Bears 2022 training camp preview: Interior defensive line

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Chicago Bears training camp is less than a month away, so it’s time to start looking ahead at the roster the team is bringing to Lake Forest.

This time we’re looking at the interior defensive line. Historically a strength of the Bears, this year’s position group gives cause for concern. Many current players on the roster either haven’t played in a 4-3 since college or are not 4-3 defensive linemen.

The most significant signing this offseason was Justin Jones at three-technique after the failed physical of Larry Ogunjobi. Jones fits the mold of the linemen previously mentioned. He’s a 3-4 defensive tackle being asked to play in a 4-3.

Most of the defensive linemen on the roster will have low sack totals and low-pressure rates. It’s a combination of playing interior defensive line and playing in a system where linemen are asked to take on blocks, not penetrate and make disruptive plays.

Let’s look at the interior defensive line heading into training camp.

Justin Jones

AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh

Justin Jones is a 3-4 lineman being asked to play in a 4-3 for the first time since college. Playing in the Los Angeles Chargers 3-4 scheme, Jones had three sacks, five tackles for loss, and two fumble recoveries as a starter in 11 games. Playing in Chicago offers him a chance to play an entire season (17 games) for the first time in his career. But, as of now, the three-technique position seems to be his to lose.

Khyiris Tonga

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Khyiris Tonga is another 3-4 defensive lineman being asked to play in a 4-3. Tonga played well for the Bears in a 3-4 system last year, so it’s hard to know how he will look this year. However, while he’s not a natural one-technique, he’s seemingly the only man for the job.

Angelo Blackson

AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh

Angelo Blackson is a prototypical 3-4 nose guard, so it’s odd to see him still on the roster. He hasn’t played in a 4-3 since he was at Auburn more than seven years ago. Blackson became a key player for the Bears in 2021, playing the most snaps he’s played in his seven-year career. Since the defensive line is a platoon-type position, Blackson should get plenty of snaps despite adding Justin Jones.

Mario Edwards

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While a lot has been made about the addition of Justin Jones as the three-tech, Mario Edwards will play a pivotal role as his backup heading into the season. Edwards has the ability to play both inside and out, but he has an opportunity to be disruptive up the middle. Edwards should see plenty of playing time amid Matt Eberflus’ defensive line rotation, but he needs to reign it in when it comes to penalties.

Mike Pennel

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Mike Pennel is a journeyman defensive lineman. The 31-year-old has been in the NFL since 2014. Before joining the Bears, he played for the Packers, Jets, Chiefs, and Falcons. Three years ago, Mike Pennel was ranked by PFF as a top-5 interior defensive lineman. He’s not a pass rusher but is stout against the run. If Pennel has any gas left in the tank, he’ll push Tonga and Jones for the one and three-technique position. The eight-year veteran could also become a key reserve in both places.

LaCale London

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LaCale London spent the last two years on the practice squad. The former Western Illinois defensive end tackle faces an uphill battle as he’s far down the depth chart. Unless Micah Dew-Treadway unseats him, he seems destined to return to the practice squad.

Micah Dew-Treadway

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Micah Dew-Treadway is an Illinois-native and undrafted free agent. Also, he’s 25 years old and didn’t start at either of the colleges he attended. He’s a Chicagoland kid living out every Chicagoland kid’s dream, but he’s a practice squad player if he’s lucky.

Auzoyah Alufohai

Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

Auzoyah Alufohai was a developmental prospect coming out of college, and he’s yet to find a home in the NFL. He began his career as an undrafted free agent with the Houston Texans and spent 2021 between the Bears and Packers practice squad. It’s hard to see him playing much, and it’s unlikely he makes the final 53-man roster.

Big question: How will this new-look defensive line perform in 2022?

AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh

The defensive line has been a strength for the Bears defense for the last several years. But following an offseason that saw the departures of three starters in Akiem Hicks, Eddie Goldman and Bilal Nichols, there are plenty of concerns about the state of this defensive interior. Justin Jones and Khyiris Tonga project to start at three-tech and one-tech, respectively, although the depth options will also play a key role. Matt Eberflus employs a defensive line rotation to keep fresh legs. Still, it’s hard to be confident about this defensive line heading into the 2022 season. The good news? Eberflus knows how to get the most out of his players, which is encouraging for a defensive interior with much to prove.

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