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updated: 9/20/2012 7:22 PM

With 8 sacks, Bears D showing improvement

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  • Corey Wootton (98) and Shea McClellin (99) of the Bears combined forces to sack Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers in their game last week. After two weeks, the Bears' defense already has 8 sacks.

      Corey Wootton (98) and Shea McClellin (99) of the Bears combined forces to sack Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers in their game last week. After two weeks, the Bears' defense already has 8 sacks.
    Associated Press/Mike Roemer

 
 

The focus on sacks this season -- and in most recent seasons in Chicago -- is usually the unacceptable number the Bears allow.

But this year the Bears' defensive line is sacking opposing quarterbacks almost as often as Jay Cutler gets sacked, and that's saying something. Only the Bengals Andy Dalton (10) has been dropped more often than Cutler, who has been sacked nine times.

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Through two games the Bears' defense has 8 sacks, all of them by linemen. That's a pace that would give the D-line 64 by the end of the season -- more than twice last season's total -- when it had just 30.

Even more encouraging is the committee approach that defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli's group has taken. A year ago, Julius Peppers had 11 of the team's 16 sacks at defensive end. This season, backup DEs Corey Wootton and Shea McClellin already have 1 apiece.

There's no magic formula for the overall improvement, according to Peppers, who says individual improvement across the board has made for a better team effort.

"Everybody has played a little better," Peppers said. "The first two games have been a group effort as far as myself, Henry (Melton) and Israel (Idonije) -- the stats aren't reflecting that right now, but he's rushing well, too. Shea and Corey are giving us a boost off the bench.

"Everybody is contributing, and hopefully we can continue getting production like that for the rest of the year."

The production of Wootton and McClellin illustrates the depth of the D-line rotation. Rotating linemen is a staple of Lovie Smith defenses. Eight players have gotten significant playing time already, which allows all of them to stay energized and active.

"It just helps us stay fresh," Melton said. "We've got a bunch of guys rotating in and out, everyone is making plays, and everyone is around the ball, just relentless."

This year, Marinelli and Smith have added a new twist that puts even more pressure on the enemy's offensive linemen. In addition to rotating fresh troops, players are flip-flopping positions. Peppers has lined up at all four defensive line spots. Starting left defensive end Israel Idonije sometimes moves to three-technique tackle in nickel situations. Melton can line up at the three-technique or nose tackle, and he has even moved outside to end.

Marinelli's goals are to get the most advantageous matchups for his best pass rushers, ideally 1-on-1 situations they can exploit.

Keeping the offensive linemen guessing as to which player they're blocking from down to down adds to their difficulty factor. Having to adjust to Peppers' tendencies and his skill set on one down and then change your approach against someone like Melton can be a nightmare.

"The one thing you hope is that they (the offensive linemen) don't know," Marinelli said. "Maybe they scout a guy and have a good feeling. Then, all of a sudden, it's, 'Oh boy, OK now I've got this. What are his tendencies?' It just creates some energy (for us). But winning up front is still about the skill and beating the man across from you. It's not tricking them."

The system seems to be working for everyone.

"It's been nice," Wootton said. "Just the rotation, it's giving people a different look. One play it's Izzy (Idonije), one play it's myself, one play it's Shea, one play it's 'Pep.' So it gives everybody a different look. Inside (at tackle), they're doing a good of rotating as well, so it's different looks all across the board."

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