The Chicago Bears have a revamped front seven about which everyone is excited. Two new inside linebackers - one fresh off a Super Bowl title - a mountainous defensive end, healthy outside linebackers and a shiny new first-round edge rusher.
It's a front seven that has been upgraded tremendously this off-season, yet a few pieces from the old regime were already in place. That includes OLBs Lamarr Houston and Willie Young, as well as third-year defensive lineman Ego Ferguson.
The club's 2014 second-round pick, Ferguson had a solid rookie season (23 total tackles, 2.0 sacks, 3 PBUs) but played just four games last year before landing on IR with a torn patella in his right knee, which required surgery.
He enters 2016 at near full health and about 5-10 pounds heavier, which should help him eat up space along the interior of the defensive line.
"I'm a little heavier than last year," Ferguson said during OTAs. "Same movement though."
Through OTAs and veteran minicamp, Ferguson has been used as a rotational first-string defensive end, while also playing nose tackle with the second unit. With that type of positional flexibility, he can rotate at either NT or DE, which is a valuable commodity for defensive coordinator Vic Fangio.
Remember, Ferguson was drafted to play nose tackle in a 4-3 system, so he's comfortable in both base 3-4 sets and nickel formations, which further adds to his value.
At 6-2, 310 pounds, Ferguson is just 26 years old and has not yet reached his peak. Yet, due ostensibly to the time he missed last year, no one is talking about him. That's a mistake, as Ferguson is going to play an important role this season for Chicago's defense.
"I feel that, now, going into my third season, I kind of understand the ropes in terms of what we’re doing, and understand how to push yourself in the off-season. Understand the timetable you have, and resting your body and taking care of your body," Ferguson said. "I feel like I got a little juice to make something happen. It’s just about fitting in the defense the right way."
He can start at any position along the defensive line and has shown enough prowess as a pass rusher to push the pocket on passing downs. He may not break camp as the starter - Akiem Hicks, Eddie Goldman and Mitch Unrein are the current starters in base sets - but Ferguson is going to have an impact each week during the season.
And if a starter goes down, he'll be the next man up, which will put added emphasis on his performance. If he can jell with all the new faces up front, Ferguson will have a serious impact on the success of this team in 2016.
"We came out here and I felt like we picked up fast this year. We had a different attitude," said Ferguson. "You bring in new pieces, the guys they brought in, with a different type of mindset. Guys that have won a Super Bowl. I see a lot different mindsets, a lot more confidence, and a lot more surety in what we're doing. Second year in this defense, just understanding what we're good at and playing off each other."
He's not a household name but Ferguson provides good depth and versatility to Chicago's defensive line, and will likely play 500-plus snaps this year. If he regains his former burst and can tap into his potential, he could easily be the Bears' comeback player of the year this season.
"I just want to become a consistent player," he said. "Making it happen every play, not just once in a blue moon. Just being a more consistent player, realizing my role in the defense and running with it."