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Defensive Line Depth a Bears Question

A look at the 90-man Bears roster starts at No. 99 and counts down, revealing an immediate lack of quality depth on the interior defensive line.

The Bears report three weeks from today and face numerous questions with a roster in transition to a new style of play on both sides of the ball.

Here is their 2022 90-man roster countdown to training camp in five-player increments, with each player's outlook for the season.

The process begins with No. 99, third-year defensive end Trevis Gipson.

No. 99 DE Trevis Gipson

6-foot-4, 263 pounds

The Dossier: Gipson went from a college defensive end with his hand in the dirt at Tulsa to stand-up outside linebacker with the Bears and now has made the conversion back to down lineman at defensive end in the new 4-3. He just started to show he could play as an edge rusher in the 3-4 last year after Khalil Mack's season-ending foot injury and came up with seven sacks, five of those coming in the final eight games after he became the starter on the left edge. Gipson had five forced fumbles, including four in the final eight games and two against the Giants. His first career sack came during the Week 4 24-14 win at Soldier Field over Detroit after he sat out eight games as a rookie in 2020 and failed to record a sack. Gipson was a fifth-round pick who the Bears drafted after former GM Ryan Pace traded away a fourth-round pick for 2021 in exchange.

2022 Prospectus: He's the likely left end starter as their biggest defensive end, and one who will need to be stout against the run. Quinn and Dominique Robinson weigh less than 250 and Al-Quadin Muhammad is 250. So expect teams to test their edges with their running attacks.

No. 98 DT Micah Dew-Treadway

6-4, 308

The Dossier: A former Bolingbrook High School standout who spent seven seasons in college football progreams. He first went to Notre Dame for four seasons without making much impact. He spent 2015 as a scout team member and 2016 suffered a season-ending foot injury early. So he made only two tackles in 21 appearances over two actual seasons, then transfered to Minnesota for four seasons starting in 2019. He played in 25 games for Minnesota, making 39 tackles, seven for loss, and 1 1/2 sack. The Bears signed him after this year's draft as an undrafted free agent.

2022 Prospectus: As an undrafted rookie he has practice squad potential but would be one of the longest shots to land a roster spot. The question here is whether he could fit as a three technique or as a nose tackle. He has the size to be a nose in this scheme.

No. 97 DT Mario Edwards Jr.

6-3, 280

The Dossier: Edwards seems an ideal fit for what the Bears want to do in a four-man line. He actually was a good fit for their old 3-4 because he played in the four-man sub-package on the line and played the same spot he'll be lining up at now, which is defensive tackle. He is a bit undersized for a defensive tackle in a 4-3 but is essentially the same size as Aaron Donald. Edwards is a situational player who has started only one game since 2017. He has made six of his career total of 16 1/2 sacks in his two Bears seasons. With the Bears, he has 25 tackles including seven for loss. At 28, he is now with his fourth team and in the second year of a three-year, $11.6 million deal that he was signed to by Ryan Pace.

2022 Prospectus: His role will be backup at the three technique behind Justin Jones. It's possible he'll get on the field as a situational defensive end at times if there are injuries, but position coach Travis Smith said his role will be tackle. The Bears need his potential for disruption but not for dumb play. Last year he had two unnecessary roughness, one roughing the passer and one unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. The "S" in Matt Eberflus' HITS philosophy stands for smart play. They can't have dumb penalties.

No. 96 DT LaCale London

6-5, 316

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The Dossier: A former Western Illinois and Peoria, Ill. prep player who was undrafted and signed in Chicago in 2020. He changed jersey numbers during offseason practices and was given Akiem Hicks' old number. London is in his third Bears season, all but one play of the first two spent on the practice squad. The Bears elevated him during their December COVID-19 outbreak last year and he got in for one play against the Minnesota Vikings. London underwent a transformation with the Bears when he came to the team as a 280-pounder, adding weight so he could play end in their old 3-4. Now, it might have been better if he had kept the weight off as he had been a play-making lineman at Western and in junior college at Iowa Central Community College. He had 7 1/2 sacks and 17 tackles for loss with seven pass deflections at Western Illinois.

2022 Prospectus: He projects as a swing interior defensive lineman with an outside chance to make the roster because of their lack of depth at tackle. He could play the nose or three technique based on college experience but is proabably more suited for nose in this scheme unless he drops weight. Most likely he'd be a candidate for the practice squad again.

No. 95 DT Khyiris Tonga

6-4, 338

The Dossier: A 2021 seventh-round draft pick who showed potential in their old defense but doesn't seem a fit size-wise for their new defense. Tonga spent last year backing up Eddie Goldman at nose tackle in the 3-4. The former BYU player had shown a knack for tipping passes in college but didn't display this except in practice last year. He did have a surprising amount of production for a player who was on the field defensively for only 216 plays as a two-gap lineman. He made 24 tackles, one for loss, and recovered a fumble.

2022 Prospectus: Tonga is currently in a three-way fight for playing time at the nose with veterans Mike Pennel and Angelo Blackson. Blackson enters as the favorite after playing with starters until minicamp. Then Pennel got a look there. It's possible Tonga will be kept as a special-use player, for short yardage and goal line because he is large even for a 3-4, two-gap defensive front let alone a front where players attack single gaps. Otherwise, he does have a real chance at making the roster unless they sign more faster, lighter defensive tackles because there are not enough of them with experience on this team.

Up Next: 90-94.

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