Hub Arkush: Where is Bears' D-Line now?

Chicago Bears defensive end Shea McClellin (99) hits Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) during in the second quarter of an NFL football game in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Sept. 22, 2013. Roethlisberger escaped the tackle. The Steelers lost 40-23. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar) (Gene J. Puskar)

How is at that, at 3-0, these Bears seem to be generating as many questions as they are answers? Losing a Pro Bowler on your defensive line will do that to you.

Much of the focus after the Bears' first practice since their 40-23 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers was how they will replace Henry Melton on a defensive front that was already struggling.

"Keep getting better, work the technique and do what we're supposed to do. We're never going to leave it up to just one guy or one position or call. We're going to keep working hard together, trust in the defense and get the job done."

That was Mel Tucker talking about how the Bears will overcome the loss of Melton. Tucker said of Nate Colins, who will move into Melton's three-technique spot, "He's a high-effort guy, high-energy guy, stout with a relentless mentality. He's a guy who plays with good pad level, has a chip on his shoulder and I really like him."

None of what Tucker has to say is surprising, considering that Collins has been seeing regular playing time in a three-man rotation with Melton and Stephen Paea at the two tackle spots. Collins has probably been the Bears' most effective defensive linemen this season.

But who will be the backup three-technique and how are the Bears going to get more production out of all four D-line spots?

I asked Marc Trestman on Monday, after the Steelers win, if he was satisfied with the production the team is getting out of Julius Peppers. He said he hadn't had the chance to study the Steelers tape yet to answer the question.

When I asked Tucker Wednesday how Peppers graded out against the Steelers, he responded, "In terms of individual grades, I like to leave those in house. But overall, I feel good about what he did in the game. We got more pressure this week than we did the week before and the week before that. We're still asking for more with all those guys, we're asking them to play faster and be more physical."

While there's no arguing with Tucker's assessment, the Bears' pressure on the quarterback in the Steelers game was the best it's been all year. There's also no arguing it all came on blitzes.

The bottom line is that, according to the Bears' own stats sheet, Peppers, Corey Wootton and Shea McClellin are each credited with just two quarterback pressures apiece over three games. Wootton has one sack, McClellin has half a sack and Peppers has none.

There are no answers on the bench. Each of those three must play better, and there may not be any answers on the bench to backing up Collins, either.

Much of the talk about filling that role involved sliding either Peppers or Wootton inside. Peppers has done it before and Wootton has already been lining up inside next to Melton in pass rush situations.

Trestman said of Peppers at the three-technique: "He's an explosive guy, he's extremely agile and he can bend and get low. We had him inside at training camp and, for a lot of the reasons that we may be able to do it now it's because we've had work at it. We had a plan to move people around in training camp for unfortunate situations that happen so it's certainly a possibility he could see some work there."

Perhaps Peppers will rediscover himself inside, but here's what we know. The more the Bears blitz, the more they pressure their own secondary and with "Peanut" Tillman banged up at cornerback, that's a risky proposition against a Lions team averaging 340 passing yards a game.

With New Orleans coming up after the Lions, the Bears have to have more from their front four, whoever's on the field, and wherever they line up.

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