Pre-camp check: Defensive end

July, 2, 2014
Jul 2
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With veteran minicamp coming to a close on Jun. 19, the Chicago Bears receive a much-needed break to recharge before the start of training camp in July at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais.

During the team’s time of inactivity, we’ll take a position-by-position look at some of the expected training camp battles and dark horses to make the team.

Defensive end overview: Similar to the face-lift conducted along the offensive line in 2013, the Chicago Bears go into 2014 with plenty of new parts on the defensive line, most notably new defensive ends Lamarr Houston and Jared Allen.

[+] EnlargeLamarr Houston
AP Photo/ Bill NicholsLamarr Houston had 16 sacks and never missed a game in four seasons with the Oakland Raiders.
In Houston, the Bears acquired a physical, hard-nosed run defender. In Allen, the Bears brought aboard a proven contributor with plenty of experience.

“We all know that in order to have a great defense, it starts with the defensive line,” said defensive coordinator Mel Tucker. “[Allen] has done a fantastic job so far. He’s a real pro. You add Willie Young, [Stephen] Paea, Lamarr to that mix and the other young guys that we have… it’s a salty group. The focus with the D-line this season has been hand use, pad level, setting a vertical edge in the run game and being able to play your gap and a half of another gap. That’s a violent-shed situation. I like the group so far. It’s a lot of competition. There’s a lot of guys in there we think can make this team.”

It’s likely that Allen, Houston and Young have pretty much sewn up their respective spots in the defensive end rotation. So most of the competition at the position will be for backup roles, and it appears veterans such as Austen Lane, who has experience with Tucker, and Trevor Scott, a six-year veteran, could have the inside track on jobs. But don’t count out talented youngsters such as David Bass.

Battle to watch: With the top three spots seemingly locked up, look for players such as Scott, Lane, Bass and Washington to fight it out for that fourth defensive end spot. Lane could have an advantage having worked with Tucker the first three years of his NFL career in Jacksonville. But Scott is an experienced player, too, having started 18 career NFL games in which he’s posted 94 tackles and 16.5 sacks. Scott was a sixth-round selection of the Oakland Raiders in 2008.

Washington figures into the mix in part because of his immense physical skill set. Washington played in two games last season as a rookie, and contributed a tackle.

Bass, meanwhile, played in 12 games with one start last season after injuries along the defensive line took a toll. Bass contributed 23 tackles and a sack and also returned an interception for a touchdown.

Dark horse: The Bears obviously committed the bulk of their money at the position to Allen, Houston and Young. So they’ll stick. If the Bears decide to keep six defensive ends, there will be essentially six players fighting for three roster positions.

Undrafted rookie Jamil Merrell could make some noise in training camp. A starter at Rutgers as a junior, Merell missed time during his senior season with a foot injury that kept him out of action the first three games. He racked up 23 tackles, three tackles for lost yardage and a pair of sacks. During his junior season, Merrell posted 40 tackles.

Tracy Robertson is another dark horse. Robertson signed to Chicago’s practice squad last October, but was promoted to the active roster the next month. The club released Robertson on Nov. 29, but brought him back the following month to the practice squad.

Who makes the cut: Chicago’s roster going into the final game of 2013 featured six defensive ends. So if that’s the number the Bears decide to go with this season, count on the obvious three in Allen, Houston and Young, along with Lane, Scott and 2013 sixth-round pick Cornelius Washington making the roster.

Michael C. Wright

ESPN Chicago Bears reporter

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