GM Phil Emery didn't waste time enacting his right to begin overhauling the Chicago Bears from top to bottom after they once again watched other teams in the playoffs. He discarded head coach Lovie Smith after a 10-6 record but a second-straight year out of the postseason. Established veterans like Brian Urlacher were dismissed for reasons ranging from age to health. Free agents were brought in to bolster the roster with some. Draft picks were made to learn under them. New coaches were hired to teach and develop them into pros. So what, in simple terms, has the Bears head man done for 2013? Here's a look at the defensive outlook.
A lot of fans, media and probably front office members hoped Chicago could keep defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli at Halas Hall. His defense was 5th in the league last season, ranking 1st in takeaways, 3rd in points allowed and 8th in both running yards and passing yards allowed. Why would anybody want that kind of production to stop? Sadly Marinelli stayed loyal to his good friend Smith and chose to punch out, leaving Emery with the tall task of replacing him. To do say he knew he needed somebody with experience and credibility. Who he got was Mel Tucker. This hiring surprised some since the Bears were bringing in a man from a team that ranked dead last in defense in 2012. However, Emery is never one to shy away from talent when he sees it. Tucker is a typical embodiment of what the Chicago GM likes. He's versatile, aggressive and experienced. As a former NFL defensive back he has experienced the game up close. The fact he got a chance to learn under renowned coach Romeo Crennel is an added bonus. If that weren't enough he also spent time with college kingpin Nick Saban at both Michigan State and LSU. He has seen defensive greatness first hand. What has held him back, according to most experts is simply never having enough talent to work with.
Jon Hoke is one of two holdovers from the Smith era, having been in Chicago since 2009. As the defensive backs coach he has had success turning Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings into Pro Bowlers, not to mention making safety Chris Harris an All-Pro back in 2010.
Defensive line coach Mike Phair is the other Smith disciple. Having learned from one of the best line teachers in Marinelli, Phair helped the Bears front four notch 37 of the teams 41 sacks in 2012.
Tim Tibesar takes over as linebackers coach, bringing success with him both from the college level and up in Canada.
All in all it is a much younger group than last season and figures to bring more energy to a veteran defense.
What kind of defense has Phil Emery put together. The one word that keeps coming up is speed. Every fan already knows about Julius Peppers, Lance Briggs, Jennings and Tillman. The real questions lay with newcomers like D.J. Williams, James Anderson, Jon Bostic, Khaseem Greene and Cornellius Washington. To understand what they bring to the defense, one must first recall what the Lovie Smith units were about. In simple terms, they were about patience, pursuit and pressure. If they played a Cover-2 based scheme that forced the opponent to work down the field in chunks, sooner or later they would make a mistake, often through turnovers. It was a work of art for a long time, but not without weaknesses.
One thing that became clear at least the past few seasons was the Chicago linebackers were not known for their ability to blitz. Urlacher and Briggs did their best work plugging holes and tackling ball carriers while playing consistent coverage. By the look of things Emery has changed that. One very interesting similarity between Bostic and Greene when they came in was they worked well when asked to rush the quarterback. Bostic had 8.5 sacks in three seasons as a middle linebacker while Greene showcased that ability solely in 2012 with six. Much of that is attributed to their speed. Given how much production Chicago got from the defensive line alone last year, it's hard to imagine what could happen if opposing quarterbacks have to start worrying about the linebackers too. Then you throw in a physical specimen like Cornellius Washington who will takeover as situational pass rusher and suddenly the Bears have speed and athleticism all over the field, in turn granting Tucker and the coaches a green light to get creative.
There is no way to tell if the Chicago Bears defense will play better in 2013. They will have the same scheme and terminology in place, but a lot of the success will fall on how Mel Tucker and his staff call games without Brian Urlacher relaying the checks. If anything is clear about the unit though, it is younger, faster and more athletic than years past. That is something build on.