Coach Lovie Smith has always said that the three-technique defensive tackle position is of critical importance to the success of his version of the Cover 2, which is why Chicago's entire offseason could hinge on what happens with Tommie Harris.
A three-time Pro Bowler and a leading candidate for Defensive Player of the Year before a devastating knee and hamstring injury near the end of 2006, Harris delivered another up-and-down performance this season. At times, he knifed into the backfield and single-handedly destroyed plays before they had a chance to develop, just like he used to do all the time, but then he went long stretches – sometimes an entire game – without having his name mentioned once in the broadcast booth. His attitude has also come into question, as he was deactivated by Smith in Week 7 at Cincinnati and then got ejected for sucker-punching Deuce Lutui in Week 9 against Arizona.
Harris is due a $2.5 million roster bonus in June, so if the Bears decide not to pay it and start over at the three technique, they may be forced to consider a candidate like Tyson Alualu of California in the NFL Draft.
For an insider's perspective on the 6-4, 288-pound Alualu and what he brings to the table as a pro prospect, BearReport.com consulted with Chris Steuber, the NFL Draft analyst for Scout.com. ...
Strengths: Alualu is a durable, explosive defensive force who can play in a 3-4 or a 4-3 defense. He gets off the ball with a great first step, is forceful upfield and pushes the opposition off the line. He uses his hands well, has great strength and enjoys the physical part of the game. He plays with a lot of intensity and possesses a high motor. He is a very productive player.
Weaknesses: He has to develop more as a pass rusher and use his hands better. He doesn't possess a large repertoire of moves and relies on his natural strength to get to the quarterback. He's quick off the snap but loses momentum when he turns the corner against the opposition. He's a bit of a tweener and doesn't have a primary position at the next level.
Steuber Says: Alualu has been extremely productive and durable during his career at Cal. He had a standout season in 2009, registering 65 tackles (11.5 for loss) and 7.5 sacks. He will attract a lot of interest from NFL teams that run a 3-4 defense, since that's the defense he played in at Cal. But his skills may translate best to a 4-3 scheme, where he can play inside next to another interior presence that will take pressure off of him. With a solid offseason, Alualu could raise his stock into the second round.
JC's Take: An argument can be made that the Midway Monsters ceased to be a dominant defense the moment Harris got hurt in 2006, even if he still made the Pro Bowl the following season on reputation alone and showed flashes of his former self this year.
Whether or not the Bears keep Harris shouldn't come down to the salary cap, as 2010 will likely be uncapped because of the state of the collective bargaining agreement, so the organization must decide if an inconsistent – and sometimes mentally unreliable – Harris truly deserves the $40 million contract extension he was given two summers ago. Should he be paid his roster bonus, Chicago is suggesting that Harris is still an elite tackle and worth building around for the future. But if the Bears believe he is no longer a Pro Bowler and cut their losses, moving on will be difficult because they can't base their entire scheme on a role player like Israel Idonije.
There is a lot to like about Alualu and he seems to be a good fit for the three technique physically, although his lack of pure pass-rushing skills should give the Bears pause since that's a critical component of playing this specialty position.
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Mobile Analysis: DT Tyson Alualu
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