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Altered State of Bears Defensive Front

Some players will be square pegs trying to fit a circle for the Bears in their new 4-3 defensive front but they'll need to adjust to have jobs with the team.

If there is a place where Bears personnel usage seems a bit cloudy, it has to be along the defensive line.

This is the mess made from switching to a 4-3 out of a 3-4, and vice versa. In this case, it impacts several players trying to win roster spots or hold onto starting roles.

LaCale London was listed as an end by the team but he's 316 pounds. Charles Snowden is listed at 6-7, 245 and is kind of light and wiry to put his hand in the dirt at end. Trevis Gipson can play with his hand down but even coach Matt Eberflus has expressed uncertainty over whether he's an every down end at 263 pounds. Mario Edwards has been both a three technique and defensive end in the past so what exactly is his role?

And what in the world is Jeremiah Attaochu doing on the team after playing his whole career except four games in a 3-4 scheme at linebacker?

At least for the most part, Bears defensive line coach Travis Smith, the former Raiders assistant, had answers to who's lining up and where.

Smith is the poor guy who lost the lottery. He signed on with the Bears when they had Khalil Mack and was going to be reunited with a dominant pass rusher he had worked with in Oakland in 2017. Then Mack was traded. Now he's making the most of the remaining defensive line as it is in transition from 3-4 to 4-3.

Attaochu,  who suffered a torn pec muscle and missed the last 12 games in his first Bears season, will now be a pass-rushing end after he had always been a 3-4 linebacker. It's rather late in a career to try something so drastically new.

However, at 6-foot-3, 262 pounds he's too big to be a linebacker in a 4-3.  He has played 75 of his 79 games in a base 3-4 defense as a pass-rushing edge.

"Everyone knows the lifespan of an NFL player is not very long," Smith said. "And he's been in the league, what is it, seven, eight, I don't know exectly, because he's a veteran and he's done things the right way. And so we're excited to have him in the mix there and compete with the other guys, with the younger guys and old guys and be another edge end.

"He's a defensive end in our system. And again, playing vertical, setting edges, rushing the passer."

Edwards was a defensive end in New Orleans in a 4-3 and played some tackle. He came to the Bears and became a three technique in passing situations, a tackle in the four-man front the Bears used to go after quarterbacks. His role will stay at tackle, even though he does not seem big enough to go to three technique at 277 pounds and play the run if called upon to replace starter Justin Jones.

"We want to keep it as simple as possible for guys to play as fast as possible," Smith said. "So right now he's playing inside for us and we'll see how that develops and how he fits in the system and where his success is."

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Snowden is one of the few Bears who has been asked to put on weight. Tackle Teven Jenkins talked about dropping from 345 pounds to 324 and a few others on offense and defense have been asked to lose pounds, as well. But Snowden came to Chicago 6-7, 249 out of college and then added 12-15 pounds according to Smith.

"So he's filled out and he's been working his tail off to play with his hand in the dirt, play both closed and open side end and rush the passer," Smith said. "He's been working his tail off."

London is 316 and that would have been a proper weight for an end in their old 3-4 but he's now a tackle.

Gipson will stay right at end with his hand in the dirt the way he played in college at Tulsa.

"I think it's just when he came from a role where he was just a rotational player and then all of the sudden got pushed in because of injuries or whatever happened and you could tell, I don't know what the progression of the season was but he went in there and showed up and he was productive," Smith said.

Gipson started after Mack's season-ending foot injury and made seven sacks.

"Our goal is to be productive whether run or pass and he went in there and did that and was productive both in the running game, setting edges and tackles for loss and keeping that ball inside and then also in the passing game by getting to the level of the quarterback, falling back inside, sacks, forced fumbles, all of those sort of things," Smith said.

Another weighty issue was 338-pound nose tackle Khyiris Tonga, who obviously is a nose tackle but seems a bit heavy to be a gap-shooting player in a 4-3.

Or is he?

"Our big thing in our front is to make sure that we're effort first," 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."

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