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Monday, April 9, 2012
Bears getting light on defensive line

By Kevin Seifert
ESPN.com

Amobi Okoye was the Chicago Bears' top reserve defensive lineman in 2011, recording four sacks and providing an active presence with enough versatility to swing between tackle and end. His one-year agreement with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers over the weekend suggests he had few, if any, opportunities for a bigger role.

So I don't want to say his departure leaves the Bears flummoxed. But when you combine it with their release of defensive tackle Anthony Adams over the winter, you can at least say the Bears will have some new faces in their 2012 rotation.

The question is where it will come from.

When you look at the chart, you see that the Bears essentially used three players at defensive end in 2011: Julius Peppers, Israel Idonije and Okoye. They split time at defensive tackle among Henry Melton, Matt Toeaina, Stephen Paea, Adams and Okoye.

Subtract Okoye and Adams from that list, and you're looking at a defensive line rotation that, at least for the moment, stands at five incumbents. No matter how much confidence the Bears have in their existing personnel, you would think they'll need a significant addition or unprojected progress from a reserve such as Corey Wootton to round out this group.

The Bears appear to agree, having aggressively pursued free agent Jeremy Mincey last month before he returned to the Jacksonville Jaguars. It's fair to say that, given a choice, the Bears wouldn't prefer to have their starting defensive ends playing an average of four out of every five plays -- especially when one of them is 32 (Peppers) and the other is Idonije, who is probably best suited for the kind of swing role Okoye served in last season.

At this point, however, the free-agent market is largely picked clean of impact defensive linemen. So while we've spent plenty of time discussing the Bears' apparent needs at offensive line and receiver, you wonder if they won't target a defensive lineman in the opening rounds of the draft.

That's why ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Insider had the Bears selecting Illinois defensive end Whitney Mercilus with the No. 19 overall pick in his most recent mock draft. Stay tuned.