The emergence of Corey Wootton in his third season and addition of Shea McClellin as the Bears' first-round draft pick allowed the team finally to lighten the workload for Julius Peppers.

The Pro Bowl defensive end participated in 74.5 percent of the team's plays, according to NFL statistics provided to the Tribune, his lowest figure in three seasons with the club. Keeping Peppers fresh — he played 82.1 percent of the snaps in 2011 and 87.9 in 2010 — helped him remain effective throughout the season. The difference from 2010 to 2012 is 129 defensive snaps — roughly eight per game.

Peppers turned 33 earlier this month. His 111/2 sacks were his most for the Bears and his highest production since a career-best 141/2 in 2008. He tied a career-high with three sacks in the Week 16 victory at Arizona and had 11/2 in a Week 15 loss to the Packers. Peppers had three sacks in the final four games of 2011 but only one in the final four regular-season games in 2010 and the Bears tried to use their linemen in waves under former coach Lovie Smith.

The presence of McClellin as a third end filled a long-term void. McClellin played in 34.7 percent of the snaps, recording 21/2 sacks. But the Bears got tremendous production from Wootton, who placed third on the team with seven sacks playing only 54.5 percent of the snaps. The Bears finished with 41 sacks, eighth in the NFL and tying for the most in nine seasons under Smith.

Wootton took over the starting job at left end for the final five games from Israel Idonije, who played in 67.7 percent of plays, his lowest figure since 2009. Idonije produced 71/2 sacks, the most since his career-high eight in 2010. The 32-year-old is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent and has expressed a desire to return. He was versatile at the end of the season, moving back inside to play some tackle.