Defensive TackleWhile he may never be the player he once was after the devastating injury to his knee and hamstring down the stretch in 2006, Tommie Harris can still be a difference maker up front when his mind is right. Anthony Adams is one of the more underrated Bears in recent memory, stopping the running game admirably from the nose and also showing some surprising pass-rushing ability at times. Marcus Harrison has been a disappointment more often than not two years into his career, and the jury is still out as to whether or not Henry Melton is capable of playing inside at 260 pounds, but Matt Toeaina has enjoyed a tremendous offseason and should be able to provide quality depth at both tackle positions.
Defensive EndOne of the most dominant defenders in recent memory, regardless of position played, Julius Peppers was the prize of the 2010 free-agent class and hopes to add some life to a pass rush that has been dormant in recent seasons. Mark Anderson appears to have the inside track on Israel Idonije and should start opposite Peppers, but while Anderson is more of a pure pass rusher, Idonije brings more versatility to the table and is an accomplished special teamer, too. Although it may be too early to call 2009 third-round pick Jarron Gilbert a bust already, he hasn't been nearly as impressive as rookie fourth rounder Corey Wootton during training camp and the preseason.
LinebackerThere was a time when Brian Urlacher was viewed as perhaps the premier middle linebacker in the NFL, using his enviable combination of size and speed to make plays from sideline to sideline, but a slew of injuries in recent seasons casts a shadow of doubt on his potential to be a Pro Bowler again. In the meantime, weak-side defender Lance Briggs has surpassed Urlacher as the best linebacker in the Windy City, plus the battle on the strong side between Nick Roach and Pisa Tinoisamoa means a starting-caliber player isn't going to be in the lineup come Week 1. There is depth at all three positions, as Hunter Hillenmeyer can start, Tim Shaw is dynamic on special teams and newcomer Brian Iwuh has turned heads when healthy.
CornerbackThe coaching staff feels very strongly about its starting corners, with youngster Zack Bowman taking over on the left side and the venerable Charles Tillman moving to the right side, which Tillman initially resisted but seems to have now accepted. But if one of them goes down, it remains to be seen which one of the reserves will be called upon on fill the void. Corey Graham can't seem to work his way out of coach Lovie Smith's doghouse, Tim Jennings is too short to be an ideal fit in the system, D.J. Moore has spent the entire offseason program learning the crucial nickel back position and Joshua Moore, while talented, is just a fifth-round rookie.
SafetyArguably the biggest problem on D for the Bears since the Super Bowl campaign of 2006, Smith has shifted strong and free safeties in and out of the lineup practically on a weekly basis. Smith's best bet is for top draft pick Major Wright to recover from the minor finger surgery he underwent recently and be ready to go Week 1 at free safety, which would allow recently reacquired locker-room favorite Chris Harris to be more of an in-the-box defender at strong safety. Injuries at both positions have been a big problem throughout training camp and the preseason, as Wright, Danieal Manning, Craig Steltz and Josh Bullocks have all missed their fair share of time, leading to too much of second-year pro Al Afalava and undrafted free agent Quentin Scott.
The VerdictLinebacker. Urlacher might no longer be the automatic Defensive Player of the Year candidate he once was, but he's still the face of the franchise – the Chicago defense simply isn't the same without him. Briggs is one of the top open-field tacklers in the NFL and has been for years, and since it looks like Tinoisamoa will be the other starter following minor knee surgery for Roach, he's got quite a track record for being third banana. Hillenmeyer's roster spot is more secure now than a season ago because of his ability to back up Urlacher in the middle. Shaw can be a Pro Bowler in 2010.
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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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