As unpleasant as any conversation about Ray McDonald may be, there is still a football discussion needing to be had as the Bears must now replace a potentially key part of their defense. There’s no question the Bears made the right call in cutting McDonald. He needed to prove he could stay out of trouble and he didn’t. By releasing him they became a better organization. But they will be a worse team if young players don’t step up because McDonald was going to be the team’s best defensive lineman.
The obvious players to fill the void are second-year linemen Will Sutton and Ego Ferguson, who will now figure to see quite a bit of playing time simply because the team lacks capable bodies on the defensive line.
Much has been made about Sutton’s fit in the Bears new 3-4 scheme but good players find ways to fit. Sutton has roughly the same measurables as Green Bay’s Mike Daniels, one of the better defensive linemen in the league. Like Sutton, Daniels wasn’t part of his team’s original plans. The Packers drafted players like Jerel Worthy in the second round and Datone Jones in the first. Worthy is no longer on the team and Daniels played twice as many snaps as Jones last year.
Ferguson seems to be more of a nose tackle, but the Bears have said they’re planning on moving him around. They seem to prefer him to Sutton, but he’s so raw, it’s hard to see him being able to rush the passer. Neither Sutton nor Ferguson have arms that measure even 33 inches, which is considered a prerequisite for that position in this scheme. With McDonald out of the way, both of the Bears young defensive tackles have a chance — and the talent — to break the mold.
The wildcard will be Cornelius Washington. Many have projected Washington as a linebacker in Fangio’s defense but he possesses the desired strength and length to play with his hand in the dirt. If he were to put on about ten pounds, he could be an ideal fit, even while his role does not take advantage of his physical gifts.
There has been some conversation of Lamarr Houston playing the 5-tech position, but it doesn’t fit his skill set. What makes the great 5-techs so great is their ability to crash into double teams and hold up. Houston was a good run defender because he set the edge, his ability to take on two gaps is questionable. Jarvis Jenkins is the fallback option. The Bears already know what the free agent signee can do, and it isn’t special. The Redskins gave him up without a fight and the Bears signed him knowing he would be adequate and nothing more.
McDonald’s mistake could be a blessing in disguise. While Ferguson, Sutton and Washington may not have been the team’s first choice to play the position, there is no question they have potential. If one of the Bears young players steps up, they’ll be better off now and in the future. If they don’t, the Bears defense will be in for another rough season.