Last week we examined the changes to the Chicago Bears' offense this off-season; today we'll move to the other side of the ball, where the Bears have been more successful and effective for decades.
Defensive Ends: Julius Peppers, Israel Idonije, Thaddeus Gibson, Henry Melton, Corey Wootton, Chauncey Davis
Additions: Shea McClellin (first-round draft pick, Boise State), Cheta Ozougwu (free agent, HOU)
Peppers remains the main playmaker at the defensive end position and enters his third season in Chicago. Idonije and Melton are good rotational players with five and seven sacks respectively in 2011, but neither is a true impact player. The Bears hope they've found that in McClellin, who was projected as a 3-4 outside linebacker by most draft scouts. He'll need to add some bulk to play on an NFL defensive line. Gibson, Wootton, and Davis are role players only, and Ozougwu is likely a practice squad candidate.
Defensive Tackles: Stephen Paea, Matt Toeaina, Jordan Miller
Additions: Ronnie Cameron (UDFA, Old Dominion), Nate Collins (free agent, JAX), John McCargo (free agent, TB), DeMario Pressley (free agent, CAR)
Subtractions: Anthony Adams
Toeaina started 12 games at tackle last year, and Paea will likely start alongside him. The Bears did bring in several value free agents to push them in camp. McCargo was a first round bust for the Bills, but is a veteran body. A few of the Bears' defensive ends (Idonije, Melton) rotate in at the tackle position as well. Adams was a big body and a solid starter in 2010, but wore down and played only 11 games last season leading to his release.
Linebackers: Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs, Nick Roach, Patrick Trahan, Dom DiCicco, J.T. Thomas, Jabara Williams
Additions: Blake Costanzo (free agent, SF), Adrien Cole (UDFA, La. Tech), Ronnie Thornton (UDFA, So. Miss), Geno Hayes (free agent, TB)
Stalwarts Urlacher and Briggs are back again, with Briggs getting an extension in April that locks him up through 2014. Roach started 15 games in 2011, but will probably battle Hayes for the other starting job. Hayes was a starter for the Buccaneers for the past three years at OLB. Costanzo is an excellent special teamer, and will likely battle the rest through training camp for reserve roles.
Cornerbacks: Charles Tillman, Tim Jennings, D.J. Moore
Additions: Kelvin Hayden (free agent, ATL), Isaiah Frey (6th-round draft pick, Nevada), Greg McCoy (7th-round draft pick, TCU), Cornelius Brown, (free agent), Jonathan Wilhite (free agent, DEN)
Subtractions: Corey Graham, Zack Bowman, Kevin Watts
The Bears retain their starters in Tillman (who doesn't like math) and Jennings. Moore had four interceptions in each of the past two seasons while playing as a nickel and dime back. Hayden brings some veteran depth, having started for the Colts and returning an interception for a touchdown against the Bears in Super Bowl XLI. Graham departed to Baltimore in free agency and Bowman left for Minnesota.
Safeties: Craig Steltz, Major Wright, Winston Venable, Anthony Walters, Chris Conte
Additions: Brandon Hardin (3rd-round draft pick, Oregon State), Trevor Coston (UDFA, Maine), Jeremy Jones (UDFA, Wayne State)
Subtractions: Brandon Meriweather
Wright will likely be the day-one starter at one safety spot, with Steltz and Conte looking to start opposite him. I had hoped Hardin would be on the Packers' radar in the draft, but he ended up in Chicago instead. Gone is the often-fined Meriweather, who was cut by New England before the 2011 season and is now in Washington.