Embarrassment of riches

In the second of a two-part series, Bear Report examines the talent on defense and tries to predict who will make the team.

DEFENSIVE LINE (9): Starters -- LE Michael Haynes, LT Alfonso Boone, RT Bryan Robinson, RE Alex Brown. Backups -- T Tommie Harris, T Tank Johnson, E Joe Tafoya, E Claude Harriott, T Tron LaFavor.

Haynes gets a chance to be the man after seeing spot duty and showing only flashes last season following his selection in the first round of the 2003 draft.

Boone is a journeyman and a stopgap starter who should be replaced by one of this year's top two choices. Ditto Robinson, whose best days appear to be in the past but is still a solid run defender.

Brown could be special if his weight loss provides added quickness and helps him take the next step as a pass rusher. He has been much better than advertised as a run defender.

Harris and Johnson are the quick, athletic DTs that the Bears' new defensive scheme craves. They should be significant contributors sooner rather than later.

Tafoya is a try-hard, pass-rush type, and Harriott is capable of providing a pass-rush presence.

Ian Scott has progressed enough to warrant a roster spot and his 315-pound frame isn't ideal for Lovie Smith's speed oriented system.

LINEBACKERS (6): Starters -- SLB Joe Odom, MLB Brian Urlacher, WLB Lance Briggs. Backups -- Bryan Knight, Hunter Hillenmeyer, Leon Joe.

Briggs' aggressive hitting was a pleasant surprise last season when he started 13 games as a rookie.

Urlacher went to his fourth straight Pro Bowl, but the big plays that have characterized his game were absent for most of the season. More impact plays are expected in the new scheme from Urlacher and from all the linebackers.

Odom is well suited to play in the offense because he has excellent speed and cover ability, but it remains to be seen if the 2003 sixth-round pick is the long-range answer. He played better than expected last season in three starts while filling in for injured Warrick Holdman.

Knight was a flop as a starter last season because he lacks strength and size at the point, but he can run and play special teams.

Hillenmeyer led the nation in tackles in his senior season at Vanderbilt and has gotten lots of playing time in situational defenses in the offseason.

Joe is another player geared to the new system. He's undersized but can fly.

DEFENSIVE BACKS (9): Starters -- CB Charles Tillman, CB Jerry Azumah, FS Mike Brown, SS Mike Green. Backups -- CB R.W. McQuarters, S Bobby Gray, S Todd Johnson, CB Nathan Vasher, CB Todd McMillon.

With McQuarters, the Bears figure they have three starting-caliber corners, and he could end up playing ahead of Azumah. Both of them were benched at one time last season, while rookie Charles Tillman emerged as the team's best cover corner and a player to build around.

Brown is looking for a rebound to his 2002 form, when he seemed always to be around the ball.

Gray could end up taking Green's spot, especially if the Bears can afford to play him near the line of scrimmage like an extra linebacker, which is how he plays best. Green is the better player in coverage.

If Vasher steps up early as a rookie, McQuarters and his big contract could be vulnerable.

McMillon has played well as an extra DB in passing situations and is an excellent special-teams player.

CB Brock Williams and S Cameron Worrell could find it difficult to make the team because of the depth in the secondary.

Punter (1): Brad Maynard,

Maynard is looking to bounce back after subpar season in which he struggled with consistency.

Returners: KOR Jerry Azumah, PR R.W. McQuarters.

Azumah went to the Pro Bowl and is a legitimate home run threat, as is McQuarters. The Bears will stick with them if they continue to show that they are clearly superior to the competition, but they would like to have a young non-starter emerge to challenge the veterans or at least give them a breather now and then. Rookies Bernard Berrian and Nathan Vasher are the top candidates.

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