Year in Review: Defensive Tackles

DT Tommie Harris (Matthew Stockman/Getty)

Tommie Harris is supposed to be the best D-tackle in the league, and the Chicago Bears are certainly paying him like he is, but his production suggests otherwise. Can he return to his old dominant self? Bear Report takes a look back at 2008 for the DTs while also looking ahead to 2009.

2008 Review
Lovie Smith's version of the Cover-2 defense doesn't operate at maximum efficiency without consistent pressure from the front four, and that starts with Tommie Harris and the three-technique position.


DT Dusty Dvoracek
Jeff Gross/Getty Images

Harris was coming off three straight appearances in the Pro Bowl and signed a $40 million extension in the offseason to become the highest-paid defensive tackle in the league, although he had been dealing with knee and hamstring injuries each of the last two seasons and hadn't looked like his dominant self in a while. But the former first-round draft pick was curiously absent from the stat sheet the first half of the season, and he was suspended for a ballgame by Smith for repeated tardiness and apparently not being very diligent about getting treatment for his injuries. Harris did play much better during the second half of the schedule, even though a strong case can be made that Israel Idonije was a more consistent force at the three technique more often than not.

Over at nose tackle, Dusty Dvoracek was strong early, tired down the stretch, and eventually moved to injured reserve for the third time in three professional seasons, opening up the door for the underappreciated Anthony Adams, who probably should have been in the starting lineup from Day 1.

Inside the Numbers
Harris didn't get his first sack until Week 7 against Minnesota, which was also the first game he was credited with more than a single tackle, but he did rack of five sacks in a six-game stretch from mid-October to late November. Adams recorded multiple tackles in four of five games to close out the season, including a terrific performance in Week 14 against Jacksonville with six solos and two assists. Even when Idonije wasn't getting in the QB's face, he put his hands up in the throwing lanes and tied for the team lead among defensive linemen with six passes defensed.

Thumbs Up
It's a mystery why Adams was inactive so often the first two months of the season because he played very well in 2007, but he never sulked and provided a lot of energy once he got his chance again. Idonije has proven to be one of the more versatile Bears in recent memory, transforming himself from a special teamer to a defensive end to a swing D-linemen to a full-time defensive tackle during his tenure in the Windy City. Third-rounder Marcus Harrison got his first career sack in the opener against future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning, and the rookie flashed all kinds of potential when given consistent snaps.

Thumbs Down
Harris was paid handsomely to be the best in the league at his position, but now it's reasonable to assume that some of his injuries in recent years have led to permanent damage and he'll just never be the same. He didn't show the explosive first step that made him borderline unblockable at times in '05 and '06. Dvoracek plays with passion and the kind of mean streak you simply can't coach, although he was exposed at Green Bay in Week 11 and has only been healthy enough to suit up for 13 of 48 games since being taken in Round 3 of the 2006 NFL Draft.

2009 Preview
The Bears would be a much nastier football team defensively with better pressure being provided off the edge, which could consequently take some of the strain off Harris and Co. in the middle.


DT Marcus Harrison
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

It may be time to cut ties with Dvoracek even though he is a fan favorite, as he isn't helping the Bears win football games sitting on the trainer's table and won't cost the team much as a salary-cap casualty. Adams is a better player anyway, providing a sturdy anchor against the run and occupying enemy blockers so the linebackers behind him can be freed up to make plays. It's reasonable to expect both Idonije and Harrison to be even stronger this coming season, especially the 6-3, 317-pound Harrison since he showed first-round ability coming out of Arkansas but slipped badly in the draft because of some character concerns.

But the key up front always has been and always will be Harris because he will take the defensive tackle rotation as far as it can go, although expectations may have to be lowered for him if there's still talk about his achy knees and hamstrings come training camp.

John Crist is the Publisher of Bear Report and a member of the Professional Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.

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