Bears bring back Amobi Okoye

Updated: September 3, 2012, 5:03 PM ET
By Michael C. Wright | ESPNChicago.com

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The Chicago Bears worked Monday to shore up depth on the defensive line by bringing back defensive tackle Amobi Okoye with a one-year contract, in addition to waiving Brian Price.

A sixth-year veteran, Okoye traveled Saturday to the team's facilities after he was cut by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He passed a physical coming off arthroscopic knee surgery in June that kept him off the field for Tampa Bay's last three preseason games. While the problematic knee would seem a concern for the Bears, it's unlikely the club would have elected to bring Okoye back if it's an issue the club expects to linger.

Okoye said Monday that "it feels great" to be back with the Bears and said he'll be ready to play in Sunday's game against the Indianapolis Colts.

"It feels like I never left," he said. "I'm glad to be back as a Bear and I'm looking forward to a championship season."

Okoye played in Tampa Bay's preseason opener, but experienced soreness in the knee that diminished his ability on the field. According to Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano, the team knew of Okoye's knee problems before signing him but decided to proceed with the acquisition.

"Amobi's one of our guys," Bears coach Lovie Smith said Monday. "There was disappointment when he signed with the Bucs. He's a young player, played good football for us last year. Everybody was excited about getting him back. I know he's been injured before down there, but he had a good day of practice today."

Okoye said Monday that he believes he tried to return too soon after his surgery.

"I should have (taken) a couple more weeks just getting that last stage of recovery with the weight bearing and resistance stuff," he said. "I didn't do that and that's what caused the inflammation. After that happened, I played the first preseason game (and) the training staff and I decided to just cool it down -- limited practice -- until the season started."

Interestingly, the Bears had hoped to re-sign Okoye during free agency, but were outbid by the Buccaneers, who signed him to a one-year contract worth $2 million.

By bringing Okoye back, the Bears made the decision to part ways with Price, who arrived in Chicago in July via a trade with the Buccaneers. Once with the Bears, Price struggled to get through training camp workouts due to poor conditioning.

The staff said Price flashed big-play potential at times, but it's apparent the club desired a level of consistency at the position. A former second-round pick with 14 career starts, Price played last Thursday in the club's preseason finale at Cleveland, but left the game in the second half with a head injury.

"He's a good football player as we told him," Smith said of Price. "But for us, when a player like Amobi became available for us -- and we knew what he could do -- it was an easy decision for us to make."

In Okoye, the Bears added a proven pass rusher they can pair with Henry Melton on passing downs, provided the new defensive tackle's problematic knee holds up.

With the Bears in 2011, Okoye and Melton ranked in the league's top 11 in sacks for defensive tackles. Melton posted seven sacks (tied for third) and Okoye contributed four (11th), with each player's contributions leading to 42 lost yards on sacks apiece, which tied for second last season among defensive tackles.

Okoye produced 27 tackles last season for the Bears, and two tackles for lost yardarge in 16 games (one start). Throughout his career with the Houston Texans and Bears, Okoye has played in 78 games with 59 starts, logging 165 career tackles, 15 sacks, six pass breakups, two forced fumbles and a pair of fumble recoveries.

Michael C. Wright

ESPN Chicago Bears reporter

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