With several new starters and a load of new faces, the Chicago Bears’ defensive line is going to have a different look in 2014 than it did a season ago, and already in camp the team is experimenting with a whole host of combinations.
Lamarr Houston, brought in as a run-stopping defensive end in the offseason, has been playing that position well, but he has also been shifted inside occasionally on downs that the Bears are using the nickel package. In those instances, Willie Young has come in and played at defensive end, with Jared Allen on the other side of the line.
Overall over the first few days, observers have been struck by Houston's speed off the line, and he's been a tough assignment for various offensive linemen during the practices. He's known mostly as a guy who is able to get around the edge and get to ball carriers, but he's shown some real propensity at getting to the quarterback as well.
Will Sutton and Ego Ferguson are also getting plenty of reps at the defensive tackle spots, but at this point in camp they are still behind Jeremiah Ratliff and Stephen Paea on the depth chart. With the immense talent that both players possess, it wouldn’t be a surprise for one of them to either overtake Paea on talent alone, or to fill in for Ratliff if he has any health setbacks.
Speaking of health setbacks, the team did experience one on Saturday when Young was forced to leave practice early with a quadriceps injury. Head coach Marc Trestman did say that Young was day-to-day with the injury, so it would seem likely he’ll be held out of practice for at least a day or two with an off-day approaching on Tuesday.
In addition to the injury, things got a bit heated during practice Saturday when Jordan Mills and Houston were involved in a post-play scuffle. The incident was the second of camp, with Sherrick McManis and Eric Weems exchanging shoves during Friday’s practice. In this instance, it got so heated that Trestman said both would have likely been ejected had it occurred during a game, but like most incidents of this nature, it’s a “heat of the moment” thing and not an ongoing problem.
Even without pads on, it’s clear that the defensive line is looking to establish a tone with their play through the first few days of camp, and things will only get ratcheted up on Sunday when the team practices in pads for the first time.