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Bears Need Production From Young Ends

The business of football marches on in the wake of Gaines Adams’ tragic death Sunday.

That means the Bears will soon start making plans to replace a player they hoped would make a major impact on what has been a mediocre defensive line of late.

It means Alex Brown, Jarron Gilbert, Henry Milton and Mark Anderson are going to have to play a lot better next season or the Bears are going to be in trouble.

Coach Lovie Smith and general manager Jerry Angelo keep insisting that this core group of players will perform better even while continuing to play in the same system. It’s a tough sell, especially after the Bears have gone 23-25 since Super Bowl XLI.

Well, now more than ever is their chance to prove it, especially on defense, because without a first- or second-round pick it will be difficult to greatly improve the roster.

All trades are final in the NFL, just so you know. The Bears sent a second-round draft pick to the Buccaneers in October in return for Adams, who was first defensive player (fourth overall) in the 2007 draft. Although the NFL has certain rules regarding tragedies, and this certainly qualifies — Adams was 26 and appeared to be a picture of health — there is no rule that would allow Angelo to reclaim the second-round draft pick or receive a compensatory pick.

Going the free agent route is a possibility. Julius Peppers would be a great addition, but would also cost a fortune and is now over 30. He has also indicated that he would like to remain with Carolina. Stealing Aaron Kampman or Johnny Jolly from the Packers makes sense, although Kampman is damaged goods after tearing his ACL late in the season and Jolly is more of a tackle. Kyle Vanden Bosch isn’t as disruptive as he was earlier in his career but might also be a fit.

They could even bring back Adewale Ogunleye, who is an unrestricted free agent and therefore able to sign with any team. He had six sacks before breaking his leg in the third-to-last game of the season, which trailed only Brown’s 7.5. Ogunleye is a good guy and clubhouse leader, but will be 33 next season and the defensive line has failed to generate a consistent rush with he and Brown as fixtures at the end positions during the past three seasons.

Ogunleye said his chances of coming back were “50-50,” which might have been generous before Adams’ passing.

Melton was a fourth round pick who moved from running back to defensive end while at Texas. He spent his entire rookie season on injured reserve and remains an unknown. Gilbert is an athletically gifted but raw player who saw only a little playing time at the end of the season.

Israel Idonije can play end but played tackle almost exclusively last season and had his best year.

Anderson remains an enigma. He had 12 sacks as a rookie in 2006 but has only 9.5 since. New defensive line coach Rod Marinelli was supposed to light a fire under Anderson, and in some ways he did. Anderson had his best season since his rookie year, but that’s not saying much since the guy vanished in 2007 and ’08.

A restricted free agent, Anderson is expected to return to the Bears next season.

Even if the Bears are able to land a big name defensive end in free agency, they’re still going to need players on the current roster to greatly improve if they hope to generate the kind of pass rush that can make Smith’s cover-two scheme work.