In past years, Chicago had been lacking in this area, struggling to put pressure on the opposing quarterback. Last year though the Bears led the NFL in quarterback hurries, while posting a respectable 48 sacks.
This offseason, Bears general manager Jerry Angelo looked to free agency and the NFL draft to help fill the void by signing Keith McKenzie and selecting Alex Brown in the fourth-round.
Whether or not these moves pay off may be inconsequential if second year defensive end Karon Riley can step up his play as the Bears number one pass-rush specialist. Though Riley had a disappointing season in 2001, playing in just five games, the former two-time All-America selection from the University of Minnesota says he is ready to contribute.
"I am ready to do what's best for the team, I'll come in on situational pass-rush, if they need me to play at the right end I'll do that, I am just trying to do whatever I have to do to get in," said Riley. "I think I rank at the top of the list (of Bears pass rushers) you have to have confidence in yourself and your own abilities, I feel I can contribute on the pass-rush as well as those other guys."
Riley had just one tackle in the Bears preseason opener against the Broncos. However, it was a stop against the run, which was a knock on him coming out of college. Riley could rush the passer, but wasn't a two way player that could defend the run.
Despite having excellent junior and senior seasons at the University of Minnesota, Riley had trouble adjusting to the NFL in his first season. He made only one tackle, while most of his playing time came on special teams, which begs the question, was it technique or physical attributes limiting his productivity?
"In the offseason I worked on my physical attributes; speed, and size," said Riley.
The 6-3 265 pound Riley improved his speed and put on some muscle during the off-season workouts, and if all goes well, he will lead the attack on opposing quarterbacks in 2002.