Of course, you could have said the same thing last year. Starters Alex Brown and Adewale Ogunleye are two of the more well-rounded DEs in football. They may not be double-digit sack guys these days, but they know how to get after the quarterback, play tough against the run, and perhaps most importantly, are two of the most respected figures in the locker room.
Nevertheless, Mark Anderson came in a season ago as a first-year player out of Alabama and excelled as a situational pass-rusher, leading the team with 12 sacks. Despite the fact that he was a forgotten-about fifth-rounder, he finished second behind his former Crimson Tide teammate, Houston linebacker DeMeco Ryans, for Defensive Rookie of the Year honors. A very convincing case could be made that Anderson was the steal of the entire 2006 draft.
The defensive end rotation seemed pretty much set heading into the offseason. Both Brown and Ogunleye are still under contract through 2009, and Anderson will be pushing both of them for a starting gig if he continues to develop and becomes more reliable defending the run. Throw in the versatile Israel Idonije, who can also slide inside and play tackle when needed, and the Bears had a solid foursome heading into next season.
Somewhat unexpectedly, that quartet just became a quintet.
GM Jerry Angelo is a big believer in the best-player-available philosophy when it comes to the NFL Draft, and this time, it landed him another defensive end in Round 2 with the selection of Dan Bazuin of Central Michigan.
There may have been some head-scratching around the Windy City, but nobody is saying that Bazuin isn't a good football player. Quite the contrary, he was a tackle-for-loss machine for the Chippewas and totaled 16 and 11 sacks his junior and senior year, respectively. Head coach Lovie Smith prefers speed and athleticism over bulk and brawn on defense, and Bazuin has a reputation as an all-effort player with a high motor and a desire to succeed.
But considering the fact that Tommie Harris is still recovering from a torn hamstring and Tank Johnson is currently sitting in a Cook County correctional facility, wouldn't Angelo have been better served to go get another defensive tackle like Brandon Mebane of California or Jay Alford of Penn State? Both of them were available at No. 62 when the Bears were on the clock.
"We were focused on value," Angelo said on Saturday shortly after the Bazuin pick. "There were a couple of players that went ahead [of us], one in particular – a tackle. We just felt that the end was the better value, and that was the direction that we chose."
Brown and Ogunleye both earn hefty paychecks and have seen their productivity dip the last year or two, so is it possible Angelo will look to trade one of his veteran ends in order to move Anderson into a starting role while also making room for Bazuin?
"Anything can happen," he said. "I'm not going to rule anything out. That gives us the latitude if we chose to do that. I'm not going to get into that. We took [Bazuin] with the understanding that he was the best player, and that is why we did what we did."
Assuming nobody gets dealt and the entire defensive line heads to training camp in Bourbonnais as presently constructed, there could be a little bit of a logjam. Idonije would probably get moved inside to defensive tackle permanently and join Harris, Johnson, Dusty Dvoracek, and Anthony Adams with Antonio Garay likely the odd man out. Idonije played a lot of tackle down the stretch last season after Harris' injury and Johnson's legal problems.
It may be difficult to get Bazuin enough snaps to make the kind of impact Anderson did, but defensive coordinator Bob Babich likes what he sees on film so far.
"[Bazuin] has a great motor," Babich said on Sunday. "Obviously, he has been very productive – 30-something sacks. But in watching him – and obviously I have nothing against the MAC conference; it's a great conference; I have coached in the conference – but he also played with great effort and [was] very productive against teams like Michigan. We were just very pleased in watching him with his effort and his production, and we think he will bring a motor to the defensive unit."
Anderson is a pure pass-rusher and will never be big enough to play inside, but Babich believes that could be a possibility for Bazuin one day.
"Mark Anderson fits the mold for the right end," he said. "Dan is somewhere between a three-technique and the right end. He has athleticism, while at the same time he has some bulk where he can get in there and take on the base blocks by the tight end and be productive. Obviously, any time a defensive lineman gains weight, you go from the outside and move in and you continue to move. But right now, Dan has been drafted as a defensive end, and we feel comfortable about that."
Angelo despises the idea of drafting for need and would rather simply assemble the best 53 players he can find. The team that defeated the Bears in Super Bowl XLI – Indianapolis – tends to follow the same approach. Instead of filling some of their gaping holes on defense in the first round, the Colts went with receiver Anthony Gonzalez of Ohio State despite the presence of Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne – both wideouts went to the Pro Bowl last season.
Better to have too many playmakers than not enough, so perhaps Bazuin can make a position of strength even stronger.
|John Crist is the Publisher of Bear Report and Editor in Chief of BearReport.com. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.|