Depth Chart Analysis: Defense

Statistics say the Bears had one of the best defenses in the NFL last year, but it really was a tale of two seasons. After a dominating first half, the Midway Monsters were never the same after losing Mike Brown and then Tommie Harris to injury. Getting them back healthy is the key to 2007. The experts at Scout.com break down the NFC Champions on defense heading into Bourbonnais.

DEFENSIVE LINE
Starters: LE Adewale Ogunleye, LT Tommie Harris, NT Dusty Dvoracek, RE Mark Anderson
Backups: E Alex Brown, T Anthony Adams, E/T Israel Idonije, T Antonio Garay, E Dan Bazuin

Harris is the key with his rare combination of strength, quickness and agility. A two-time Pro-Bowler and still just 24, he's already one of the NFL's top d-linemen and is expected to be 100 percent recovered from surgery late last season to repair a torn leg tendon. Harris will be working with a new cast of role-playing DTs this season. Gone are Tank Johnson, Ian Scott and Alfonso Boone, who started 21 games last season and 39 over the past two seasons. Former 49ers starter Anthony Adams, active and versatile, was added in free agency, and last year's third-round pick Dusty Dvoracek, a sturdy run stuffer with some mobility, is healthy after spending his rookie season on injured reserve. Garay or Israel should allow the Bears to continue playing four tackles in a rotation.

In the offseason, Anderson, an undersized fifth-round pick in 2006 who had a team-best 12 sacks as a rookie, was playing ahead of Brown, a decent pass rusher who is also solid vs. the run. Ogunleye has had some outstanding seasons as a pass rusher. He had just seven sacks last season but 10 a year earlier.

LINEBACKERS
Starters: WLB Lance Briggs, MLB Brian Urlacher, SLB Hunter Hillenmeyer
Backups: OLB Jamar Williams, OLB Michael Okwo, OLB Leon Joe, MLB Rod Wilson

The big question is: When will Briggs show up, and what will his mental state be? Miffed by his franchise designation, the two-time Pro-Bowler, who plays Scottie Pippen to Urlacher's Michael Jordan, has threatened to sit out 10 weeks before reporting, although that plan would appear to derail his plans to score a long-term deal next year with $15 million or more in guaranteed money. The Bears don't seem to have any intention of keeping Briggs beyond this season regardless of when he shows up or how well he plays. That's because the big money on this unit will always go to six-time Pro-Bowler Urlacher, who continues to raise his level of play and still possesses freakish speed and range for a big (6-4, 258-pound) linebacker.

The unsung Hillenmeyer is smart and technically superb, but he comes off in nickel. Williams is the first choice to replace Briggs if that need arises, although Okwo could be a factor, too. The rest of the Bears' backups are fast but undersized, which fits the team's scheme.

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DEFENSIVE BACKS
Starters: LCB Charles Tillman, RCB Nathan Vasher, SS Adam Archuleta, FS Mike Brown
Backups: CB Ricky Manning Jr., S/CB Danieal Manning, S Chris Harris, S Brandon McGowan, S Kevin Payne

Depth is outstanding in the secondary. Tillman has the size and toughness to match up with big receivers, while Vasher is smaller but a tremendous ball athlete with 16 picks in three seasons. With the oft-injured Brown back from foot surgery and Archuleta acquired in a trade, the Bears will be extremely physical, experienced and smart at safety but not very swift or proficient in coverage.

Ricky Manning has had a positive influence on the Bears' nickel coverage, but he is not an ideal starter. Danieal Manning started 14 games at free safety as a rookie in '06 and has the speed and coverage ability to convert to cornerback or nickel. Harris started 13 games as a rookie in 2005 and seven times last year and gives the Bears another physical presence, but he lacks coverage ability. McGowan has battled injuries, and rookie fifth-rounder Payne is a big hitter with good athleticism.

SPECIAL TEAMS
Starters: K Robbie Gould, P Brad Maynard, RS Devin Hester, LS Patrick Mannelly

Pro Bowl pick Gould was phenomenal in his second season, hitting 88 percent of his field-goal attempts (32 of 36) and doing a decent job on kickoffs. Maynard bounced back with a solid '06 after slumping in '05. Hester set an NFL record and made the Pro Bowl with six touchdowns on a variety of kick returns. Mannelly continues to be one of the most reliable and consistent long snappers in the NFL.

To look back at what the Scout.com experts had to say about the Bears on offense heading into training camp, Click Here.


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