Breaking franchise records for the worst run defense was not what the Chicago Bears had in mind in 2013. Not only have their off-season moves hinted at improvement, but it might be beyond even their expectations.
Lamarr Houston and Ego Ferguson bring size and power up front
GM Phil Emery is nothing if not a pragmatic man. Unlike others in his position around the league, when there is a problem with his team he is the first to put it out in the open. He doesn’t pretend like it doesn’t exist. Emery was rather frank when he said the run defense needed to be fixed following last season when the Chicago Bears gave up a franchise record 161 yards per game. Such horrific play was brought about by several factors, but most notably a series of injuries to the defensive line. So the Bears went about their off-season with the clear goal of getting bigger and stronger up front.
Their first major signing in free agency was defensive end Lamarr Houston. At 300 lbs he has plenty of size for his position but carries it with surprising quickness and speed. This allowed him to frequently shut off opposing running lanes. In fact he was the 5th rated end overall against the run in the league in 2013. Another significant addition that will join him is defensive tackle Ego Ferguson. The Bears’ 2nd round pick in the May draft comes in with a lot of questions about his development as a complete tackle, but very few question his ability to stop the run. With him and his 315 lbs frame in the middle, LSU fielded the 9th ranked run defense in 2013.
Shea McClellin and Jon Bostic offer speed and range
Everything starts up front of course but great run defense goes beyond the trenches too. It also takes linebackers who can tackle. Lance Briggs and D.J. Williams, when healthy are two proven veterans in that department. The interesting part heading into the new season is Chicago may have even more help waiting in the wings. Part of being a successful run defender is not just being strong but also having speed and range. The two most prominent names competing at strong side linebacker, Shea McClellin and Jon Bostic, have that in spades. New linebackers coach Reggie Herring, who coached talents like Brian Cushing and DeMarcus Ware, sees loads of potential in both players and it’s because of that speed and athleticism. There is scarcely a running back they can’t catch and that means minimizing big runs, which will only help the defense further.
Ryan Mundy brings physicality and discipline at safety
At the same time great run defense also gets a helping hand from the back end, particularly the strong safety who frequently drops into the tackle box to help. In this case it will likely be recent free agent pickup Ryan Mundy. The Chicago Bears added the 29-year old because they liked his physicality and discipline when taking angles to the ball carrier. Mundy has starting experience but spent much of his career in reserve behind names like Troy Polamalu and Antrel Rolle. He might be serviceable at best in coverage, but he has shown capability around the line of scrimmage, making 77 tackles last season.
What is the common thread? By all accounts the Chicago Bears are bigger, stronger, faster and tougher from the defensive line back. Every single one of those traits are needed to field a top run defense. Worst-to-first might sound ambitious, but it’s no longer impossible.