22 Starters in 22 Days: D-End

Leading up to training camp, JC will preview all 22 starters for the Chicago Bears on both sides of the ball – strengths, weaknesses and whatever lies in between. Today, we look at the defensive ends.

Projected starters: Julius Peppers, Mark Anderson
Arguably the biggest free-agent signing in the history of the franchise, Peppers now has $91.5 million reasons to apply the kind of relentless pressure up front that the departed starting pair of Alex Brown and Adewale Ogunleye weren't able to the last few seasons. A five-time Pro Bowler and two-time All-Pro with a terrific shot at ending up in the Hall of Fame one day, Peppers commands the respect of every enemy offensive coordinator and is a nightmare for any tackle trying to block him one on one. But on the other side of the line, Anderson was a colossal failure starting opposite Ogunleye in 2007 ahead of Brown, although Peppers is twice the defender Ogunleye ever was in a Bears uniform.

Projected backups: Israel Idonije, Jarron Gilbert, Corey Wootton
While he performed very well as a reserve tackle in 2009 and was one of the more efficient pass rushers in the league at that spot, Idonije has once again been asked to shed a few pounds in order to switch back to end. He wasn't given much of a chance in minicamp or OTAs to compete with Anderson for the starting job across from Peppers, but he may get that opportunity upon arrival in Bourbonnais. Gilbert appears to be a man without a position, probably because he's a much better fit in the 3-4 than he is in the 4-3, so there is a window of opportunity for Wootton to get meaningful snaps as a rookie.

2009 Review
Adding Rod Marinelli to be the new defensive line coach was supposed to rejuvenate the Chicago pass rush because of the amazing things he did with Warren Sapp and Co. in Tampa Bay once upon a time, but that didn't happen. Brown and Ogunleye combined for just 12.5 sacks, which is about what Peppers usually gets by himself on a yearly basis, and Anderson managed only 3.5 in a reserve role off the bench. Brown and Ogunleye have a reputation for being well-rounded players that do more than rush the passer, but because the Bears finished 23rd in the NFL defending the run, it seems neither did much to slow down the ground game, either.

2010 Preview
Having Peppers in the mix at end can only help the pass rush, as he has been an elite player for quite some time and moves around with the athleticism of a defensive back despite his 6-7, 283-pound frame. The coaching staff is hoping Peppers makes the rest of the unit better by osmosis, as more pressure up front should lead to quicker decisions by the quarterback, which means the linebackers don't have to blitz as much and the secondary doesn't have to cover as long – all of the above increases the odds for takeaways, too. However, expecting Anderson to rediscover the magic he had in 2006, when he registered 12.0 sacks as a fifth-round pick, just because he's playing with Peppers is presumptuous.

DE Mark Anderson
Scott Boehm/Getty

I'd much rather have ...
Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis in Indianapolis. Even though the Colts don't play a pure Cover-2 defense anymore, they can still get to the quarterback on a consistent basis with only their front four since this dynamic duo is racing off the edge. Freeney and Mathis recorded 23.0 sacks between them in 2009, a season that saw Indy make it to the Super Bowl for the second time in four years. And that was with former Defensive Player of the Year Bob Sanders playing just two games because of injury.

But they're better than ...
Trent Cole and Juqua Parker in Philly. They are a gruesome twosome in their own right, with Cole getting 12.5 sacks last season and Parker posting 8.0, but they benefit from playing in a system that blitzes on almost every passing down. Offensive linemen never know where the pressure may come from, which leads to protection breakdowns and, therefore, some easy sacks for Cole and Parker. Those two wouldn't put up the same numbers if the Eagles dropped seven into zone coverage as often as the Bears do.

Confidence-o-Meter: 7.7 *
The Monsters of the Midway were fooled into thinking they got a pass-rushing phenom in 2004 when they made the trade with Miami for Ogunleye, who was coming off a 15.0-sack season, and while he was a solid player, he only hit double-digit sacks once in six years in Chicago. Peppers has much more of a track record now than Ogunleye did at that point, so he should produce at a higher level – he likes being a part of an organization with such rich tradition, too. If Anderson can hold his own on the other side and not get destroyed in the running game, the Bears appear to be in good shape at defensive end.

* Much like Ron Swanson from "Parks and Recreation" came up with a scientifically perfect 10-point scale for human beauty, JC has done the same with confidence in defensive ends. 10.0 is Richard Dent in Super Bowl XX.

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John Crist is the Publisher of BearReport.com, a Heisman Trophy voter 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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