Okoye, a former 10th overall pick in the 2007 draft, played with the Bears last season as the club's backup 3-technique. He earned 4.0 sacks. The team tried to re-sign him but Okoye was looking for an opportunity at more playing time. He ended up signing a one-year, $2-million deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Yet Okoye had his knee scoped in June. He played in the first preseason game but has been held out the past two contests. Apparently, not being on the field was enough for the Bucs to send him packing.
"You can be a little cautious at times," Bucs coach Greg Schiano said of Okoye, according to the Tampa Times Thursday night. "We've tried to do that. But at the end of the day, you've got to go out and earn a spot."
Okoye and Henry Melton combined for 11.0 sacks last season, the most by a Bears defensive-tackle duo since 1995. If healthy, he'll fill the interior pass-rushing role for the club, as he's a pure 4-3 one-gap penetrator.
Chicago has worked all preseason to find Okoye's replacement. Nate Collins has looked good at times but he'll be suspended in Week 1 for violating the league's substance abuse policy. The club traded for Brian Price, and he has been outstanding, but he left last night's game with a head injury. He's also more of a nose tackle.
On top of that, Stephen Paea has been on the shelf for weeks with an ankle injury and Matt Toeaina has failed to impress in the preseason games. In a desperate attempt to fill the 3-technique gap, the Bears have been sliding DE Israel Idonije inside on passing downs.
For all these reasons, Chicago chose to bring back a proven player in Okoye to join the defensive-tackle rotation. If his knee is healthy, a big if at this point, he'll provide the interior pass rush this team sorely needs.
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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.