Make or Break Year for Brown

Although Alex Brown has led the Bears in sacks the past two seasons, there is room for improvement from the 26-year-old defensive end.

After signing a five-year deal worth $16 million, it's time for Brown to prove he's worth the investment.

"Alex Brown, there was a reason we gave him that big contract last year," said head coach Lovie Smith.

Despite setting a school record with 33 sacks at Florida, Brown lasted until the fourth round of the 2002 draft because he had a reputation for taking plays off.

In three years with the Bears, Brown has dispelled any knocks about his effort. He's become a two-way defensive end that has averaged 76 tackles the past two seasons.

However, the debate remains whether he'll be able to become an elite pass rusher. He's dominated on occasion, including a four-sack performance against the New York Giants last year. He's paced the team in QB takedowns the past two seasons with modest totals of 5.5 and 6 sacks respectively.

When Brown came to the Bears the team told him to bulk up in order to fit into the defensive scheme. When Smith and Ron Rivera came on board, the entire team shed pounds in favor of speed. Brown dropped weight to regain his 4.6 forty speed, which is where he's most effective.

The six-foot-3, 260-pound Brown will benefit from the talent on the defensive line. Adewale Ogunleye played in twelve games last year, but never played up to his capabilities because of an ankle injury. Tommie Harris made a run at Defensive Rookie of the Year and should only get better with a season of NFL experience.

"If we do the right things, we can be tops in the league," Ogunleye said.

Ogunleye knows of what he speaks. He spent four years with the Dolphins when the defense was among the top units in the league. In his last two years in Miami, he combined with Jason Taylor for 56 sacks, including leading the AFC with 15 sacks in 2003.

While the group in Miami was a veteran crop, the Bears may not peak for another year.

"Here I think it's a lot more young talent, where the potential is there, but it's like a light switch that's turned off," Ogunleye said. "If you don't turn it on, you're not using it, so here we have to find a way to use our potential."

The goal for Brown this season is double-digit sacks. The last Bear to reach that level was LB Rosevelt Colvin, who achieved the feat in 2001 and 2002. A defensive end hasn't done it since Richard Dent had 13.5 sacks in 1993.

Brown is a humble athlete that would never put his agenda ahead of the team's success, but his play could be the difference between the defense being a middle of the pack unit or among the league's best.

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