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Tuesday, February 18, 2014
Countdown to Combine: Bears

By Michael C. Wright
ESPN.com

With the NFL combine starting Feb. 22, here's a look at Chicago's positions of need and which prospects the Bears might be looking taking a closer look at in Indianapolis. Positions of need are listed in order of importance.

Position of need: Defensive end

Questions remain as to whether the Bears should cut or retain defensive end Julius Peppers, who produced 11 sacks or more in 2011 and 2012, but finished 2013 with 7.5 sacks. That production isn't bad for most, but most players don't carry a cap charge of $18.183 million in 2014, which is why a decision on Peppers remains one of the club's top offseason priorities.

Complicating the situation is the fact former first-round pick Shea McClellin hasn't produced at a level commensurate with his draft slot, while veteran starter Corey Wootton is set to hit free agency. David Bass, Cheta Ozougwu and Cornelius Washington are the only other defensive ends on the roster, which means the team could look to the draft or free agency for more help at the position.

The problem is the 2014 draft isn't very deep at defensive end, which makes keeping Peppers or adding through free agency attractive options.

“Julius had a lot of good games like a lot of our players, and he had games he would want back,” Bears general manager Phil Emery said. “We will work through each and every player on our squad to determine where we're going with him in the future. Julius is under contract. We're proud he's a Bear, and that's where we're at.”

Emery has talked in the past about players that transcend scheme. Below are a few potential Bears options capable of playing in multiple defensive schemes.

Three players the Bears could be targeting

Kony Ealy, Missouri: Versatility sticks out as a hallmark of Ealy’s game. At Missouri, he lined up in different spots all along the defensive line, and also stood up on the outside as a rusher. Projected to be taken in the mid-to-late first round, Ealy could play the role of a traditional 4-3 defensive end, but is believed by some to be better suited to play outside linebacker in a 3-4 system.

Stephon Tuitt, Notre Dame: Big enough (6-foot-6, 312 pounds) to play inside in a 4-3 scheme or at end in a 3-4. Over the past two seasons, he’s produced 19.5 sacks. Tuitt is projected to be a late first-round or second-round pick, and despite his scheme versatility, he might not be the type of penetrating force the Bears covet from their defensive tackles, but he’s plenty capable of holding the point against the run.

Kareem Martin, North Carolina: Lined up at defensive end and defensive tackle at the Senior Bowl, according to reports, and is coming off an 11.5-sack senior season. Martin appears to be more of a traditional 4-3 end at 6-foot-6, 272 pounds, but he believes he could play outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme. Martin’s draft projections vary widely, but if he falls into the second or third round, he could be a solid addition for Chicago.