The Chicago Bears have a big task ahead of them in 2014. Can their defense recover from the disaster of last season?
Jared Allen and Lance Briggs headline veteran core
Chicago Bears Hall of Fame defensive end Doug Atkins said once that he was surprised so many coaches kept saying they needed more young players on the field. “Young, young, young,” as he put it. “It’s good to be young. But I was heck of a lot better football player at 39 than I was 23.” In simpler terms what Atkins was saying was there is great value in having veteran players on a team and this latest incarnation of the Bears defense has taken that to heart.
Of the 11 projected starters at this point in the off-season, six of them will be 30 or older. Headlining that group are All-Pro names like Jared Allen and Lance Briggs, who bring not only talent but leadership to the table. It can be argued they might not have the spring in their legs they used to, but thanks to their experience they can overcome such deficiencies. The same can be said for other Pro Bowl talents like Jeremiah Ratliff, Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings. While their long-term security is negligible, if that group stays healthy the Bears are in good shape for 2014 at least.
Will Sutton and Kyle Fuller represent young and talented depth
The real promise of the Chicago Bears is what they have cooking deeper on their depth chart. Any NFL enthusiast will say the key to making a deep playoff run is having good depth in place behind the starters and it seems the Bears have set themselves up perfectly. Rookie 1st round pick Kyle Fuller settles in as the third body behind Tillman and Jennings at corner. Fellow rookies Ego Ferguson and Will Sutton do the same at defensive tackle. Depending on what happens at linebacker, Chicago could end up having any combination of Jon Bostic, Khaseem Greene and Shea McClellin waiting in reserve as well.
That is a lot of young, athletic talent to have on the sideline in case of emergencies and also presents a terrific base for building for the future, something GM Phil Emery vowed he would do when he took over the team in 2012.
Mel Tucker has much more experience on his staff to help
Perhaps the most underrated key to the defensive turnaround in Chicago rests with their coaching staff. Defensive coordinator Mel Tucker was under a lot of heat after his unit finished 30th overall in the league and dead last against the run and in sacks. After long deliberation, head coach Marc Trestman decided that it was not Tucker but a lack of experience on his support staff that contributed to the disaster. So Paul Pasqualoni was brought in to coach the defensive line and Reggie Herring came in to take over the linebackers.
Collectively they bring 12 years of pro coaching experience with them, not even counting multiple decades of seasoning in the college ranks. They are both well-versed in what they do and bring disciplined, no-nonsense approaches to their craft. That is exactly what Tucker and Trestman have in mind. They want a tougher defense in 2014. If the talent rises to the occasion, the Chicago Bears will fulfill that goal.