53-Man Roster Analysis: Defense

Lovie Smith had to transform into "The Turk" when trimming his roster down to 53 players from 75, but all indications suggest that the Chicago Bears are a better football team than they were at this time last year. Bear Report takes a closer look at the rebuilt defense, which features an unusual 11 DBs.

Defensive Tackle

Starters: Tommie Harris, Anthony Adams
Backups: Israel Idonije, Marcus Harrison, Matt Toeaina, Jarron Gilbert
With Dusty Dvoracek out for the season yet again, this time with a shredded ACL, the nose tackle position should nonetheless be in good hands with the veteran Adams, an improving Harrison and the steady Toeaina lining up over the enemy center. Harris may never be the unblockable force he was a few years ago because of the toll it took on his fragile knee, but he can still be awfully effective provided he isn't asked to be on the field for 50 snaps per game.

Idonije may be the lightest D-tackle in the league after dropping 40 or so pounds – supposedly for a switch back to D-end that never happened – in the offseason, and the rookie Gilbert can even play some left end if necessary.

Defensive End

Starters: Alex Brown, Adewale Ogunleye
Backup: Mark Anderson
Although neither one of them is a pure pass rusher at this point capable of 15 sacks off the edge, both Brown and Ogunleye are well-rounded players and showed signs of life throughout the preseason. We're still waiting for Anderson to recapture the magic he put on display as a newbie in 2006 when went from fifth-round draft pick to runner-up for Defensive Rookie of the Year, and this might be his final chance since he's in the last year of his contract.

New defensive line coach Rod Marinelli has been universally applauded so far – by players and non-players alike – for his teaching and enthusiasm, although it remains to be seen if the former Lions front man can get results on game day.

LB Pisa Tinoisamoa
Warren Wimmer Photography


Starters: Pisa Tinoisamoa, Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs
Backups: Hunter Hillenmeyer, Jamar Williams, Nick Roach
Briggs is coming off his fourth straight trip to the Pro Bowl and should make it five in a row provided he's healthy, and Urlacher is beginning to look like his old self since the back and neck troubles that bothered him the last two seasons appear to be long gone. Tinoisamoa has fit in beautifully alongside the two Pro Bowlers to this point, flying all over the field during the exhibition schedule – including a pair of dead-in-his-tracks tackles on gargantuan Giants running back Brandon Jacobs – and adjusting well to covering tight ends.

Hillenmeyer is now behind Urlacher at middle linebacker and has started a lot of games for this franchise, and both Williams and Roach are talented enough to start for many teams.


Starters: Charles Tillman, Zack Bowman
Backups: Nathan Vasher, Corey Graham, Trumaine McBride, D.J. Moore
The Midway Monsters put a glaring hole at corner on display for the majority of the preseason, mostly because Tillman and Bowman were out of action recovering from back and hamstring issues, respectively. But it's a good sign that Tillman was taken off the physically unable to perform list Saturday and won't have to be shelved for the first six games of the season, while Bowman played a grand total of one snap in the exhibition finale against Cleveland and managed to come up with an interception.

Depth, however, is still a worry for the coaching staff, as Vasher looks nothing like a former Pro Bowler, Graham has been jerked from position to position, McBride is little more than a special teamer and the rookie Moore was lucky to make the club.


Starters: Kevin Payne, Al Afalava
Backups: Danieal Manning, Craig Steltz, Josh Bullocks
Both safety positions were expected to be big question marks heading into 2009, especially with Mike Brown now wearing a Chiefs uniform, but Payne and Afalava have played well together – although Payne is forced to play out of position at free safety in order to accommodate Afalava. Not only has Manning appeared to have lost his starting job at free safety, but he could be supplanted at nickel back by Graham if he doesn't return to form after a bum hamstring robbed him of some practice reps.

Steltz went from starter in the offseason program to third teamer in training camp, while Bullocks packs a punch in run support but can be exploited down the field by more athletic receivers.

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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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