Defense: Positional Analysis

Expectations for a young and talented defense are understandably high. Here's a closer look at what Ron Rivera has to work with as the team heads to training camp.

DEFENSIVE LINE: Starters -- LE Adewale Ogunleye, DT Tommie Harris, NT Ian Scott, RE Alex Brown. Backups - DE Michael Haynes, NT Tank Johnson, DE Israel Idonije, DT Alfonso Boone.

The Bears need Ogunleye to play as he did in 2003, when he was the AFC sack leader. Last season he never resembled that player while battling an ankle-calf injury that limited him to five sacks. Brown took another step, and he led the team with six sacks, but four of them came in one game. Haynes, a 2003 first-round pick, has backed up both end spots, and he started four games when Ogunleye was hurt, but he still hasn't lived up to the team's expectations.

As a rookie last year, Harris played up to his first-round draft status, and he should develop into an impact player. Scott was the other starter inside, and he showed much improvement after an undistinguished rookie season. Johnson, a second-round pick in 2004, played in a rotation inside along with Boone, a solid run defender. Idonije is raw but has potential and great size.

LINEBACKERS: Starters - WLB Lance Briggs, MLB Brian Urlacher, SLB Hunter Hillenmeyer. Backups - Marcus Reese, Joe Odom, Jeremy Cain.

Urlacher in the middle, and Briggs on the weak side are one of the best young duos in the NFL. Last year Urlacher regained the big-play touch he seemed to lose in '03, getting 5 1/2 sacks, an interception and forcing two fumbles, but he was limited to just nine games because of hamstring injuries, the first time he's ever been hurt. Briggs led the Bears with 168 tackles. The third starting spot belongs to former fill-in Hillenmeyer, who played better than expected while subbing for Urlacher last season. But Odom and Reese have both started games in the past, and Cain could also be a candidate should Hillenmeyer falter.

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

Tillman is the Bears' best cover corner, although he didn't play as well last season as he did in 2003 as a rookie. Azumah has been a starter most of the time over the past three seasons, and he's solid in run support, but he's not the type who can shut down a top wideout. Nathan Vasher, a fourth-round draft pick last season who led the squad with five interceptions, could be better than both of them. He has a knack for big plays but lacks size.

Brown, who plays at a near-Pro Bowl level, suffered a season-ending ruptured Achilles in the second game of the season, but he is back at 100 percent and has moved from free to strong safety to make better use of his toughness and hitting ability. Green, a better pass defender, has been moved from strong to free. He has been pushed in the past by Gray, a lights-out hitter who doesn't cover as well. Johnson is another physical safety who makes receivers hear footsteps.

SPECIAL TEAMS: PK Doug Brien, P Brad Maynard, LS Patrick Mannelly.

Brien replaces Paul Edinger, who had slumped for the past year and a half. Brien is more accurate but has missed some makeable kicks at key times in the past. Maynard had Pro Bowl-type season in 2004. Mannelly is one of the best in the business. Azumah went to the Pro Bowl after the 2003 season as a kickoff returner. Berrian, Vasher and Bradley should compete to replace R.W. McQuarters as the punt returner.

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