Jones, Gipson will be X-factors for Bears on thin D-line originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
- Editor's note: This is the final installment of our minicamp review/training camp preview series. We've already dissected the offensive line, secondary, wide receivers, and the performance and expectations for Justin Fields. We'll end with the defensive line.
New Bears general manager Ryan Poles wanted to bet big on Larry Ogunjobi. However, a failed physical negated a three-year, $40 million contract, and the Bears had to search for a new three-technique. They landed on Justin Jones, while Ogunjobi eventually landed a one-year deal with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Ogunjobi escapade is far from the Bears' only issue on the defensive front, though.
With training camp three weeks away, here's where the Bears stand up front on defense.
DE: Robert Quinn/Trevis Gipson
NT: Angelo Blackson
3T: Justin Jones
DE: Trevis Gipson/Al-Quadin Muhammad
While a lot of the offseason noise centered around Ogunjobi and Akiem Hicks, who the Bears didn't try to bring back, Robert Quinn now is the great unknown for head coach Matt Eberflus' defense.
The veteran edge rusher didn't report to mandatory minicamp as rumors swirled about his desire to be traded. Eberflus said he was disappointed Quinn wasn't present, but he would leave it up to Poles' team to sort out.
With Quinn out and Muhammad doing most of his work on the side, Gipson and rookie Dominique Robinson got a lot of work during the team period.
Gipson only has nine career starts, qualifying him as a veteran on a young Bears team. The third-year edge rusher is ready to take on a more significant role in Eberflus' 4-3 defense.
"We need leadership," Gipson said. "We already have leadership, but more can't hurt. And you know, just me being vocal, me helping lead the guys in our room, that will help my whole career in a massive step."
If Quinn doesn't return, the Bears will need more than expected from Robinson, a former dual-threat QB turned wide receiver turned edge rusher, in his rookie season.
Robinson is raw but is already impressing his teammates.
"Dominique Robinson, he's a great player," Gipson said. "He's a great student of the game, comes into work, never late, always has his playbook in his hand, is eager to learn. Sort of reminds me of me, honestly. Fifth-round pick, chip on his shoulder, dominating practice every day and still looking to get better anywhere he can."
Without Quinn, the edge-rushing position is tenuous at best for the Bears. But the interior has its own question marks.
The Bears' decision not to go back to Ogunjobi for a re-worked, short-term deal puts a lot of pressure on Jones to stay healthy and perform at a high level for a unit that is relying on his ability to get into the backfield.
"The three-technique is the penetrator," Jones said. "He's the anchor of the defense. You have to trust the three-technique that he's going to work. You don't set the edge for the three-technique, the defense -- we're going to get down the field, we're knocking guys back, we're being aggressive, we're being disruptive, making plays in the backfield, having fun together, party at the quarterback."
Poles' big free-agent prize landed in Pittsburgh. Quinn might be trying to push his way out. If that's the case, Jones and Gipson must be great, and the Bears will need to find unexpected contributions from lesser-known Bears to make Eberflus' defense work this fall.
Biggest question: How are the Bears going to pressure the quarterback?
X-factor: Justin Jones
Last season with the Los Angeles Chargers, Jones recorded 18 total pressures (two sacks, two hits, and 14 hurries) while recording a pass-rush grade of 61.1 per ProFootballFocus. That number ranked 105th in the NFL. However, if we look at just True Pass Rush Sets, Jones' grade bumps up to 66.2, which was good for 77th.
Jones played in a different scheme in Los Angeles, and the Bears are confident he has the explosive quickness needed to thrive as the three-technique in Eberflus' system.
The Bears need Jones, 25, to stay healthy and elevate his game to a new level, or else there won't be a lot of "parties in the backfield."
Verdict: They could really use Quinn and Ogunjobi. At least one is still possible.