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updated: 9/3/2012 7:43 PM

Bears welcome back Okoye at defensive tackle

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  • Defensive tackle Amobi Okoye saw action in all 16 games for the Bears in 2011 before signing with Tampa Bay as an unrestricted free agent in the off-season. But the Bucs waived Okoye last week, and the Bears signed him Sunday.

      Defensive tackle Amobi Okoye saw action in all 16 games for the Bears in 2011 before signing with Tampa Bay as an unrestricted free agent in the off-season. But the Bucs waived Okoye last week, and the Bears signed him Sunday.
    Associated Press

 
 

The Monday morning signing of free agent defensive tackle Amobi Okoye gives the Bears proven depth in the interior line and is an upgrade over Brian Price, who was waived.

The Bears acquired the 6-foot-1, 303-pound Price for a seventh-round draft pick early in training camp, but he was clearly not in football shape. The former second-round pick struggled to recover from hamstring injuries last season and a recent knee injury -- and from the death of his older sister in a hit-and-run traffic accident last spring.

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As a Bear last season, Okoye tied with Julius Peppers among the team's defensive linemen with 27 tackles, and he was fourth with 4 sacks. Last off-season the sixth-year veteran signed with the Bucs, who outbid the Bears and signed him to a one-year, $2 million contract as an unrestricted free agent. But he was waived in Tampa's final cutdown last week.

The 6-foot-2, 292-pound Okoye started just one game for the Bears last season but played in all 16 as a key member of the interior rotation. He says the Bears' defense is an ideal fit for him.

"It fits like a glove," he said. "Being here last year and knowing what I like to do and what this defense asks of me to do, it's perfect."

Okoye has started 59 NFL games but he is still just 25 years old, having been drafted in the first round in 2007 by the Texans as a 19-year old. He played four years in Houston before joining the Bears.

Starting point:

Ideally, Lake Zurich High School graduate Matt Blanchard would have earned a spot on some NFL team's 53-man roster.

But, considering the quarterback from Wisconsin-Whitewater went undrafted in April, membership on the Bears' eight-man practice squad isn't a bad consolation prize.

Blanchard was waived by the Bears in the first wave of cuts Aug. 27, but that may have been done to keep the promising 23-year-old from putting an impressive performance on tape in the final preseason game and attracting the attention of other teams.

"There was a possibility of (making the Bears) practice squad," Blanchard said, "but you never know what could happen with injuries or someone getting traded. I'm happy the Bears saw a big-picture opportunity for me."

As the No. 3 quarterback, and especially as a practice squad member, Blanchard won't get any snaps with the Bears' offense. But he'll be practicing every day, running an offense that mimics each week's upcoming opponent.

"Every week, every practice, I have a lot of reps to work on my craft," he said. "It's not going to be the Bears' offense, but I'm going to get my throws in, recognizing NFL defenses. That's how you get better as a rookie quarterback, being able to recognize NFL defenses, fronts, all that stuff."

Put to the test:

The maligned offensive line will be tested on Sunday by the Colts' defense, which has switched from a 4-3 to a 3-4. But it still features twin pass-rushing terrors Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis who have moved from defensive end to linebacker in the new scheme. They combined for 18 sacks last season, 9 by Mathis.

"Every year it's the same thing," Bears guard Roberto Garza said." Always talking about the offensive line, always talking about the tackles. Obviously we've got a challenge this week."

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