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Smith likes depth on defensive line

The Sports Xchange
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--In six of Jerry Angelo's final nine drafts as the Bears' general manager, he used at least one of his top two picks on a defensive lineman.

Phil Emery has replaced Angelo as general manager, but the Bears could again target the D-line early in the draft, even though coach Lovie Smith considers that position to be a team strength.

"I like some of the things we were able to do on our defensive line," Smith said at the Scouting Combine. "(But) do we need to do a better job with it? Yes. I think those guys will say that, and we're saying it because we are capable of doing more."

In the Bears' defensive scheme, a heavy emphasis will always be placed on getting most of their pass rush from the front four without relying on help from the back seven. Last season, right end Julius Peppers had 11 sacks despite battling frequent double-teams. But 3-technique tackle Henry Melton (seven sacks) was the only other Bear who had more than the five sacks by left end Israel Idonije, who is an unrestricted free agent.

This year's draft crop of defensive linemen could help, since it's ranked well above average, partly because Illinois defensive end Whitney Mercilus renounced his final season of eligibility after leading the nation with 16 sacks and nine forced fumbles.

The Bears would probably love to get a chance to take him with the 18th pick in the second round, but considering the high value the NFL places on getting to the quarterback, Mercilus might be gone by then. When he was asked at the Combine which teams had shown interest in him, he named the Bears first.

--Despite talk that the Bears might be in the market for help at safety, either in free agency or the draft, coach Lovie Smith believes that position is in good shape with Major Wright and Chris Conte as the starters

"I think I'm on record of how I feel about Major Wright," Smith said of the 2010 third-round draft choice. "I think he's a good football player, a good football player who hasn't had an offseason with us yet, truly."

Despite missing five games with a hamstring injury as a rookie, Wright was in on 31 tackles and last year he started 11 games (eight at free safety and three at strong) and tied for second on the team with three interceptions. He was fifth on the team with 78 tackles.

"I'm just as excited about Chris Conte," Smith said of last year's third-round pick. "We made moves of going a different direction on a couple players last year because of Chris Conte. Chris has a lot of range. He can do a lot of things."

Partially because of Conte's early emergence, the Bears cut veteran safety Chris Harris and relegated another veteran safety, Brandon Meriweather, to the bench. Conte started nine games at free safety, despite missing the final two weeks with a sprained foot and ankle and was 10th on the squad with 47 tackles.

"I just don't think we've been in this good of a position at the two starting safety positions (as we are) right now," Smith said. "But, at the same time, we do need to provide more depth. Craig Steltz is a free agent. He's done a super job in every role we've put him in since he's been here."

Steltz, a fourth-round pick in 2008, started the final four games last season and had 37 tackles in the final five contests, third best on the team.

--The original plan was for the Bears' new quarterbacks coach to also have the title of "passing game coordinator."

But Jeremy Bates, who succeeded Shane Day, did not get the additional title.

"I think people jumped the gun a little bit on 'passing-game coordinator,' coach Lovie Smith said. "That was out there a lot. You discuss it, and I thought about a lot of different things. But in the end, I didn't feel like we needed one.

"We have a (offensive) coordinator in Mike Tice. We don't have a defensive run-game coordinator or anything like that, and I didn't feel like we needed it. I was trying to get the perfect group that I could on the offensive side of the ball."

Bates was the Broncos' quarterbacks coach in 2007 and '08, when Jay Cutler threw for 8,023 yards, and he will contribute to Tice's offensive game plan.

"Everybody will have input," Smith said. "Jeremy Bates has been a coordinator in this league (with the Seahawks in 2010). I know what he's done, and I know his history with Jay Cutler. I just didn't feel like we needed any more titles."

--The release of nose tackle Anthony Adams wasn't a surprise given his limited role last season, when he had a career-low 17 tackles and was inactive in five of the last nine games.

The 31-year-old Adams fell behind younger tackles Matt Toeaina, Henry Melton, unrestricted free agent Amobi Okoye and rookie Stephen Paea in the Bears' defensive tackle rotation. Adams started four games last season after starting all 16 a year earlier and a total of 36 in his four previous seasons with the Bears.

The early release will give Adams a better opportunity to hook up with a new team ahead of the unrestricted free agency period, which begins March 13.

A tweet from Toeaina -- "Jealous of the next lockerroom u go to bro," --summed up how teammates and just about everyone else who encountered Adams felt about the classy, 6-0, 310-pound Penn State product.

The Bears also released tackle/guard Frank Omiyale.

QUOTE TO NOTE
"Just look at what those guy have done. I've heard that about Lance Briggs (31) getting older, Brian Urlacher (33), Julius Peppers (32), Charles Tillman (31). All four of those guy were in the Pro Bowl this year. We have other concerns; that's not one of them." - Coach Lovie Smith dismissing any notion about the Bears' defense getting too old.

Copyright (C) 2012 The Sports Xchange. All Rights Reserved.

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