Coordinator Rod Marinelli has always professed his adoration for the position of defensive tackle – or "under tackle" in Marinelli parlance. In the Cover 2, pressure from the front four is crucial, thus allowing linebackers to stay back and man their zones.
When the team has a quality under tackle that can put pressure on the quarterback up the middle, things start to open up on the edges. Julius Peppers was able to perform at a Pro-Bowl level with essentially no interior pass rush. Imagine what he could do if he had a teammate that could consistently get pressure up the gut.
Tommie Harris used to be that player, but his stay with Chicago is over. Anthony Adams is a solid run stopper, as is Matt Toeaina, but neither can disrupt passing plays all that often. Chicago needs a pure 3-technique tackle that can get in the quarterback's face on a regular basis.
The Bears are hoping Henry Melton continues his progression from last season, when he scored 2.5 sacks in limited duty as a 3rd down rusher. As of now he's the best pass-rushing tackle on the team, and if he continues to progress, he'll make a solid member of the rotation. He could be one of the key players for the defense next season.
Marcus Harrison will be given another shot at playing time in training camp, but he lacks effort at times, something Marinelli will not abide by for long. It seems as if Chicago's needs at defensive tackle will only be met by bringing in a fresh face from the draft or free agency.
The draft is loaded with quality defensive tackles – we'll touch on that next week. Unfortunately, the D-tackle free agent class is devoid of many playmakers. The two biggest names, Haloti Ngata and Paul Soliali, were franchised by the Ravens and Dolphins respectively. Free agency may not be the best place for the Bears to find the next big-play defensive tackle. But if they choose to go that route, here are three players considered to be at the top of the class.
DT Brandon Mebane
Brandon Mebane, 26, Seattle Seahawks
The Seahawks have made it clear they want Mebane back, but the two sides have been unable to reach a contract agreement up to this point. Mebane will attract plenty of attention on the open market, so it's likely he'll test the free agent waters.
The 6-1, 311-pounder's best asset is his quickness. He's not overly powerful, although he's very good at holding his ground in the run game. But he makes up for it with his feet and his ability to read blocking schemes. He has great initial quickness and a good first step. He only had 2.5 sacks the last two seasons combined but that could be more due to the team he played with. In 2008, he had 5.5 sacks.
Mebane is about as solid as they come and would fit in perfectly with the Bears' 4-3. Of all the defensive tackles available, he's the player Chicago should pursue. He won't come cheap, but if the under tackle is as important as Marinelli says it is, then it would be money well spent.
Barry Cofield, 27, New York Giants
Cofield is a very big man. At 6-4, 306-pounds, he's a space eater who is solid against the run. He's not always great in pursuit but if you try to run right at him, more often than not, you will fail.
Signing Cofield would only make sense if Anthony Adams chooses not to come back. The two play a very similar style of football. Yet Cofield is four years younger. If Adams' agent tries to force Chicago to overpay for his services, the backup plan should include taking a run at Cofield.
Cullen Jenkins, 30, Green Bay Packers
Now here is an interesting option. Jenkins has said he's 99 percent sure he'll not be in a Packers uniform next year. He played defensive end in the Packers 3-4, but he has the first step quickness and size (6-2, 305-pounds) to play the under tackle.
He is great against the run and can be a very good rusher at times. Last season, he had 7 sacks in only 11 games. He could be a disruptive force in the middle for Chicago.
Yet there is two reasons Jenkins is a risky pickup. First off, his production last season was tied to the play of Clay Matthews, who was fourth in the NFL with 13.5 sacks. Secondly, Jenkins has never had more than 4.5 sacks in any season except for the two in which he was playing for a new contract. If he's the Adrian Beltre of football, then the Bears might be wise to let him, and the big contract he's pursuing, go elsewhere.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.