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Bears’ D-line hitting jackpot with mix of stars and subs

Defensive ends Julius Peppers (left) SheMcClellbring down Rams quarterback Sam Bradford.  |  Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

Defensive ends Julius Peppers (left) and Shea McClellin bring down Rams quarterback Sam Bradford.  |  Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Player Plays/poss. sacks pressures hurries knockdowns stuffs

Julius Peppers 224/308 (72.7%) 2½ 6 2 4 1

Henry Melton 221/308 (71.8%) 4½ 6 0 6 1½

Stephen Paea 196/308 (63.6%) ½ 4 2 2 1

Israel Idonije 193/308 (62.7%) 2½ 5 2 3 1

Shea McClellin 146/308 (47.4%) 2 7 3 4 0

Corey Wootton 131/308 (42.5%) 3 8 3 5 0

Updated: November 22, 2012 6:44AM

Bears defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli walks with a distinct gait, his upper half slightly hunched over, his lower half hardly smooth.

He isn’t physically imposing like offensive coordinator Mike Tice, and he’s prone to rattle off clichés and eye-rolling one-liners.

But at Halas Hall, Marinelli is Yoda, commanding respect with his deep football knowledge and instilling in his players a mind-set reminiscent of Pee-Wee players, not professional ones.

‘‘It makes a world of difference,’’ veteran defensive end Israel Idonije said of Marinelli’s influence. ‘‘He’s a sharp guy, and he really helps you understand the game and how to read the offense. He’s the first coach that I’ve had that’s had that attention to detail.’’

The Bears’ defensive line — the unit Marinelli works closely with — is functioning the way coach Lovie Smith has been hoping for since his arrival and powering a defense that’s ranked third in yardage allowed and tied for first in takeaways.

The line boasts one of the most proven defensive stars, Julius Peppers, and one of the pre-eminent emerging ones, Henry Melton. Just as important, it boasts depth, rotating in an array of pass rushers with a wide range of skills and physical assets.

Six different linemen have played at least 40 percent of the Bears’ 308 defensive snaps, none more than Peppers, who has played in 72.7 percent. That has kept players fresh and ensured the challenging part of the work week isn’t on game days.

‘‘We’re fighting for playing time every week,’’ said defensive end Corey Wootton, who has three sacks. ‘‘You just have to come out to practice and show what you can do.’’

Wootton pointed to some of the inactive players who are hungry for playing time, such as defensive tackle Nate Collins and defensive end Cheta Ozougwu, who earned his roster spot with a strong preseason.

The starting lineup has been the same the last four games: Peppers and Idonije outside and Melton and Stephen Paea inside.

Melton and Peppers consistently command the most attention from offenses, but the unit has gotten difference-making plays from backups, most notably Wootton, rookie end Shea McClellin and veteran tackle Amobi Okoye.

The most significant sign of respect comes from Peppers, who isn’t resistant to stepping off the field.

‘‘I feel fresher,’’ Peppers said. ‘‘Coming out of the game more than I have in the past here. We have guys developing, so I feel more comfortable coming out of the game.’’

Marinelli isn’t dictatorial about snaps, going by feel and empowering the players to sub one another out.

‘‘The biggest thing I tell them, ‘If you get winded out there, come off,’ ” Marinelli said. ‘‘I don’t want guys playing tired.’’

Marinelli pointed to Wootton in the game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, when the Bears had a sluggish first half. As the Jaguars were in field-goal range late in the second quarter, Wootton crashed into quarterback Blaine Gabbert and forced a fumble that Peppers recovered.

‘‘Corey was fresh,’’ Marinelli said, ‘‘and he was playing at a different pace.’’

Always looking to push the right buttons, though, Marinelli stressed the importance of players such as Collins, veteran tackle Matt Toeaina and Ozougwu keeping the proper perspective.

‘‘They know that it’s their responsibility as professionals to keep their game at an ‘A’ level because you never know during the year if something happens, they have to step up and they have to play at the same standard,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s like the backup quarterback; you never notice him until he’s not prepared.’’

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