22 Starters in 22 Days: Adewale Ogunleye

Last year, Adewale Ogunleye showed why the Bears traded for his services and gave him a hefty contract. The defensive end reached double-digits in sacks, but can Ogunleye repeat the accomplishment in 2006?

Although Ogunleye paced the team with 10.0 sacks, he only earned second alternate to the Pro Bowl. However, it wasn't because he only went after the quarterback. Ogunleye led the defensive line with a career-high 77tackles.

Ogunleye led the AFC with 15.0 sacks and for his efforts earned a Pro Bowl nod in 2003. When the Bears sent Marty Booker and a third round pick to the Miami Dolphins to acquire Ogunleye, it put a lot of pressure on him to match the numbers.

In his first season with the Bears, staying on the field proved to be a task for Ogunleye. An ankle injury forced him to miss three games and his production fell to 5.0 sacks. When he was too forthcoming about his injury with the media, the subject became a source of tension between he and head coach Lovie Smith. He finished the season on injured reserve and needed off-season surgery to repair a torn tendon.

Any controversy seemed to be swept away when Ogunleye became the first defensive end to reach double-digit in sacks since Richard Dent had 12.5 in 1993. Ogunleye started 15 games, with the only exception coming in the season finale at Minnesota. Like several other starters, he rested with the NFC North crown already secured.

Unlike his counterpart Alex Brown, Ogunleye has been much more consistent when it comes to going after the quarterback. The six-foot-4, 260-pounder never went more than two games during the season without a sack. He also had moments where he dominated the competition. For the third time in his five-year career, Ogunleye had a three-sack game and followed it up with a two-sack performance.

Ogunleye will turn 29 before the start of the season, which makes him the oldest starter on a young defense. His six-year $33 million contract runs through 2009. As he heads into his early thirties, there could be some concern if his production can match his salary cap figure. But for now, Ogunleye is the unquestioned starter at left end.

The depth or lack there of behind Ogunleye could be viewed as an issue. Michael Haynes and Israel Idonije are currently the top reserves at the position. Still, it seems Haynes' future in Chicago is in doubt. The Bears opted to match a restricted free agent offer for Idonije and he will now have to prove he's ready to play important snaps. Mark Anderson could also help out the rotation, but his 258-pound frame is more suited to play on the weak-side.

In just two years with the organization, Ogunleye has become a leader on and off the field for the Bears. Another healthy season for Ogunleye would ensure the defense remains among the best in the league and could possibly send him back to he Pro Bowl.

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