Position Preview: Defensive Line

The Chicago Bears were awfully pedestrian on defense this past season, and injuries appear to be the main culprit. In particular, the tackle position was a M*A*S*H unit. Is it time for a makeover in the trenches? Bear Report takes a look back at 2007 and previews 2008 for the D-line.

2007 review: The Bears were pretty bad defending the run and allowed 122.9 yards per game on the ground (24th in the league), 4.3 yards per carry (tied for 23rd), and 17 rushing touchdowns (29th). Although they did do a good job getting after the quarterback, ranking sixth in the NFL with 41 sacks.

The defensive tackle position was billed to be a weak spot heading into the regular season, but Dusty Dvoracek roared back after spending his rookie year on injured reserve and trading for Darwin Walker looked to be a great move in training camp. However, Dvoracek headed back to IR after Week 1 with a torn ACL, and Walker didn't come close to living up to expectations. Tommie Harris sprained his knee in Week 3 but still had eight sacks and made the Pro Bowl, while free-agent acquisition Anthony Adams was a pleasant surprise before having his campaign cut short because of a torn triceps. At defensive end, Adewale Ogunleye was named a team captain after Mike Brown got hurt and had perhaps his best performance in a Bears uniform, although Mark Anderson fought through the proverbial sophomore slump most of `07. Alex Brown played well in a reserve role, proving that he never should have lost his starting spot to Anderson in the first place.

Dvoracek, Adams, and Antonio Garay all finished the year on injured reserve, so GM Jerry Angelo was forced to sign former first-round bust Jimmy Kennedy and Cincinnati practice-squader Matt Toeaina down the stretch just to have enough bodies up front.

On the rise: When the Bears sent reliable receiver Marty Booker to Miami for Ogunleye before `04, they thought they were getting the guy who had just racked up 15 sacks for the Dolphins. While he'd been a solid player in Chicago, the former Indiana Hoosier was far from a Pro Bowl performer more often than not. But Ogunleye put it all together this past season, getting nine sacks, forcing six fumbles, and leading the defensive line with 58 total tackles.

Free falling: Walker was supposed to take some of the pressure off Dvoracek and provide a veteran presence alongside Harris in the trenches, but the less-heralded Adams was a better player at nose tackle. Known as a sack artist when he was with the Eagles, Walker was only credited with one QB takedown and did not play through what were believed to be some relatively minor injuries – he didn't even suit up against his former team in Week 7 at Philadelphia. With a $5.2 million roster bonus on the books next month, expect him to be pink-slipped very soon.

DE Adewale Ogunleye
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Free agency/NFL Draft: With three pretty good players on the roster plus `07 draftee Dan Bazuin coming back from a knee injury, Angelo can ignore the defensive end position entirely. The same can not be said for defensive tackle, where Dvoracek has spent 31 of 32 games in two seasons on IR and Harris has been beaten up badly the last two years. There isn't much available on the free agent market since Albert Haynesworth is expected to be franchised by the Titans, so look for the Bears to select a D-tackle – they showed considerable interest in Marcus Harrison of Arkansas at the Senior Bowl – on Day 2 of the draft.

2008 preview: Harris and Dvoracek could be an incredible pair if they're even given the opportunity to play together consistently, but injuries have made that impossible so far. Brown should be moved back into the starting lineup at right end because he's a better run defender, plus Anderson is engineered to be a pass-rushing specialist anyway. One player to watch in training camp is Toeaina, who made some plays in limited opportunities after coming over from the Bengals and could provide quality depth inside.

John Crist is the Publisher of Bear Report and a member of the Professional Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.

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