The addition of Rod Marinelli, a well-respected defensive line coach, may be just what the Bears' underachieving-yet-talented front four needs to reach its potential, which is vast.
If Marinelli can get the various parts to work together as a unit, the Bears will finish a lot higher in sack percentage than they did last year, when they were a disappointing 29th. He has plenty of talent to work with.
Tommie Harris was voted to three consecutive Pro Bowls (2005-07) at the three technique, and even though he's battled nagging leg injuries the past two seasons, especially in '08, he remains a dominant player when he's close to 100 percent healthy.
"There's no doubt about [his importance to the defense], and I've known that since before I got here," Marinelli said. "His reputation has always been good. I've always watched him on tape. You need an under tackle in this system. He becomes a creator. If he gets a one-on-one, he's going to win. But now you're making things come to him, so it starts creating for the other players. He's one of the key spokes in the whole defense."
Adewale Ogunleye has had four separate seasons of nine or more sacks, and even though he turns 32 on Aug. 9, he's the Bears' biggest pass-rush threat outside.
"Wale is a veteran who's in tremendous shape," Marinelli said. "He's lean, and he's smart. He's a 60-plus sack guy in his career (60.5). We've got to get him back up there and get those numbers again."
Ogunleye had just five sacks last season, but he had nine in '07.
At the other end spot, Alex Brown led the Bears in sacks last season – he had just six – but he's had 35 sacks over the past six seasons and is solid against the run.
"These guys do everything well," Marinelli said. "They can stunt, they can rush, they play the run well, they're tough, they're smart, and all of them have a great upside."
Although the Bears lack a dominant nose tackle, they have great depth and a variety of options to choose from with young Marcus Harrison, run-stuffer Dusty Dvoracek and versatile Anthony Adams, who can also fill in at the three technique.
Marinelli's message is the same to all of the linemen.
"We want to create havoc and chaos under an umbrella of discipline, if that makes sense," he said. "So we've got to disrupt and do all these things, but we've also got to be gap-oriented. We've got to play our gaps. We've got to do our assignments. We've got to contain when we're supposed to contain.
"We have to do all of those little details. We've got to be extremely detailed at this position, and there's nothing too small. They all count. The simplest things are the most important things."
Brown led the Bears in sacks this past season but has always been a better run defender.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
NEWS AND NOTES
Bears special teams coordinator Dave Toub believes there were a lot of factors in Devin Hester's disappointing punt-return numbers last season.
After making the Pro Bowl in 2007 and '08 while scoring 11 touchdowns on kick returns, he averaged a very un-Hester-like 6.2 yards per return and seemed more focused on getting out of bounds than up the field.
"We had a lot of young players blocking for him, so he had a different picture of what was in front of him," Toub said. "And then, taking a lot of reps at wide receiver was a factor, too. But he's still the same guy. He still makes people miss. He's got great vision. He's still a threat back there.
"He still has a lot of respect from other teams. Teams aren't going to just want to punt him the ball, I guarantee that."
After averaging just 21.9 yards on kickoff returns, Hester was replaced by Danieal Manning, who led the NFL with a 29.7-yard average. …
Backup RB Kevin Jones picked up 45 yards on 13 carries in the 2008 season opener, but he added just 64 yards on 21 carries in the next 15 games and still showed the lingering effects from 2007 knee surgery.
This year the Bears are counting on a more consistent contribution from Matt Forte's backup.
"We're a running football team," coach Lovie Smith said. "We're going to pound the ball quite a bit. That's why it's important for Kevin [to contribute]." …
"We've got some quality guys trying to compete," said new defensive backs coach Jon Hoke. "Corey Graham's taking reps at free safety, transitioning from corner. Athletically, he will challenge those guys once he gets a feel totally for that position."
The Bears also added veteran free agent Josh Bullocks.
"He's been in the league for four years," Hoke said. "He knows football. His instincts show up, which is a good thing for us that you know what he can do a little bit." …
Charles Tillman has forced 13 fumbles since 2005, the most among NFL cornerbacks, second most among all defensive backs and tied for ninth overall. Tillman forced four fumbles last season, trying for second among cornerbacks with the Vikings' Antoine Winfield and trailing only the Jets' Dwight Lowery, who had five.
Tillman also has 20 career interceptions, the most by any active Bears player and tied for 14th in franchise history.
QUOTE TO NOTE
"We think we're a strong football team without adding anyone. You always like to improve at every position, but right now we feel like we can win with this group." – Coach Lovie Smith on whether or not the front office still needs to make some additions to the roster.
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