prohibited him from reaching his full potential. Last season, after a stellar training camp, Wootton sprained his knee in the preseason opener and wasn't the same the rest of the season.

"Last year, preseason, I had a really good preseason and got injured and my confidence level wasn't the same as it was in training camp," Wootton told Bear Report. "But this year, we had an offseason, the workouts that we didn't have the prior year."

This year, Wootton is fully healthy and it appears he's on the verge of a breakout campaign.

"Health is definitely a big thing as well," said Wootton. "Last year I wasn't really healthy. This year I'm feeling really good. Just feeling more confident."

He said the success of the pass rush is the ultimate example of a group effort.

"I don't think [our success] is a secret, I think it's just our focus on the pass rush this year and the depth we have. It's definitely, since I've been here, the most depth we've had. It shows out there, guys rotating in a lot. In the past, it wasn't really like that."

In 2011, the Bears headed into the season with Mario Addison, an undrafted rookie, and journeyman Nick Reed as the primary backups at defensive end. Both were cut midway through the campaign. With McClellin panning out as a situational pass rusher and Wootton finally coming into his own, there's no reason Chicago's pass rush can't be deadly throughout 2012.

"Anyone who is in there, coach [Rod Marinelli] always says, has the ability to get after the passer. That's why we're out there," said Wootton. "It's a change up, especially the different guys we're bringing in. One play it's Izzy, one play it's Pep, one play it's myself, one play it's Shea. It's definitely a good look across the front."

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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.

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