Welcome to the seventh of our 12-part series as we get you ready for Bears Training Camp 2022 by looking at each position group on the depth chart, special teams and the new coaching staff.
We’ll bring you brief scouting reports with pluses and minuses for every notable player, how each group stacks up against the rest of the NFL, projected potential surprises and disappointments, the final 53-man roster and likely practice squad keepers.
Part 7 – Interior defensive line
This has been a strength of the Bears in recent seasons, but it is now a pedestrian group at best with the free-agent departures of Akiem Hicks and Bilal Nichols.
General manager Ryan Poles tried to make his first big move by addressing the three-technique position, crucial to head coach Matt Eberflus’ defense, but Larry Ogunjobi’s failed physical left Poles with a second choice at best in Justin Jones.
Jones is an intriguing prospect for the three-technique with nice size and athleticism but is more strong than quick. He has been a productive starter when healthy for the Chargers the past three seasons but really more as an anchor tackle than a three. Jones does not push the pocket or disrupt traffic in the backfield as much as you’d like.
Biggest plus: He has the traits to be a disrupter if he grasps the scheme.
Biggest concern: He’s never played the style Eberflus and defensive coordinator Alan Williams will ask him to.
A seven-year veteran, Blackson always has been more of a backup, but he will get first crack at the starting nose spot in the Bears’ Tampa 2, and he has been a productive player who flashed often for the Bears in his first year in Chicago.
Biggest plus: He is a true two-gap run stuffer and can pressure the quarterback.
Biggest concern: He never has been asked to lead a front. With Robert Quinn’s status uncertain, that may be the job.
Tonga was intriguing when the Bears drafted him in the seventh round last year. He logged significant, productive minutes as a rookie while getting better each week.
At 6-foot-3, 325 pounds, he’s a natural 30-front nose tackle or 40-front anchor who easily fills two gaps, will not get run over, appears to play with attitude and is a solid young man in the locker room.
Biggest plus: He will command double teams in obvious running situations.
Biggest concern: He’s more a brute than an athlete and will struggle to recover if he doesn’t win right off the snap.
Mario Edwards Jr.
Edwards has a defensive end’s body but has played his best football as an interior pass rusher and gap crasher, exactly what you’re looking for in a three-technique. While it’s not his specialty, he is not a liability against the run.
Biggest plus: Edwards is a legit NFL pass rusher.
Biggest concern: Mental lapses and loss of focus have posed problems for him in the past both on and off the field.
Alufohai has a nearly perfect NFL body (6-4, 320) and will get a shot at playing anchor tackle, but he hasn’t shown much other than great size. He played at West Georgia College but didn’t even dominate there and has spent the past two seasons on the practice squads of the Houston Texans, Green Bay Packers and Bears.
Biggest plus: A great NFL body.
Biggest concern: There’s no there, there.
Delance is an offensive tackle out of Florida the Bears signed as an undrafted rookie free agent to take a shot at defensive tackle.
Biggest plus: Impressive body, huge wingspan and nice athleticism for 6-4, 303.
Biggest concern: He’s a lottery ticket who’s never played the position.
Went to Notre Dame before transferring to Minnesota and never made a huge impact at either school, but Poles’ group apparently sees something most others haven’t yet.
Where they fit in NFL: If Jones is a natural three-technique and he and Edwards form an effective tag team, the tackle position probably will be about league average.
Potential: In the Tampa 2 it’s all about the three-technique. With Jones and Edwards both getting their first shots at it, they have the traits to be pretty good.
Surprises: At least one of Alufohai, Delance or Dew-Treadway actually can play and make the team.
Disappointments: Neither Jones nor Edwards makes enough plays and this becomes a trouble spot all season.
Outcome: Jones, Blackson, Tonga and Edwards will make it; don’t see any of the kids even getting practice squad shots.