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Newcomers welcome pressure as Bears’ ‘D’ digs deeper

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Updated: October 29, 2013 10:22PM



Being the ‘‘next man up’’ the Bears are always referencing these days isn’t a heavy burden, according to defensive tackles Zach Minter and Landon Cohen and defensive end David Bass. They’d rather call it an opportunity.

‘‘Most people say with responsibilities you may get stressed, but for the most part, that’s what we signed up for,’’ Bass said. ‘‘We’re going to take it in with open arms.’’

The Bears, struggling up front, can only hope those arms take down Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers at Lambeau Field on Monday night.

A viable pass rush can make a world of difference on numerous levels, but the Bears haven’t had one — their nine sacks are the fewest in the league.

And rarely, if ever, is the “next man up” better than the man he’s replacing.

Their hopes up front rest on Julius Peppers and Shea McClellin recovering from a disappointing first seven games, Corey Wootton continuing to handle his unnatural three-technique tackle duties well and Stephen Paea regaining his early-season form after being slowed by turf toe.

But success also involves finding ways to maximize Minter (an undrafted rookie), Bass (a waived draft pick of the Oakland Raiders) and Cohen (a Dallas Cowboys castoff).

‘‘I’m not going to say you feel so pressured [as a coach],’’ assistant defensive line coach Michael Sinclair said. ‘‘Our mentality is, ‘The next guy up.’ Now we’ve got to do everything we can as a coaching staff to help the next guy that’s up.’’

One positive is that for Minter and Bass, the ceiling is still far off. They caught the Bears’ attention with their speed and explosiveness, but as rookies, they still require time and reps to refine their fundamentals, Sinclair said.

‘‘We’ve lost some experience with Nate [Collins] and Henry [Melton] and Paea down for a little bit,’’ Sinclair said. ‘‘We’ve had to sort of grow up kind of fast. The time is now.’’

Sinclair, a three-time Pro Bowl defensive lineman with the Seattle Seahawks, said the same applies to McClellin.

‘‘You have to think this is still his second year,’’ Sinclair said. “It’s still the same in getting him better in his fundamentals, getting him better in his technique. But he’s a darn good football player.”

Bass and Minter said they feel they have developed since Week  1, but each rattles off a number of things he wants to improve.

‘‘Everything . . . my get-off, my steps, my hands, my pad level,’’ said Bass, whose snaps have increased every game since his Week  5 debut.

‘‘I look at it as I’ve still got a lot to learn,’’ Minter said. ‘‘I still have a lot of experiences I have to get under my belt.’’

General manager Phil Emery said Cohen, a five-year veteran with six career starts, has ‘‘added positively’’ to the Bears while Minter and Bass have shown promise.

‘‘We have to grow our own players,’’ Emery said before Tuesday’s trade deadline. ‘‘And right now the players that we see on our squad are better than the players that we can bring in, in terms of either street free agency, other practice squads and/or trades that don’t make sense for the Bears.’’

Minter said they’ll take the pressure that comes with it.

‘‘I feel like I can step up to that,’’ he said. ‘‘I feel a lot of us can play a lot better. I feel like we can step up to that.’’

Email: ajahns@suntimes.com

Twitter: @adamjahns



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