I’m not a fortune teller, nor am I a gambling man, but from years of analysis and instincts, my gut tells me that the Bears will be much improved along the defensive line in 2014.
For starters, the Bears are finally healthy. They acquired Jeremiah Ratliff midway through last season, but he was unable to play as he was rehabbing a groin injury. Nate Collins missed most of last season with a torn ACL but is back at practice and working hard.
Then there’s the matter of improved personnel. The release of Julius Peppers was addition by subtraction. Peppers was eating up too much of the Bears’ salary cap and his performance on the field was far less than ideal. The Bears replaced him with a younger — albeit slightly — and more productive Jared Allen, who hasn’t had less than 11 sacks in the past seven seasons. The Bears also parted ways with defensive tackle Henry Melton and defensive end Corey Wootton and replaced them with an arguably better combination of free agents Lamarr Houston and Willie Young.
And as if that wasn’t enough to improve the line, the Bears also spent a second- and third-round draft pick on defensive linemen, selecting LSU defensive tackle Ego Ferguson and Arizona State defensive tackle Will Sutton.
The moves at defensive tackle were made expressly with the intent of improving a porous run defense last season, the worst in the NFL. But the healthy returns of Ratliff and Collins, plus the additions of Allen, Houston and Young will also upgrade a stagnant pass rush.
If nothing else, we at least have the comfort in knowing that the Bears won’t get pushed around without a fight this season. That alone will make the defense more palatable and keep our eyes on the TV when they take the field.