As the media gathered around the mess hall today for player interviews, Chicago Bears media relations made an announcement: defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis did not report to training camp and has announced to the team his intention to retire. Shortly after, the organization officially placed him on the reserve/retired list.
Ellis signed a one-year, $1 million deal just before the start of veteran minicamp in June, with a $285,000 signing bonus. It's safe to assume the Bears will be going after that signing bonus money.
This throws a considerable wrench into the team's plans, as most assumed Ellis, a former first-round draft pick of the New Orleans Saints, would emerge from training camp as the fourth defensive tackle on the roster. For a team that rotates all four defensive tackles throughout each game, Ellis was expected to play a considerable role in Chicago's defense this year. The former first-round pick discussed in minicamp his excitement to join a 4-3 system that fits his skill set.
"That was part of the reason I picked Chicago; mainly it was because of the way I know their defensive line plays," Ellis said in June. "They allow their guys to do what defensive linemen are supposed to do, and that's rush the passer, gets sacks and put pressure on the quarterback while playing the run on the way. I haven't had the chance to do that the last couple of years.
"I believe the first three years [in New Orleans] went pretty well. We had some coaching changes and scheme changes and there was a little bit of a rotation as far as defensive coordinators. I think that the schemes did not quite suit my talents and that showed in production. I'm glad to be back on a team that I know runs a solid [4-3] the way they used to run the [4-3]."
The Bears didn't cry over Ellis though and moved quickly to find his replacement. Roughly two hours after the news of Ellis broke, GM Phil Emery signed Jamaal Anderson to a one-year contract. Anderson was the eighth overall pick of the 2007 draft for the Falcons, back when Emery was Atlanta's director of college scouting, so he's familiar with the six-year veteran. The Cincinnati Bengals waived Anderson earlier this month.
Per the official press release:
The 6-6, 280-pound Anderson has started 48 of 77 games played in six seasons with Atlanta (2007-10), Indianapolis (2011) and Cincinnati (2012) after being selected by the Falcons in the first round (eighth overall) of the 2007 NFL Draft out of Arkansas. Anderson has recorded 132 tackles, 7.5 sacks, 10 pass break ups, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery during his NFL career.
"As far as I see it, we need a lot of help," Paea said after hearing the news of Ellis' retirement. "But I think Nate Collins and some of our other guys on the defensive line are going to have to help us out. It's still going to be a competition on the line. Nothing is set in stones, according to the coaches."
Collins now becomes a crucial piece of the defensive line puzzle, as he's capable of playing both nose tackle and the under tackle. As a result, he should see his number of on-field snaps increase dramatically in 2013, unless Anderson comes in and blows everyone away in training camp.
The other option for the Bears is to slide the defensive ends inside on passing downs, something defensive coordinator Mel Tucker utilized in training camp with Julius Peppers, Shea McClellin and Corey Wootton.
"They've been moving me inside a little bit for pass-rushing situations," Wootton said today. "I think we're just trying to get the best four rushers out there all at once. Hopefully, I can go in there and contribute inside a little bit or wherever they need."
Whatever the plan is going forward, it's far from ideal. Beyond Anderson and Collins, the Bears have nothing but journeymen and rookies. Guy like Aston Whiteside, Corvey Irvin and Christian Tupou have taken snaps with the second team this offseason but none are proven. So while the loss of Ellis isn't critical, it's going to put Tucker and the Bears' defensive line in a tough position this season.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his third season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Follow Bear Report on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Bear Report Web site or magazine, click here.