Breakout Stars: Candidates on D

If Julius Peppers turns out to be the magic elixir for an underachieving Chicago Bears defense, a few of his fellow defenders may be in for big years in 2010. Here are three potential breakout candidates:

Mark Anderson

True, Anderson already had one breakout season, when he unexpectedly racked up 12.0 sacks as a rookie pass-rushing specialist off the bench, but he has been a disappointment ever since with 9.5 sacks combined from 2007-09. With Alex Brown and Adewale Ogunleye both now ex-Bears, the coaching staff is once again showing unwavering confidence in Anderson and seems to be pushing him to be the starter opposite free-agent acquisition Julius Peppers. While Anderson failed miserably as a starting option in 2007 when he got unjustly promoted over Brown, Peppers is twice the presence Ogunleye ever was on the other side of the line.

Neither Brown nor Ogunleye was enough of a threat to draw repeated double teams from opponents, but Peppers certainly is and should give Anderson ample opportunity to get into the backfield without nearly as much interference.

2009 Review: 28 tackles, 3.5 sacks
Breakout 2010: 44 tackles, 8.5 sacks

Zack Bowman

Maybe 2009 was Bowman's breakout performance, as he paced the team with six interceptions and 10 passes defensed, but it was still Charles Tillman covering the elite receivers on Chicago's schedule like Detroit's Calvin Johnson. That will not be the case in 2010, with the coaching staff all but admitting that the youngster Bowman has surpassed the veteran Tillman in terms of coverage ability by moving Bowman over to the left side and "demoting" Tillman to the right. While there is always going to be injury concerns with Bowman since he was often among the walking wounded as a collegian and only played one game as a rookie before winding up on IR, his talent is undeniable and his 6-1, 193-pound frame makes him a perfect fit for the Cover 2.

CB Zack Bowman
Getty Images: Jed Jacobsohn

Because he finds a way to get his hands on the football once or twice every single practice during the offseason program, Bowman might be the next Pro Bowler in the Windy City and looks to be destined for stardom if he can stay healthy.

2009 Review: 66 tackles, 6 INTs, 10 passes defensed
Breakout 2010: 81 tackles, 7 INTs, 14 passes defensed

Corey Graham

Sometimes it takes a while for coach Lovie Smith and Co. to learn a lesson, like the painfully obvious fact that speedy Danieal Manning can't be trusted as the last line of defense at free safety, but at least a slight adjustment has been made: Manning is now getting his reps at strong safety. Should rookie Major Wright not be ready to start from Day 1, that means Manning sticks in the starting lineup and Graham is the likely choice to take over his role as the fifth defensive back in nickel situations. Spending most of his time in the dog house last season and unable to contribute much more than on special teams, Graham has already proven he's tough enough to play nickel by registering 91 tackles – some on special teams, but most of them at corner – in 2008.

What he needs to do is make more plays in the secondary, as he has only recorded one interception and nine passes defensed in his career, but Graham is more gifted physically than Super Bowl XLI nickel back Ricky Manning Jr. ever was.

2009 Review: 35 tackles, 0 INTs, 1 pass defensed
Breakout 2010: 68 tackles, 3 INTs, 5 passes defensed

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John Crist is the Publisher of, a Heisman Trophy voter and a member of the Professional Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit and become a Chicago Bears insider.

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