Ellis gets new lease on NFL life

Defensive tackle no longer fit Saints style, but he has type of potential Bears seek

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There were no trumpets or bright lights welcoming the seventh pick of the 2008 draft when he unassumingly walked out to minicamp practice wearing a gray, long-sleeved T-shirt Wednesday.

The expectations for Sedrick Ellis with the Bears are not what they were with the Saints.

But even after five somewhat disappointing seasons in New Orleans, Ellis' promise has not yet reached the end of its shelf life.

There is hope at Halas Hall that the 28-year-old will be a productive player at the very least, and at best something closer to the player he was projected to be when he came out of USC.

The reason for the hope is Ellis fits the Bears defense the way your charger fits your cell phone.

"They allow their guys to do what defensive linemen are supposed to do, and that's rush the passer and get sacks and put pressure on the quarterback while playing the run on the way," he said. "I haven't had the chance to do that the last couple of years, so I'm excited about that."

In his first three seasons with the Saints, Ellis progressed and produced at a modest pace. In 2010, he had three sacks in his first three games, and he generated some early Pro Bowl buzz. He finished with just six.

The Saints defense changed in 2011 from an upfield scheme to more of a read-and-react, two-gap scheme, and Ellis didn't change enough with it.

Instead of a penetrator, Ellis was expected to be a stuffer. He put on weight, getting up to about 320 pounds.

At USC, Ellis is a bit of a legend because he was so strong the school had to purchase 200-pound dumbbells for him to do incline presses. But he never played with that kind of strength.

Ellis, who scouts say always relied on quickness and tended to play high, struggled with the Saints' new assignments. His athleticism — which was his best attribute — was minimized. The situation discouraged him.

"(Those) schemes didn't quite suit my talents and that showed in production," he said.

Ellis now carries 310 pounds on his 6-foot, 1-inch frame and plans to drop another 10 pounds or so before training camp.

"He can excel in a penetrating, up-the-field, attacking defense," Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker said.

With the Bears, Ellis probably will be one of the wave tackles coming off the bench behind starters Henry Melton and Stephen Paea. After the offseason losses of Israel Idonije, Matt Toeaina and Amobi Okoye, the team was lacking depth at the position. So Ellis is a welcome addition.

He will need to play both three technique and nose tackle, but the Bears were attracted to him because of his ability to rush the passer as a three technique.

If he can do that well, Ellis will spend most of his time at that position.

As a result, Ellis said he is "almost guaranteeing" his production will spike.

"A lot of times in the NFL it's not only about how talented you are, but the scheme you play in, the coaches you have, things like that," he said. "It all plays together. Players have to match coaches and schemes."

Motivation should not be an issue for Ellis. He is on a one-year contract, so if he wants another chance at big money, he will have to earn it.

He was passed over during the free-spending phase of free agency, and lasted on the market for nearly three months. And his contract is believed to be worth only a little more than the NFL minimum.

None of that means Ellis can't have significant value to the Bears though.

"It's the right place and right time for him," Tucker said.

dpompei@tribune.com

Twitter @danpompei

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