Stephen Paea is injured. Of course he is. It’s what he does, occasionally finding a spasm of health and talent to rush the passer.
Paea had a bad knee last season, then underwent arthroscopic surgery and looked like a player during the early practices. Then he had a bad exhibition against Denver, and now has an ankle injury that will keep him in a boot and off the field for perhaps two weeks.
Geez, there are only four weeks of practice left before the first real game. Bad and hurt is no way to make a Super Bowl contender, pal.
It’s as if Paea and Major Wright are playing Injury Bingo, racing to cover the Probable, Doubtful, Questionable and Out squares every month.
Brian Urlacher’s injury gets all the attention, but Paea and his injury expose two problems: The depth at defensive tackle is questionable, and more importantly, the talent at that spot has not proven to be game-changing consistently.
That’s why the Bears traded up to draft Paea last year. We’re talking about the most important position in Lovie Smith’s Tampa-2 base defense. As good as Julius Peppers is -- same goes for Urlacher, Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman -- the under-tackle is responsible for making every other position work right, and here’s how:
Pressure up the middle demands double-teams, which frees up Peppers from at least the triple-teams and allows the Bears to drop seven men in coverage, which gives them more bodies to get takeaways and hides the utter fear everyone has of the kid safeties.
Go back to Tommie Harris’ first two years when he disrupted almost every offense in channeling his inner Warren Sapp.
Since then, pffft.
Matt Toeaina and Henry Melton aren’t Warren Sapp, but they are your starters. I had hopes that Paea could turn into Sapp with training wheels. But now he has a bad wheel. Or bad spoke. Or whatever the cloyingly bad analogy is.
One guy who stood out at the position was Nate Collins. He registered a sack and seemed to be around the plays against the Broncos scrubs the way Shea McClellin was. The problem is, of course, if McClellin and Collins are your best defensive linemen, then you have issues. Peppers won’t magically change that and make everyone better. We saw that last season.
The other problem is that Collins, presuming he makes the roster, will have to miss the opener against the Colts in order to serve a one-game suspension for pot possession during the offseason.
Is this any way to run a Super Bowl contender?
This is not panic-peddling after one meaningless game --- no, not even a game, more like a scrimmage they extorted full price from their fans. This is watching a problem area. No team game-plans for the first exhibition. It’s about playing football, and the defensive tackles who figure to play the most football for the Bears made zero impact. Peyton Manning was never in danger.
Said offseason acquisition John McCargo, one of several players fighting for a defensive tackle spot: “If you can’t pass rush, coach (Rod) Marinelli tells us all the time, you’re not not going to be on the team.’’
Unfortunately, that’s just not true.