Positional Analysis: Defensive Line

The front four will be the key to success for the defensive in 2004. Will the names change or will the same faces have to step up their game?

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- LE Phillip Daniels, LT Keith Traylor, RT Bryan Robinson, RE Alex Brown. Backups -- DE Michael Haynes, DT Alfonso Boone, DT Tron LaFavor, DE Joe Tafoya, DT Ian Scott.

Daniels has never become the sack master that the Bears hoped for when they paid him $24 million over five years as a free agent after the 1999 season. But he has been better than expected as a run defender, an every-down, all-out performer and the best all-around d-lineman on the team since he came to Chicago. That may not be enough to keep him around next year if the cap gets tight, but he's also a positive influence off the field and a well-preserved 30 years old -- until March 4.

Brown has proven to be a fourth-round steal. He led the team with a modest 5 1/2 sacks, but is capable of doubling that number if a stud tackle complements him. Brown is a bit undersized at 6-3 and 272 pounds, but he's been better vs. the run than expected and an occasional disruptive force behind the LOS.

Traylor will be 35 before the next season starts, and he can still stuff the run, but he would need to be used judiciously and probably at a bargain rate to preserve his old bones.

Robinson was supposed to elevate his game when he was moved to his more natural inside position after almost five years at end, but that hasn't happened. He's serviceable but not special.

Haynes started slowly for a first-round pick, but he got better as the season progressed. Haynes should be an eventual starter, but it's probably too soon to let Daniels go and throw the youngster in full time.

Boone is an OK run-down player and a good backup but not much else. LaFavor and Scott saw a little playing time as rookies but didn't make much of an impact, although they showed enough to keep their roster spots. Tafoya is an undersized, all-out-effort guy who also plays on all special teams.

Although the defense set a franchise record for futility in getting to the quarterback producing just 17 sacks, the team isn't looking to add a major pass rusher in free agency or the draft. Instead the bulk of the upgrade has been focussed on the interior of line. Warren Sapp is the biggest name and mouth on the market. Despite ties to both Jerry Angelo and Lovie Smith the chances of the Bears going after Sapp are slim. The feeling is that he's on the downside of his career and isn't worth a multiyear contract at big dollars.

There are several defensive tackles that will be taken in the first-round of April's draft. Names that the Bears will consider include Miami's Vince Wilfork, Tommie Harris from Oklahoma and Randy Starks of Maryland. With the combine a week away players draft slots and team interest will become more apparent.

The Insiders contributed to this report.


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