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Bears 2022 position preview: Defensive line

Bears defensive end Trevis Gipson
Bears defensive end Trevis Gipson

The following is the sixth of nine position previews in advance of training camp.

With the Bears switching from a 3-4 to a 4-3 defense, their defensive line will feature a more traditional alignment this year, with two ends and two tackles, including a three-technique.

Emerging third-year pro Trevis Gipson moves from outside linebacker to defensive end, the position he played at Tulsa.

"It's actually more comfortable for me," Gipson said during the offseason. "I can get off faster with my hand in the dirt. In a two-point [stance], I'm looking around, there's a bunch of movement in the backfield. I can create more explosion when I have a hand in the dirt, getting off in third down or whatever the case is."

Gipson blossomed last year, especially after Khalil Mack sustained a season-ending foot injury. The 2020 fifth-round pick appeared in 16 games with nine starts, registering 39 tackles, 7.0 sacks, seven tackles-for-loss, five forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and two pass breakups. He excelled down the stretch, recording four of his seven sacks in the final five games and three of his five forced fumbles in the last two contests.

"It boosted my confidence a good amount," Gipson said. "I started gaining more confidence. I started becoming more comfortable in my play, my strengths and weaknesses, knowing what I need to use best."

Like Gipson, veteran Robert Quinn also moves from outside linebacker to defensive end. The 12th-year pro set a single-season Bears record with 18.5 sacks last year. But after skipping the entire offseason program—including a mandatory minicamp—his future with the team is unclear.

Key defensive linemen set to return in 2022 include Angelo Blackson, Mario Edwards Jr. and Khyiris Tonga.

Blackson signed with the Bears last year after spending his first six NFL seasons with the Titans (2015-16), Texans (2017-19) and Cardinals (2020). He appeared in all 17 games with eight starts, registering 42 tackles, 1.5 sacks, two tackles-for-loss and one interception.

Edwards has played in 27 games with one start the past two seasons with the Bears, recording 25 tackles, 6.0 sacks and seven tackles-for-loss. He arrived in Chicago in 2020 after spending his first five NFL seasons with the Raiders (2015-17), Giants (2018) and Saints (2019).

Selected by the Bears in the seventh round of the 2021 draft out of BYU, Tonga appeared in 15 games with two starts as a rookie last year, compiling 21 tackles, one tackle-for-loss and one fumble recovery.

The Bears bolstered their defensive line this offseason by signing veterans Justin Jones and Al-Quadin Muhammad and choosing Dominique Robinson in the fifth round of the draft out of Miami (Ohio).

Jones, a defensive tackle, was selected by the Chargers in the third round of the 2018 draft out of North Carolina State. He played in 51 games with 35 starts the past four seasons, recording 63 tackles, 4.5 sacks, 12 tackles-for-loss, two pass breakups, two fumble recoveries and one forced fumble.

After appearing in 15 games as a rookie, all as a reserve, in 2018, Jones opened 35 of the 36 games he played over the past three seasons. Last year the 6-3, 309-pounder established career highs with 37 tackles and 3.0 sacks and matched a career high with five tackles-for-loss.

"Justin is a big, physical and long interior player that can cause disruption in both the run and the pass," general manager Ryan Poles said after signing Jones to a two-year contract.

Muhammad, a defensive end, spent the last four seasons playing on a Colts defense that was coordinated by first-year Bears coach Matt Eberflus.

The 6-4, 250-pounder appeared in 64 games with 25 starts for Indianapolis, registering 124 tackles, 11.0 sacks, 22 tackles-for-loss, three forced fumbles and one fumble recovery. Last season was Muhammad's first as a regular starter; he opened all 17 games and compiled career highs with 48 tackles and 6.0 sacks while also amassing seven tackles-for-loss.

"Quan represents the play style coach Eberflus wants our entire team to have," Poles said after signing Muhammad to a two-year deal. "His motor and desire to affect the game stands out."

Robinson, a defensive end, arrived at Miami as a quarterback, switched to receiver as a freshman in 2017 and was moved to defensive end as a senior in 2020. Last season the 6-5, 253-pounder registered 28 tackles, 6.5 tackles-for-loss and 2.5 sacks while playing in 12 games.

The Bears are intrigued by Robinson's athleticism and potential as a pass rusher.

"Anytime you can rush the passer, that's a trait that you can hang your hat on," area scout Brendan Rehor said after the draft. "That's a trait we look for. You can never have too many pass rushers, and this kid can do that.

"The athlete stands out. There's only upside with this kid, which is what we're betting on and what we invested in. The athlete himself, the frame, he's a lean dude. He started as an offensive player … but there's only upside with this kid. There's only athletic ability. There's a lot of stuff to work with with him."

Other defensive linemen who will compete for roster spots in training camp include Sam Kamara, Charles Snowden, LaCale London, Auzoyah Alufohai, Mike Pennel Jr. and undrafted rookies Micah Dew-Treadway and Carson Taylor.