Chicago Bears still need more help on defense

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Pace, right, still has some moves to make to help coach John Fox improve the team's defense for next season.

    Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Pace, right, still has some moves to make to help coach John Fox improve the team's defense for next season. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 3/22/2016 4:00 PM

The Bears completed most of their heavy lifting in unrestricted free agency by restocking their roster with five new players and re-signing nine of their own.

With those moves, weaknesses at linebacker and both lines are less glaring. General manager Ryan Pace, however, has more work to do, even as the torrent of free-agent signings slows to a trickle.

 

If the recent past repeats itself, the Bears aren't finished maneuvering. Last year, Pace went bargain hunting, after the first wave of activity. In a 10-day period, the Bears signed seven inexpensive veterans: defensive linemen Jarvis Jenkins and Ray McDonald, linebackers Sam Acho and Mason Foster, cornerback Alan Ball, running back Jacquizz Rodgers and center Will Montgomery.

More help arrives via the NFL draft on the final three days in April, when the Bears have nine picks (two in the fourth and sixth rounds and one in the other five rounds).

Before that, the Bears will look for more help at nearly every position, if only to provide depth. First, let's look at the needs on defense:

Defensive line:

Defensive end Akiem Hicks provides an excellent complement to last year's second-round pick Eddie Goldman, who should anchor the middle of the line for years. But Ego Ferguson and Will Sutton, however, have done little to excite since they were drafted in the second and third round, respectively, in 2014. A knee injury limited Ferguson to five games last season, and Sutton looks like a better fit in a 4-3 scheme than in the Bears' 3-4.

Recently re-signed Mitch Unrein was a valuable rotation player in 2015, but there's no one else on the roster who figures to be a factor.

Massive Terrance Knighton (6-foot-3, 355 pounds) is a true 3-4 nose tackle who could complement Goldman, but he comes with weight and motivation concerns.

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Help is available in the draft, which is loaded with D-line talent, and it would be a surprise if the Bears don't go there.

Linebacker:

Converted defensive ends Lamarr Houston and Willie Young finished with a flourish at outside linebacker in 2015 after bouncing back from serious injuries in 2014.

Houston, who suffered a torn ACL midway through 2014, got 7 of his team-best 8 sacks in the final nine games last year. A ruptured Achilles late in 2014 slowed Young in the early going last season, but he had 5 ½ of his 6 ½ sacks in the final seven games.

Young led the Bears in 2014 with 10 sacks. He clearly prefers playing defensive end in a 4-3 scheme, which he did in 2014, but players with an ability to get after the quarterback are a valuable commodity. Still, a young edge rusher is high on the Bears' wish list.

The best two available in free agency, Greg Hardy and Aldon Smith, are off-the-field disasters that most teams consider not worth the trouble.

Inside, UFAs Danny Trevathan and Jerrell Freeman have turned a team weakness into a strength. The Bears also have some young depth inside, led by Christian Jones and John Timu.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Pace, knowing the draft talent at inside linebacker is weak, moved swiftly to sign Trevathan and Freeman. The talent at outside linebacker, however, looks much better.

Secondary:

Bringing back Tracy Porter to pair with Kyle Fuller gives the Bears two good corners. In the NFL, you need three. Undrafted Bryce Callahan showed some promise as a nickel corner last year after Sherrick McManis failed to impress.

The Bears expected veteran Antrel Rolle to provide stability at safety, but he suffered through an injury-ravaged season and seems to have lost a step at age 33. Fifth-round pick Adrian Amos started all 16 games as a rookie and led with 108 tackles, but he made very few plays on the ball.

A pair of ex-Bengals, cornerback Leon Hall and safety Reggie Nelson, are available, but Hall is 31 and Nelson is 32.

A better option at free safety could be 30-year-old Rashad Johnson, who has 12 interceptions over the past three seasons for the Cardinals, including 5 last season.

Cornerback Patrick Robinson has 10 interceptions in 43 starts over the past six years, mostly with the Saints, who drafted him in the first round in 2010. He is reportedly close to a deal with the Cowboys.

It's a weak year for safeties in the draft, but five cornerbacks could come off the board in the first round.

• Follow Bob's Bears reports on Twitter @BobLeGere.

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