Defensive TackleStarters: Nose tackle Anthony Adams, three technique Tommie Harris. Adams will likely only be on the field in running situations, while Harris has to be healthy after struggling with injuries the last two seasons.
Reserves: Israel Idonije, Dusty Dvoracek, Marcus Harrison, Matt Toeaina. Idonije will also see some time at defensive end with Dan Bazuin no longer in the mix, and Harrison is a first-round talent who was available in Round 3 because of injuries and some off-the-field issues.
Strengths: Harris is arguably the best D-tackle in the league when running at full steam, and he'll make life easier for whomever lines up on the nose since he commands so much attention from enemy blockers. Depth appears to be much better at this position than it was a year ago, when the team was forced to sign players off the street just to field a squad toward the end of the season.
Weaknesses: Not only has Harris had trouble avoiding the injury bug, but Dvoracek has played a grand total of one game in two seasons. And while both Adams and Dvoracek are solid run defenders, the team lacks a true space eater up front who can swallow up double teams and allow the linebackers to make plays without too much interference.
Outlook: If Harris plays 16 games and continues to blow up plays in the backfield with his usual regularity, he'll be in the running for Defensive Player of the Year. The rookie Harrison has a chance to be a destructive force in this system thanks to a can't-coach-that combination of size and speed.
Defensive EndStarters: Left end Adewale Ogunleye, right end Alex Brown. Ogunleye is coming off his most complete campaign in a Bears uniform, while Brown is justly back in the starting lineup after a somewhat lost season as an undeserving backup.
Reserve: Mark Anderson. Now that Bazuin has been shown the door, Anderson is the only true backup at D-end and is hoping to terrorize opposing quarterbacks as a pass-rushing specialist on third down – exactly what he did two years ago as an out-of-nowhere rookie.
Strengths: Neither Ogunleye nor Brown is the kind of player who's going to rack up a dozen sacks, but they do form one of the most well-rounded D-end combos in the NFL. Brown has always been an excellent run defender, while Ogunleye just keeps getting better against the run every season.
Weaknesses: If there is an injury to either Ogunleye or Brown, the run defense will take a serious hit with Anderson as a starter again. Not only that, but depth could be a concern since the team had to keep Toeaina in order to have an additional body in the middle based on what happened there a year ago.
Outlook: Don't look for big sack numbers from this group unless Anderson rediscovers the magic that made him wildly effective in 2006, although getting consistent pressure on the passer is ultimately more important – the sack is an overrated statistic anyway. Keeping Toeaina over Bazuin was the right thing to do, but only having three true ends on the roster is a risky proposition because injuries are inevitable in this game.
LinebackerStarters: Weak-side linebacker Lance Briggs, middle linebacker Brian Urlacher, strong-side linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer. This is the most complete unit of the defense, as Briggs has been to three straight Pro Bowls, Urlacher is on his way to the Hall of Fame, and Hillenmeyer allows the other two stars to shine.
Reserves: Jamar Williams, Nick Roach, Darrell McClover. Williams should be the immediate backup at all three positions and could start for a lot of clubs, while Roach and McClover will be leaned on heavily from a special-teams perspective.
Strengths: Urlacher may no longer be the linebacker who won Defensive Player of the Year a few seasons ago, but he did come through with five sacks and five interceptions in what was supposedly a down 2007 season. Briggs is one of the best open-field tacklers in the game, and both have the speed to run with any running back or tight end in coverage.
Weaknesses: None of the three is a particularly good blitzer, which can present a problem for a defense that doesn't feature terrorizing ends rushing off the edge. And it remains to be seen if Urlacher's back and neck issues from a year ago are cleared up or just an indication that he is a player in decline.
Outlook: Assuming Urlacher returns to All-Pro form, Briggs stays as solid as ever, and Hillenmeyer continues his year-to-year improvement, this could be one of the best `backer lineups in the NFL. The tackling was sloppy yet again during the preseason, so we'll find out if they can indeed turn it on like they apparently think they can come Week 1.
CornerbackStarter: Left cornerback Charles Tillman, right cornerback Nathan Vasher. Neither is considered to be the proverbial shutdown coverage man, but both are physical enough to support the run and each comes up with his share of interceptions.
Reserves: Corey Graham, Trumaine McBride. Rookie fifth-rounder Zack Bowman was cut Tuesday to make room for new addition guard Dan Buenning from Tampa Bay, which makes the position a little thinner than it was just 24 hours ago.
Strengths: Vasher started his offseason program a little earlier than usual following last year's groin problem that shelved him just about for good after September, so he's in tip-top shape. Tillman is big enough to handle tall receivers like Roy Williams of Detroit and Marques Colston of New Orleans one on one, and he relishes those assignments.
Weaknesses: Tillman and Vasher form quite the duo when they are both in the starting lineup, but the pass defense is never the same when one of them is forced to watch from the sideline due to injury. Graham has gotten considerably better since making an impact on special teams during the second half of last year, while McBride has had problems for some reason or another and looks to be on the verge of a sophomore slump.
Outlook: Both Tillman and Vasher have got to stay healthy because opponents threw the ball very well when McBride or the departed Ricky Manning Jr. had to fill in as a starter a season ago. Graham may even see some time at the nickelback position before it's all said and done.
SafetyStarters: Strong safety Brandon McGowan, free safety Mike Brown. Repeat after me once again, Bears fans: Mike Brown must stay on the field if this defense is going to be all it can be.
Reserves: Danieal Manning, Kevin Payne, Craig Steltz. Manning will get first crack to play nickelback, which means second-year pro Payne and rookie Steltz are now the backups to a pair of injury-prone players.
Strengths: Brown is an elite safety when healthy and has forgotten more about how to play defense than most players will ever know, and his emotional leadership simply can't be replaced. McGowan played pretty well when forced into the starting lineup last season, and he's always been very active around the line of scrimmage.
Weaknesses: Both Brown and McGowan can be beaten for big plays down the field because neither is very fast and both have average coverage skills. Payne has a lot of potential but hasn't proven very much yet, while Steltz didn't look very impressive during the preseason and just barely made the 53-man roster.
Outlook: If Brown finally plays a full slate of games for the first time since 2003, he'll make whomever lines up next to him a better safety by osmosis alone. But should he succumb to yet another injury, the wheels could come off in a hurry for the last line of defense.
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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