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Lo and Behold the Bears Have a 4-3 Nose

The Bears weren't sure they had a player who could be a 4-3 nose tackle because they had bigger interior defensive linemen performing different tasks in the 3-4 but, "Lo" and behold, they've found one or two.

Bears linebacker Nick Morrow was amused by the efforts of "Lo."

That's Angelo Blackson.

"I mean, Lo’s big, right? But he also runs well," Morrow said. "He('s) putting up tapes where he's running down field, running after the ball."

This is surprising because Blackson is one of those Bears who at first glance appeared to be a player they would cut with a June 1 designation. They would save $2.35 million in cap space with his departure after June 1, and it's money that could be put to use in several ways, such as bringing in a free agent guard on offense or giving contract extensions to Roquan Smith and/or David Montgomery.

An eight-year veteran now, Blackson's entire first seven years came playing either defensive end or nose tackle in a 3-4 defense. He is a lifetime two-gapper and the Bears now are in a 4-3 where defensive players have single-gap responsibilities.

In short, they need quicker, disruptive linemen who attack a gap and don't hold up blockers at the line while others make the play.

The nose isn't a vital spot in the 4-3 but it is necessary. The nose would be on the field only in running situations like first down or second- or third-and-short.

Blackson's  responsibility in the 4-3 is the A-gap and attacking the center. However, the Bears are finding he could actually fit this role in a new ad  different scheme because he's not your 340-pound blob in the middle who serves only as a roadblock, like many two-gap players.

Blackson has enough quickness and agility to make some plays himself and coach Matt Eberflus' staff saw this when they looked at film from last year. Blackson intercepted a deflected pass against Cincinnati. He matched a career high with 2.5 sacks and over his last two years had become more and more active. He had five of his career total of 8 1/2 sacks in the last two seasons for the Bears and Cardinals, seven of his 14 career tackles for loss and 17 of his 26 career quarterback hits then.

On top of this, Blackson actually isn't a slow lineman. He ran a 5.02-second 40-yard dash when he was young, and for a 315-pound tackle this is relatively fast.

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It looks entirely possible they have a rare dual-purpose interior defensive lineman in Blackson and he could perform the duties of starting nose in the 4-3, which is where they've placed him throughout OTAs.

Another reason this is the case is they have no one else who has proven they can play on the interior of the defensive line and seemms capable of doing this job better.

Blackson's backup is not an experienced 4-3 defensive lineman but is Khyiris Tonga, their 338-pound seventh-round draft pick from 2021. He also looked like a mis-fitted player when it became apparent they were using a 4-3.

"Our big thing in our front is to make sure that we're effort first," defensive line coach Travis Smith said. "We can correct everything else. And so as long as our guys whatever their weight is, as long as they're able to run and play consistently at a high level I'm good with it."

And Tonga?

"He's moving good. Oh, he's moving good," Smith said. "He's got really, for a big man, he's got really great feet. He's got great feet. I like to say, (I) recall the word 'dancing bear,' and we have some big men that can move, stay on their feet and play.

"We want our big men to play sideline to sideline. We're a penetrating, vertical, edge-setting defense but we run. All four of us. We want all four guys running. As long as they can do that their weight is good to me."

Tonga actually ran a 5.07 in the 40 despite his size and it was just last year.

Considering it's the first year in a rebuild and there are plenty of important position needs the Bears need to address, Blackson and Tonga will need to suffice for now. They'll have the chance to prove they can be adaptive Bears besides being dancing Bears.

Twitter: BearDigest@BearsOnMaven