Last season the Bears defense was undone by injuries. The decimated defensive line was trotting out rookies and players who just did not have the ability to make an impact. Their linebackers lacked experience and it showed. Their safeties were a joke.
The only position where the Bears got satisfactory play out of their back up was at quarterback, where Josh McCown arguably played better than their starter.
Way back in January of 2013, when Marc Trestman was hired to coach the Bears, general manager Phil Emery cited specific criteria that Trestman met that made him the right hire. One of those was adaptability (full statement starts at 9:17 mark of this video)
Emery tells a story from their interview when Marc asked Emery what his draft philosophy was: best player available or best player who fits their scheme? Emery answered best player available period.
He [Marc] said 'Good, if I'm the head football coach, let's do that because I can take those players...we'll take their skill sets and adapt what they do best so that we can win.
One of the great stories I have from [Montreal Alouettes GM] Jim Popp... is that people don't realize how good Marc is at this. Last year they lost their top running back, they lost their top receivers. It came down to their best players on their roster were their tight ends so what did Marc do? He adapted to the circumstances, he put three TEs in a game, he moved the ball and he won games.
Adaptability did not come through on defense last year though. The Bears struggled through a difficult and injury-riddled season with the same schemes that continued to flounder.
However, I believe that early in camp we're seeing Trestman's adaptability showing through. One year in and Trestman has learned. I believe that he will be a better in-game coach this year and improve on some of the poor decisions he made last year. He also, I think, is showing that he's improved upon his roster depth issues.
First, the depth has been replenished by Emery. Signing a guy like Willie Young to pay third fiddle behind Lamarr Houston and Jared Allen was a stroke of genius. Not only has the team figured out ways to get all three on the field at the same time but if one of them needs a breather or, worse yet, misses a game, the Bears have a third pass-rusher to throw out there. At safety the Bears have added a number of veterans at the position to bolster depth as well as breed a competition.
Secondly though, throughout the first seven practices of camp the Bears have used a number of different ways to get guys starting reps. Whether it's been through injury, with Kyle Long and Matt Slauson missing time, giving starting reps to back ups like Eben Britton, Brian de la Puente and Michael Ola or through just shaking up the line ups.
I wrote on Monday what those reps mean for Jay Cutler but roster-wide it's nice to have players shuffling in and out and getting live reps with as many different players as possible. Mental reps are overrated and back up players, especially young ones, can't get better without live repetitions against good players. It's one thing to think about sacking the quarterback, it's a whole other to work on your new swim move against the starting tackle.
The Bears will be in a much better place to handle injuries this season, theoretically, because the players will have more experience and more reps, and everyone on the roster should be more familiar with all the players around them.
Trestman's adaptability should help the Bears win more games this season.