Thursday was the start of training camp for the Chicago Bears, and no one could have predicted that newly-acquired defensive end Sedrick Ellis would announce his retirement today. The surprising news came just before the Bears started their new “conditioning test” ran by new head coach Marc Trestman.
After signing a one-year deal with a guaranteed figure of $500,000, the Bears’ second-year GM Phil Emery was not able to offer veteran mainstay Israel Idonije a contract to stay with the top-5 defense. Idonije later signed a one-year deal to become part of the Detroit Lions. In hindsight, this move could really hurt not only the team, but also hurt Emery’s decision-making reputation.
What’s done is done, and the reality of the matter is that the Bears are weaker at the defensive tackle position with Ellis announcing his retirement.
Emery did not waste much time filling Ellis’ vacated roster spot with defensive lineman Jamaal Anderson, who was the former no. 8 overall pick of the Atlanta Falcons back in 2007. With 7.5 sacks in his career, the potential is there, but this will also give undrafted rookie defensive tackle Zach Minter a real shot at a roster spot.
New acquisitions: DT Zach Minter, Turk McBride DE, DT Corey Irvin, DT Brent Russell, and DT Christian Tupou.
Lost Players: DL Israel Idonije, DT Amobi Okoye, DT Matt Toeaina, and DT Sedrick Ellis (retirement).
There is no secret that Henry Melton will start at the 3-technique spot and Julius Peppers will play whichever defensive end position he pleases. The real question really remains who will start opposite Peppers and Melton, but the depth of the whole defensive line.
Looking at end position, two players, Corey Wooton and Shea McClellin are both poised for breakout seasons, and will fight to claim the second starting end spot. Wooton should have the edge, especially going into his contract year. When healthy, Wooton has proved to be a starting caliber player, but as McClellin is Emery’s first-round pick from just a year ago, this competition is going to be a good one as preseason progresses.
Beyond that, the Bears’ depth gets questionable in a hurry. Trestman and company will look to keep five ends and have a three-man rotation to keep players fresh. With the rotation being set, that leaves Anderson, McBride, Kyle Moore, Cheta Ozougwu and Aston Whiteside to battle for two spots.
Favorites: Jamaal Anderson and Turk McBride. Both are vets, have played a good amount of snaps and could be solid depth behind the rotation.
Dark horse: Aston Whiteside. Starting his second year with the club, Whiteside has shown upside, but is still raw. He could make either of the vets in this competition expendable.
Just a year ago, this was arguably the Bears’ deepest position on the depth chart.
After Cutting Teoaina, letting Okoye walk and Ellis announcing his retirement, there is cause for concern at the position. New defensive coordinator Mel Tucker will not only have to find depth at a questionable position, he will also have to find his starting nose tackle.
Former second-round pick in 2011 Stephen Paea along with fourth-year surprise player Nate Collins will be the main candidates for the starting job. Paea, a workout warrior at the combine, has under-performed since coming into the league, while Collins surprised the old staff last year after going from camp body to the third tackle on the depth chart.
I fully expect Collins to come out hot again and earn the start job, but if Paea plays up to his potential, he will be hard to beat.
Looking after the third spot, things become scarcely thin with rookies Minter, Tupou, Russell and journeyman Irvin rounding out the depth chart. Don’t be surprised to see one of the rookies take the fourth spot and for Tucker to use Anderson as both end and tackle.
Favorite: Zach Minter. He is an undrafted free agent with lots of potential. He would have been on the bubble competing with Ellis, but he now has the inside track to sticking on the roster.
Dark horse: Christian Tupou coming out of a good system in USC could a candidate to adapt faster coming to the next level. He had times of showing promise and has stuck into the start of camp, and could be a name to keep an eye on.