Tuesday's Practice: D-Line Depth a Concern

Tuesday was the last official practice for the Bears before Thursday's final preseason game at Cleveland. The starting offense could use another half to gain some confidence heading into Week 1, but avoiding further injuries will be paramount. There have been highly publicized injuries to running backs and wide receivers, but the team currently has more legitimate concerns on the defensive line.

Coming into the 2006 season, depth along the defensive front was supposed to be a team strength for the Bears. But just three weeks into the preseason schedule, a rash of injuries has the team suddenly searching for answers.

Despite the walking wounded at both defensive end and defensive tackle, head coach Lovie Smith says that the roster decisions he has to make up front are based more on level of play than severity of injuries.

"We have had a few injuries at (defensive line), and we'll keep that in mind," Smith said after Tuesday's practice. "But most of the injuries we've had on our defensive line, they're not season-ending (or) anything like that. We know the players will come back. We have tough decisions on the defensive line just based on their play as much as anything."

The only starting member of the defensive front to escape the injury bug thus far has been left end Adewale Ogunleye, and he has responded with a monster preseason. Right end Alex Brown dislocated his right shoulder last Friday night against Arizona, and even though me might be a little ambitious, the former Gator claims he will return for Week 1 at Green Bay. Tackles Tank Johnson and Ian Scott have both missed significant time in training camp.

The two rookie members of the D-line haven't been on the field enough to give the coaching staff an opportunity to truly evaluate what they can do. Tackle Dusty Dvoracek has been in and out of practice all camp long with a bad foot. He was placed on injured reserve yesterday and will spend his first NFL season watching from the sideline in street clothes. End Mark Anderson missed several weeks with a bum hamstring but has started to practice again this week.

Smith likes what he sees so far out of Anderson, but it's way too early to tell if he'll be able to contribute right now.

"Mark has looked good with what we've done," Smith said. "But he's only been in pads one day. So this is a big game for a player like Mark Anderson, also. But what we've seen of him looks good, and we hope we'll see that in the game Thursday night."

The Dvoracek decision bodes well for the likes of Michael Haynes and Delbert Cowsette. Haynes, a former first-round end moved to tackle this preseason, has missed his share of time with a bad back. Not too long ago, Haynes was mentioned as a part of the much-talked-about trade for Ashley Lelie and maybe even cut from the team altogether. Cowsette was a late addition to the training camp roster, but he performed very well with the second unit last Friday at Soldier Field. At least one of them has secured a roster spot at this point, and maybe even both of them are safe.

Brown's injury is further complicated by the loss of Israel Idonije, who came out of last week's game with a sprained ankle. Key contributors like Jamaal Green and Alfonso Boone might be on the field a little longer than Smith would like Thursday night in Cleveland because there just aren't enough healthy bodies to throw out there.

The secondary has had their troubles so far in the preseason, but if a re-shuffled defensive line can't get pressure on the quarterback and forces the DBs to stay in coverage even longer, those troubles are only going to get worse.


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