Off-season analysis-Defensive line

The Bears must sign a quarterback in free agency, but their top draft need is defensive line. There are several worth candidates among ends and tackles.

Defensive tackle is a big question mark from the standpoint of the current players under contract. Ted Washington is coming off a foot injury and with his great weight and advanced age may find it difficult to come back. On the other hand, prior to last season, Washington was one of the most durable active players in the NFL, not missing a game for many years in a row. He's in his contract year and will be 35 this April.

Keith Traylor fought off some nagging injuries to play most of the year, and at a relatively high level. He too is in his contract year. However, unlike Washington, he has a history of knee injuries, and might be deemed expendable, since Bryan Robinson and his hulking contract are looming in the background.

The problem with Robinson is his multiple DUI arrests. Robinson did not play well all year, at both end and tackle. He was recovering from two broken wrists, which negated much of what he did well (power game as opposed to speed game). He was shifted from left defensive end to defensive tackle with the emergence of Alex Brown. The possibility of a contract renegotiation and/or cut among 2 or more of the top 3 tackles is likely. Recent intimations from Jerry Angelo appear to signal some fence mending between Robinson and the Bears.

Reserves Ernest Grant and Alfonso Boone saw plenty of action, but did little to impress. Neither of them have large cap allotments. The hope is that they step up to the next level.

Christian Peter will be a free agent, but had a hard time staying healthy enough to remain in the rotation, despite limited reps. Peter's future as a Bear is in doubt.

Defensive end Phillip Daniels had a down year in 2002, recording only 5 sacks. He suffered an ankle injury early in the season, which cost him a handful of games and put him at less than full strength for the balance of the year. It can be argued that Daniels was poised for a breakthrough season in 2002. He came into camp in tremendous shape. The emergence of rookie Alex Brown at right end allowed Daniels to move to a more natural position on the left side. If Daniels can at least return to his 9-sack form of 2001, he'll be a bargain there, since he's one of the better all-around ends in the game.

Brown will need to cash in on the heavy playing time invested in him. The Bears are hoping Brown makes the same kind of jump Andre Carter did in his second season with the 49ers.

Linebacker Rosey Colvin played a good deal of rush end, and if he's lost, Bryan Knight will need to fill in, if Brown cannot create the necessary pressure.

With the money invested in Daniels and Robinson, it would seem odd for the Bears to make a splash in free agency for a front-line edge rusher. A second-tier free agent might help. There might be a few steals in the draft, and if things don't fall rightly for them in the first round to select a quarterback, Terrell Suggs will be there for the picking.


INJURY IMPACT: High (8.5): Ted Washington (foot) was sorely missed in 2002. Daniels missed time with an ankle injury and played hurt on it for the balance of the season. Robinson sacrificed a great deal of strength in playing shortly after breaking both his wrists late in the preseason. Traylor played out the season but has had a history of knee ailments. Peter's various ailments left him ineffective for most of the year. All should be at full strength to start the season.

CONTRACT IMPACT: High (9): Everyone here is under contract, with the exception of Christian Peter. However, both Washington and Traylor are in danger of being cut, in addition to being in the last year of their respective deals. Additionally, fairly large dollars are invested in Daniels and Robinson, and if their deals are not restructured and they fail to contribute at high levels, they'll be in danger of having swan song seasons this year.

SUMMARY OF NEED: Medium (6.5): Despite all the major players being under contract, a restocking will likely be needed at both end and tackle. Players like John Stamper, Joe Tafoya, Ernest Grant, and Bobby Setzer may be pushed aside for rookies who impress, or depth players. With Traylor and Washington's deals coming due at the end of the season and Daniels' the following year, additions are on the horizon.

RESOURCES: Daniels and Robinson represent a good deal of money invested on the line. Washington and Traylor are not huge cap hits, but one of them will likely be sacrificed to save money as well as usher in either a rookie or advancing newcomer (Grant or Boone). Alex Brown is a bargain, especially if he produces. Look for the Bears to be conservative in free agency to add here, and for them to be aggressive in the draft in terms of finding a potential impact player that surprisingly falls to them. It will be interesting to see what philosophy wins out in terms of either mammoth run-stuffers (Ravens) or faster, smaller players (Buccaneers). If Colvin is not retained, the need for speed on the line will become more apparent.

SUSPECTS: Defensive tackle is a very deep position in the draft. Beyond Kennedy at the first pick position for the Bears, they should be able to find a talented player in each of the top 4 rounds (Warren or Peterson in 2, Jarrett Johnson in 3, Rashad Moore in 4). Terrell Suggs leads the defensive end prospects. After him, there are a few intriguing prospects that may be available in round 4 or 5 or later (Andrew Williams, Alonzo Jackson, Jimmy Wilkerson, and Osi Umenyiora). Free agent defensive linemen that might be appealing without breaking the bank include Chike Okeafor, Santana Dotson and Brad Scioli.

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