As training camp gets underway this coming weekend in Bourbonnais, we began to look at major story lines impacting the Chicago Bears in each phase of the game. In the first installment, I covered the top three stories on offense. Naturally, this installment will involve their defense, one that achieved a great deal of success in the 2018 season.
And there is certainly plenty to talk about here...
A pair of key players were lost, the chief architect of that historic unit earned a long-overdue promotion elsewhere, and a few critical battles will be observed both in the trenches and in their secondary.
Of course, one story tops them all.
Chuck Pagano takes over for Vic Fangio with a new take on defensive philosophies
Yes, the Bears have a new defensive coordinator in town. Yes, I and many others will definitely miss having Vic Fangio as a member of the Bears’ staff. Yes, not a single transition will ever be seamless.
No, I’m not expecting any sort of downfall. Nor should any of us. Enough with the disrespect.
Just because a highly successful coach leaves town, does not mean their successor won’t be able to duplicate, if not improve on their success. Chuck Pagano has done this once before, when he took over an already elite Baltimore Ravens defense previously coached by Greg Mattison, and maintained their elite status during the 2011 season. The Ravens finished 3rd in scoring defense for both 2010 and 2011.
Pagano brings his aggressive mindset to an elite squad that has 10 of their 11 primary starters returning, in good health mind you. Khalil Mack will still crush gameplans on offense, Akiem Hicks and Eddie Goldman will continue to wreck shop in the interior, Danny Trevathan and Roquan Smith are still backing up that line, and the Bears maintain their no-fly zone with Kyle Fuller, Prince Amukamara, and Eddie Jackson.
As mentioned earlier, success is never guaranteed to anyone. The challenge is on Chuck to ensure there is no disappointment experienced on this defense. I’m confident he’s up for the challenge.
New faces have arrived to help enforce the no-fly zone in Chicago’s secondary
Meanwhile, a pair of additions have been made to fortify the Bears’ secondary after the loss of both Bryce Callahan and Adrian Amos in free agency. Out with Callahan and Amos, and in with Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Darryl Frank “Buster” Skrine Jr. Both veterans have a respectable amount of experience at safety and nickel, respectively.
“Buster” landed a rather sizeable contract with the Chicago Bears at 3-years and up to $16.6 million. Barring any unforeseen circumstances, he’ll likely be the guy at nickel for at least the 2019 season. I am one of the skeptics of this signing. His 9 interceptions in 8 seasons and tendency to blow assignments has me doubting his contributions; however, head coach Matt Nagy seems to be high on this player.
#Bears coach Matt Nagy in October on nickel back Buster Skrine, who is now expected to be signed: "He’s one of the better nickels in this league, if not the best. I mean, he’s good. He’s a good nickel in there."— Adam Jahns (@adamjahns) March 11, 2019
It remains to be seen what Skrine can do for the Bears. If he does have anything going for him, it’s his aggressiveness in coverage. That aggressiveness should be a fit for what Pagano is looking to add into his coverage concepts. With all of that in mind, do not be surprised if the Bears eventually mix in some of the younger DBs in potential dime packages and to compete for playing time on defense.
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, on the other hand, looks to be a possible “splash” signing for the Bears.
The former 2016 pro bowler was given a raw deal last season, as a change in scheme and philosophies eventually forced Green Bay to trade him to the Washington Redskins right before the trade deadline. He’s a productive upgrade in comparison to Adrian Amos, and the Bears’ front office conceded that Clinton-Dix had a higher grade in their offseason scouting report.
If even just one of these players perform at a respectable level, this defense will be the most stacked unit in the league. Something tells me once Clinton-Dix is fully off the PUP list, he’ll be a huge addition when paired with Eddie Jackson.
Bilal Nichols vs. Roy Robertson-Harris for the starting job at 5-tech
Consider this my favorite non-kicker position battle heading into camp. Ah, to heck with it, this is my favorite potential battle. Period.
In a position that was once considered a weakness just a couple seasons ago, Chicago has now been blessed with an absurd amount of talent-enriched depth. Two players have emerged as contenders for the end position adjacent from Akiem Hicks: Bilal Nichols, and Roy Robertson-Harris. And, truthfully, both of these players will see plenty of snaps in the 2019 season.
Bilal is a late round gem unearthed from last year’s draft class who’s developed faster than most had previously anticipated. In 2018, he recorded 6 starts, and had three sacks to go with 5 tackles for loss and 7 QB hits. He started in 5 of the final 6 games to close out the 2018 regular season.
RRH, where he did not record a single start last season, did match Nichols in sacks with 3 of his own and registered more QB hits with 11. The converted outside linebacker has been a great find as an undrafted free agent, and will put some heat on Nichols to continue their growth.
As it stands, I’m giving a slight edge to Nichols. That could easily change as training camp unfolds. Both of these players are worthy of the starting job.
Plenty more remains to be unseen on defense. Per the usual, we’ll pass along more stories once they emerge during camp.