Bears need DTs, but whom they pick will depend on their scheme
By Patrick Finley Staff Reporter January 23, 2014 10:49PM
Updated: February 25, 2014 6:36AM
MOBILE, Ala. — Aaron Donald invoked the Patron Saint of Undersized Defensive Tackles.
“That’s an easy question,” the Pittsburgh DT said when asked during Senior Bowl week to compare himself to a current NFL player. “Geno Atkins, man.”
The Bengals defensive tackle might be the league’s best three-technique player.
In a 4-3 defense, Atkins lines up on a guard’s outside shoulder and bowling-balls his way through the line. His bulkier defensive tackle teammate, playing the nose, lines up over the center’s opposite shoulder, holding the line.
In college, the 6-foot, 288-pound Donald was Geno East, which, at first blush, would make him a great fit in the land of Gino’s East.
The Bears need defensive linemen, and particularly, defensive tackles. Three of the team’s four rotational players are set to become free agents, and two — Henry Melton and Nate Collins — are coming off knee surgery.
But the Bears might be seeking more than a prototypical three-technique player.
While the team has yet to make any declarative statements about its defensive scheme, its coaching hires, made official by the team Thursday, speak volumes.
New defensive line coach Paul Pasqualoni and linebackers coach Reggie Herring have extensive experience running a 3-4, which features a bulky nose tackle, two defensive ends and four linebackers.
They ran the scheme together in Dallas in 2010. Jeremiah Ratliff, the Bears’ third eligible-free-agent defensive tackle, was so dominant that year that the nose tackle earned a $40 million contract extension the next fall.
If the Bears decide to use a 3-4 — or if defensive coordinator Mel Tucker, who has 3-4 experience, mixes its elements into a hybrid attack — they would seek bulkier defensive tackles capable of playing the nose.
Mock draftniks have linked the Bears to Timmy Jernigan, who, at 6-2, 292 pounds, anchored champion Florida State’s 3-4 defense at nose tackle.
An undersized three-technique player — even one as good as Donald, who dominated Senior Bowl practices this week — might not fit.
Donald self-identified as a three-technique tackle in a 4-3; while he played the 3-4 nose as a sophomore, that’s not his likely NFL destination.
“The NFL these days, they have different nickel packages and dime,” 6-6, 318-pound Minnesota alum Ra’Shede Hageman said this week. “A D-tackle that’s able to be diverse and be able to play the nose or the three.”
The all-Big Ten player, who some project as a first-round pick, was used in a 4-3 last season but profiles better than Donald as a 3-4 nose tackle.
Arizona State’s Will Sutton, a three-technique player, watched the Bears all season knowing they “need” defensive line help.
“There’s a bunch of ‘three-techs’ who can play the end, who can go and play the nose,” said Sutton, who weighed in at 315 pounds this week, 1 1/2 years after starting his junior season at 280. “It’s just a matter of whether teams really want to use the three-technique or they want to use them somewhere else.”
Donald said that there are “different players who fit different schemes.”
Once the Bears settle on the latter, the former will get clearer.