Bears commit to youth on D … sort of

With six starters 30 or older, the Chicago Bears are not a young defense, yet final cuts yesterday showed GM Phil Emery is dedicated to a long-term youth movement on the defensive side of the ball.

NFL final cuts were yesterday, meaning all 32 league rosters have been finalized. As of today, the Chicago Bears are the third oldest team in the NFL, with an average age of 26.72 years old.

The majority of Chicago’s “seasoned” players are on the defensive side of the ball, where six starters are 30 or older: DT Jeremiah Ratliff (33), Charles Tillman (33), Lance Briggs (33), D.J. Williams (32), Jared Allen (32) and Tim Jennings (30).

In the short-term, that could be problematic in terms of injury. Of those six veterans, Jennings is the only player who has not dealt with a significant injury in the past two years, and even he played through a dislocated shoulder last year.

Throughout the offseason, both GM Phil Emery and coach Marc Trestman talked about their desire to get younger on defense. From the standpoint of the starting lineup, that doesn’t appear to be the case. Yet beyond those six, the Bears only have two defensive players 29 or older: Ryan Mundy (29) and Trevor Scott (30).

In fact, the average age of the other 17 Chicago defensive players is just 24.2 years old. In the long-term, that’s a great thing for the potential of the defense.

The future is even more promising when you consider next year’s potential depth chart. The contracts of Tillman, Briggs and Williams will expire at season’s end, and both Ratliff and Allen are one- or two-year rentals at the most. In addition, Jennings’ contract will expire at the end of the 2015 campaign.

Within the next two years, the core of Chicago’s defense will be DE Lamarr Houston (26), CB Kyle Fuller (22), DT Will Sutton (22), DT Ego Ferguson (22), LB Jon Bostic (23) and LB Khaseem Greene (23). Those six foundation players average 23 years in age.

Even when you add in potential long-termers DT Stephen Paea (26), CB Sherrick McManis (26) and S Brock Vereen (22), that foundation age is still just 23.5 years old. That’s the type of youth you can build upon, and doesn’t even include the club’s draft picks in 2014 and 2015, which will further reduce Chicago’s median age.

And it goes beyond just the high-profile names. The Bears the past two days furthered their pursuit of youth by purging the roster of CB Kelvin Hayden (31), DE Austen Lane (26), LB Jerry Franklin (26) and S Craig Steltz (28), in favor of CB Demontre Hurst (23), DE David Bass (23), DE Cornelius Washington (24), LB Christian Jones (23) and S Danny McCray (26).

So while the Bears may look old at first glance, it helps to remember that those aged players will be in the Windy City for one or two more years at the most, and that there is a glut of youth waiting in the wings.

In addition, it’s safe to assume many of those first- and second-year players will get significant playing time this year. Sutton, Ferguson, Fuller and Bostic will all rotate on the field during game days, and if injuries stack up like they did last year, Vereen and Greene may also be called into duty.

An inexperienced defense may not be ideal in 2014 but even if the youngsters struggle right away, playing time now will benefit the team later, both individually and in terms of team chemistry.


Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his fourth 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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