If the Monsters of the Midway had gotten better pressure on the quarterback the last two seasons, then perhaps there wouldn't be such a big question mark currently at the free safety position.
Even though starters Alex Brown and Adewale Ogunleye are both well-rounded ends and in no way one-dimensional players, neither one of them puts a lot of fear in enemy offensive tackles these days. Brown has never done better than 7.0 sacks in any of his seven seasons, while Ogunleye has only reached double digits once in the five years he's been in Chicago – the sixth will likely be his last since his contract expires after the 2009 campaign. The veteran duo didn't necessarily need to rack up sacks on the way to Super Bowl XLI because Mark Anderson had a breakthrough rookie season and registered 12.0 as a pass-rushing specialist off the bench, but he's recorded just 5.0 in 30 games played since.
General manager Jerry Angelo was obviously looking toward the future in last April's NFL Draft, taking a pair of potential replacements, Jarron Gilbert and Henry Melton, in Rounds 3 and 4, respectively.
Reasons to be Optimistic
The Bears shut down some pretty good running games in 2008 by mugging-up their linebackers near the line of scrimmage, but both Brown and Ogunleye deserve some share of the credit for being solid run defenders.
Head coach Lovie Smith was very serious when he said new defensive line coach Rod Marinelli is the team's best pickup in free agency, and his high-intensity style was well received by veterans and rookies alike throughout the offseason program. There may not be a Pro Bowler on the roster, at least not lately, but Marinelli likes the group he's been given and believes he has plenty to work with to get the job done. While Brown always says that sacks are overrated anyway, no defense can survive if the opposing QB has plenty of time to go through his progressions – Dan Orlovsky can perform like Dan Fouts in that scenario.
Anderson is going into the last year of his deal.
M. Spencer Green/AP Images
The mere fact that Israel Idonije was a pretty good pass rusher playing tackle at 305 pounds last year is encouraging, so perhaps he can be just as good moving back to end at around 275 this year.
Causes for Concern
Although both Gilbert and Melton were added to the equation on draft weekend, neither one of them is expected to play a significant role right away.
Much has been made about the fact that Ogunleye and Anderson are each headed for free agency after 2009, but with the Gilbert-Melton combo destined to be a part of the D-end rotation before long, it's possible neither Ogunleye nor Anderson will be re-signed no matter how well they do. Brown has missed just one game in his NFL career, blows up a screen with the best of them, and knows how to block a kick on special teams, but he's at best an average pass rusher playing perhaps the most critical pass-rushing position on the field: right end. Once teams put together some tape on Anderson and learned how to defend him after that big '06, he's been nothing more than the overlooked fifth-round draft pick he was in the first place.
And if Tommie Harris isn't capable of being a three-down player anymore, Idonije may be stuck at tackle on passing downs even though the coaching staff wants him to suit up at end again.
With Gilbert and Melton not quite ready for prime time, it will be interesting to see if Marinelli can squeeze a little more production from the likes of Brown, Ogunleye, and Anderson. That triumvirate was once very good and could be again, but the NFL is an evolving game if there ever was one. What worked last year might not work this year, and what happened two years ago is already ancient history.
Brown is right when he says that sacks are overrated, but the Midway Monsters simply must do better than the 28 they tallied a season ago.
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.