October 6, 2012
Most fans go to Bears summer training camp hoping to be entertained by spectacular offensive plays.
Jay Cutler lofts a deep pass to Brandon Marshall, Devin Hester or Earl Bennett and the crowd goes wild. Matt Forte bursts through a hole and races 35 yards untouched — more cheers.
But when a pass is intercepted or a running back is stripped of the ball during an intrasquad scrimmage, there are collective groans throughout the crowd.
Sometimes it takes a regular-season victory such as Monday night's trouncing of the Cowboys to appreciate the opportunistic Bears defense. Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo was sacked seven times and threw five interceptions — two for Bears touchdowns.
The key to creating turnovers is applying constant pressure up front — the type of in-your-face pursuit that made it easier for cornerback Tim Jennings to earn NFC Defensive Player of the Month honors after collecting four interceptions.
A tag team of defensive linemen has been harassing opposing offenses: Henry Melton (4 sacks), Julius Peppers (2.5), Israel Idonije (2.5), Shea McClellin (2), Corey Wootton (1.5), Amobe Okoye (1) and Stephen Paea (.5) — along with linebacker Nick Roach (1) — have combined for 15 sacks.
"So far this season our depth at D-line has been great," said Wootton, the former Northwestern standout.
Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli has used each lineman in a situation to showcase his particular skill set.
"At the end position and at tackle, it's all different looks," Wootton said. "Some guys are more speed, like Shea. Some guys are more power like myself and Izzy. Peppers is a combination of everything. And inside we're giving them different looks, too. It has been great."
Melton is having a breakout season while being used judiciously.
"(The rotation system) keeps us fresh," Melton said. "I might sit out a few snaps and then come in on third down. That's what happened on that sack-fumble (that Lance Briggs caught for an interception and returned 74 yards for a touchdown against the Cowboys). We're rotating three D-tackles right now, so we're doing a good job with that."
Peppers, who sat out Thursday's practice with an ankle injury, understands the rhythmic connection between defensive line pressure and turnovers in the secondary.
"It all works together," Peppers said. "When we rush well, they play well. When they cover well, it allows us time to get to the quarterback because he is holding the ball. We work off of each other. It has been good so far."
Even Bears offensive players appreciate the work of the defense.
"With this defense, it's something they do week in and week out," center Roberto Garza said after the victory against the Cowboys. "By them scoring 14 points, obviously it gives us a little leeway. We were able to go out there after turnovers and create points off those and continue to get in rhythm. When we're in rhythm and doing things, it's fun."
Briggs, Major Wright, D.J. Moore, Charles Tillman and Jennings have benefited from turnovers caused by defensive line pressure, and they hope the trend continues against the Jaguars.
Tillman has 31 career interceptions, fourth all-time for the Bears and one behind Donnell Woolford (32). Richie Petitbon had 37 and Gary Fencik is the all-time leader with 38.
Now that should give Bears fans reasons to cheer.
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