Tales From the Tape: Pass Rush

Chicago's pass rush was without Henry Melton and Julius Peppers on Thursday, yet the rest of the defensive linemen showed the depth and diversity of the Bears' defensive front.

Chicago Bears defensive end Julius Peppers has not done much work this offseason. He hardly participated in team drills throughout training camp and took numerous rest and personal days. He has also been inactive for both of the preseason games.

This isn't cause for concern though. Peppers is an established 13-year veteran. Training camp and preseason games won't do much for him at this point in his career, other than put him at undue risk of injury. Rest assured, he'll be on the field in Week 1 doing his normal, dominant thing.

Of bigger concern is Henry Melton, who suffered a concussion in the first preseason game. He's been taking it easy since then and there is no timetable for his return.

The good news is that, after Thursday's performance against the San Diego Chargers, it appears the Bears can weather the storm if starters have to miss time. Corey Wootton and Shea McClellin both displayed the pass-rush prowess they've shown on the practice field. And Nate Collins, who also shined in the preseason opener, is proving to be very disruptive in the middle.

All three players earned sacks this week, but each did it in his own way. Let's go to the film room to break it down.

Sack 1: Wootton

2nd and 5 from the San Diego 23-yard line. The Chargers line up in a four-receiver set, with QB Phillip Rivers in shotgun. The Bears counter with a nickel defense. No one is showing blitz. Wootton is lined up on the left edge of the defensive line, across from rookie tackle D.J. Fluker.

At the snap, Wootton darts across Fluker's face. It catches the blocker off guard and Wootton immediately gains leverage inside. He then takes his left arm and rips upward into Fluker's throat, all the while churning his feet toward the quarterback. Wootton is in Rivers' face almost immediately and he carries Fluker on his back while throwing the quarterback to the ground.

Wootton shows a little bit of everything on this play. He's quick off the ball, which stuns Fluker, and then he demonstrates tremendous strength, both in his upper and lower body, in driving past the blocker. I'll say it again, if Wootton stays healthy this year, he has a shot at making the Pro Bowl.

Sack 2: McClellin

1st and 10 at the San Diego 45-yard line. The Chargers line up in a strong-right , I-formation with a receiver on either side of the field. The Bears counter with a base 4-3. Before the snap, S Major Wright moves up to the line of scrimmage, just outside of LDE Kyle Moore. On the opposite side of the line, McCelllin is in a wide-9 position.

At the snap, Wright and LB Jon Bostic blitz off the left edge. RB Ryan Matthews is able to pick up the blitz but it leaves T Max Starks one-on-one with McClellin. At first, McClellin rushes straight up the field. He then slows down, as if he's going to cut or spin back inside. Starks freezes for a second, at which point McClellin bursts around the edge. Starks barely gets a hand on the defender, who explodes into the back of Rivers and forces a fumble, which Wright recovers.

McClellin is what he is: a speed rusher. He's not the same type of three-down 4-3 defensive end that Wootton is. McClellin is a situational pass rusher, plain and simple. Yet there's nothing wrong with that when you already have two every-down bookends in Peppers and Wootton. McClellin looked sharp in training camp and his confidence showed in this game.

Sack 3: Collins

3rd and 6 from the Chicago 39-yard line. The Chargers line up in a three-receiver set with Rivers in shotgun. The Bears counter with a nickel defense. Both linebackers, James Anderson and Lance Briggs, are lined up over center. Nickelback Isaiah Frey is showing blitz off the left edge. Nate Collins is lined up in the right B gap.

At the snap, no one blitzes, leaving just a four-man rush. Collins initially rushes to the right shoulder of G Jeromey Clary. He then uses a juke swim to swing inside. Collins keeps his head in the backfield and when he sees Rivers step up in the pocket, he swims back left, which puts Clary on his knees. Collins then easily takes Rivers down for the sack.

Collins looks much leaner than he did last season and has shown the requisite quickness to play the 3-technique position for the Bears. This play demonstrates his active hands and ability to change directions on a dime. He plays with a low pad level and he's a tireless worker. If Melton has to miss time, the Bears should be able to weather the storm with Collins inside.

Final Thoughts

Three sacks, all accomplished by different means. Wootton did it with power, McClellin did it with speed and Collins did it with quickness. When you have these three providing pressure on opposing quarterbacks alongside two Pro Bowl defensive linemen in Melton and Peppers, Chicago's pass rush could be extremely formidable 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.

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