BOURBONNAIS -- With an intriguing mix of experienced veterans and promising youngsters, the Bears believe their defensive line will be a team strength this season.
Coordinator Rod Marinelli got a good look at that group Wednesday night during the 11-on-11, full-speed goal-line segment of practice and in the two-minute drill. He'll get a better look Saturday night at Soldier Field in the preseason opener against the Bills. With starting nose tackle Anthony Adams (calf) not expected to play, Marinelli will have an opportunity to give backups a longer look, while evaluating what could be the deepest position on the team.
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"I'm going to try to make it pretty equal, maybe 20 (snaps) all the way through and let these guys really compete," Marinelli said. "These two-minute drills that we do, they're fun. It really can tell you who can pass rush when they're fatigued, under duress, and who can make calls and communicate and all those type of things. Those are all the things you're looking for."
Marinelli and head coach Lovie Smith pretty much know what they can expect from Adams and starting defensive ends Julius Peppers and Israel Idonije. But they're hoping to see continued production from young players such as last year's fourth-round pick, defensive end Corey Wootton; defensive tackle Henry Melton, a 2009 fourth-round pick; and this year's second-round pick Stephen Paea. Matt Toeaina, a seldom-used backup in his first three seasons with the Bears, made significant strides last season and is playing well enough in camp to be listed as the co-starter at nose tackle and 3-technique tackle.
"He flies under your radar, not ours," Marinelli said when asked about Toeaina's low profile. "He is really a good football player. He just comes to work. He's improved from last year. He has daily improvement. He's improved as a pass rusher. He's a load in the run game as it is. He's smart; he can play both positions. He can play the cocked (offset) nose and the under tackle (3 technique). Believe me, they're all breathing on each other's neck, which you like to see. I like the battles that are going on.
"Now we put them under fire a little bit more and (hopefully) continue to see it. Inside we've got some real good competition."
Melton has flashed the kind of penetration and the ability to disrupt offenses that the Bears got from Tommie Harris from 2005-07, when he was voted to three straight Pro Bowls. Melton packed on an additional 20 pounds this season without losing his quickness.
Wootton came on toward the end of his rookie season, as he was still recovering from a serious knee injury that limited his effectiveness as a senior at Northwestern. He spent the off-season strengthening his lower body and is now completely confident that he's back to 100 percent health.
"I've said it before," Marinelli said, "Corey Wootton's having really a good solid camp. He's playing solid football."
Like most rookies this year, Paea has struggled to make his presence felt without the benefit of an off-season program, and he is currently listed as the co-third-team nose tackle with Marcus Harrison. But if Adams sits out Saturday, it will give Paea more snaps, which he could use.
"This year it's a little more difficult because we haven't had all that off-season work," Marinelli said. "So it all hits him in the face at once from assignments and technique and drills and hustle and all the things we do. He's been very solid for us, but this year it is a little bit tougher."
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