53-Shuffle: Bears Defensive Evaluation

Defensive Line: I understand the recent injuries of the defensive tackles, the inability to stop the run up the middle, and the lack of a second force inside next to Tommie Harris, but why keep a total of nine linemen on D – 2 more than on the offensive side of the ball? Overall, I believe the DL is one of the team’s most consistent and strongest units, one of the few areas not considered a weakness or disappointment. It’s unnecessary considering Israel Idonije is an absolute monster, who can play anywhere on the defensive line. I cannot rave enough about his importance and productivity, in how he is starting to have his way on the line and still do his thing on special teams. Israel has to be the most versatile player on the team – you cannot underestimate his value. He basically fills three spots on the team – a 3-in-1 special! He can do it all and continues to develop his game, progressing in all phases and facets of what he does. Having Israel and Mark Anderson rotating to keep the line fresh is a definite plus.

Matt Toeaina, the last guy kept, looked good last season as a run stuffer and it’s good to have him. Though if everyone stays healthy, he will not see time other than in mop up duty and maybe goal line situations. Marcus Harrison and Dusty Dvoracek are primed to create havoc getting into backfields. Harrison a gem: Michael Lombardi of the National Football Post, a highly esteemed and well respected former high level NFL executive for 23 years (Raiders/Browns) had this to say about the 3rd round Arkansas product: (Tape Time article) The Bears have to find a way to get third-round pick Marcus Harrison on the field all the time. He is one of their best players.” With Dusty healthy and Harrison on the rise to go along with the “Real Deal” Tommie Harris – that’s a terrific trio at DT.

Anthony Adams does nothing whatsoever to help this team. I would’ve cut him right away, he should have been sent walking! He just takes up space, and when watching him live at the Cleveland game I was upset and unimpressed. Just because he’s a veteran and was good at college – Penn State, go figure. I would’ve kept 7th round Michigan State pass rush specialist Ervin Baldwin (*Signed to Practice Squad*) ahead of Adams, despite the team’s need for run stoppers. Baldwin brings more to the table and offers the ability to contribute on special teams, unlike Adams. He had a solid preseason and showed “life” at end. Dan Bauzin – don’t let the door hit you on the way out! Bust Bauzin was injury prone, showed no sense of urgency or burst, and could not get to the QB. Waste of pick in the late 2nd round of ’07 Draft – a reach (Thomas Jones deal). The team doesn’t need any stiffs or bums on the roster. His stats/sacks at a small school (W.Michigan) were a fluke.

Linebackers: Michael Owko, a 3rd rounder from Stanford is another player who GM Jerry Angelo reached for way too high, who was unimpressive, unenthusiastic, and unproductive. Injuries played a big factor, but the team was correct in keeping special team fliers Nick Roach and Darrell McClover ahead of Okwo. McClover is a leader on the ST unit and Roach has taken off. Both were picked up off of waivers and are raising eyebrows. McClover blocks punts, makes tackles, and has a special combination of speed and strength – he will surely replace Brendon Ayanbadejo. Impact player who I expect to improve and do more in ’08 – Jamar Williams. I like his instincts and how he overcame injuries to be at where he’s at right now. He is a more than capable enough back-up at strong side ‘backer behind Hunter. Williams was one of the few players who showed some intensity in Cleveland.

Secondary: Craig Steltz – rumors had him in danger of getting cut. The LSU product was very inconsistent and out of place throughout exhibition play. Hopefully he catches on and adjusts to NFL game speed. I don’t understand why draft experts and so many around the organization thought he could start right away – he definitely is not NFL-ready. Very slow in recovery speed and in overall pass coverage. It’s going to take some time. Should go with what got him here – intelligence and ball skills. Kevin Payne – Big fan of Mr. Payne ever since we drafted him. If he stays healthy, I expect him to overtake Brandon McGowan as the starting strong safety next to Mike Brown. Payne is extremely versatile (former RB, played almost every position in College) and knows how to play the game – has the smarts, unlike McGowan. McGowan’s more of a go-for-it-all type hitter who wants to knock you out. I like the fact he’s very aggressive, but he has to tone it down and play smarter. Payne on the other hand, is in line to start because he has more range and is better in pass coverage. Nose for the ball, excellent athleticism to play both free (deep man) and strong (stopping run in the box) safety.

Danieal Manning – it will be interesting to see how he uses his ability as the new nickel back. Although Manning’s skill goes without question, it’s his poor recognition and lack of improvement to adjust to being a better coverage guy that makes me wonder if he can handle the position. I believe he will step up if he gets the ball in the open field as a KR and via interceptions – that will jumpstart him, he’s a ball hawk. Has to learn how to wrap-up, tackling in the open field. Zackary Bowman – I see Bowman exceeding what Trumaine McBride did last season. He has all the tools, bigger and more physical than McBride. Should pass him up on the depth chart due to McBride’s fall in play during preseason. I like both players – they bring different approach/styles.

Corey Graham – Just like Manning and Payne, he is very talented. Unquestionably and undoubtedly, Graham is atop my list for top performers no one outside the Bears knows about. On special teams he’s a force to be reckoned with (2 TD’s, last year vs. GB, @ Seattle game 2 of preseason) and on defense at CB he has improved the most out of any player on D besides Israel. Graham will do what Manning should do at nickel back and it may not be long (very soon?) before he takes his NB job. Reminds me of Charles Tillman – could be even better. Playmaking ability/ball awareness likened unto Nathan Vasher. If he steps up the way he should, the defense will greatly benefit. The ability to cover the slot and create takeaways is vastly important – I’m counting on him to excel. If he bulks up, he should get a shot to play free safety if Mike Brown feels comfortable and healthy enough to play strong. Teams will know #21 before the season’s over. A household name – who knows, only time will tell, if he gets the opportunity to shine – Yes.

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