Bears’ defense: Don’t break up the band
BY SEAN JENSEN firstname.lastname@example.org January 5, 2013 12:38AM
With 44 takeaways this season, the Bears’ defense was ranked fifth overall in the NFL (or first overall, according to the Aikman Efficiency Ratings). Members of the tight-knit unit don’t want the coaching change to lead to established assistant coaches an
Updated: February 7, 2013 6:44AM
Bears cornerback Charles Tillman knows the old saying that change is good.
But he’s hoping not — at least as it pertains to the Bears’ defense.
‘‘I’m sure some change is good in my personal life and professional life,” Tillman told the Sun-Times. “But all change isn’t good. I’m speaking defensively. We’ve got a good system and how we run things. I don’t know. We’ll have to see what happens.’’
Tillman insisted he wasn’t speaking of the beleaguered Bears offense.
‘‘I don’t know offense. I can’t comment on the offense,’’ he said. ‘‘That doesn’t affect me.’’
But he’s hopeful the new coach will keep the roster and coaching staff largely intact.
Pro Bowl defensive tackle Henry Melton reiterated that sentiment.
‘‘If it’s not broke, don’t fix it,’’ Melton said. ‘‘We’re definitely one of the top defenses in the league, especially the way we go after the ball.’’
The Bears’ defense ranked fifth overall, eighth against the run and eighth against the pass, one of only five teams to rank in the top 10 in each of those categories. Under Lovie Smith, they were more mindful of the formula developed by Dallas Cowboys Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman. According to the Aikman Efficiency Ratings, the Bears’ defense was No. 1 in the NFL, in large part because of a league-best 44 takeaways.
Last offseason, with Smith entering the second-to-last year of his deal, Bears general manager Phil Emery gave many of the assistants contract extensions through 2013, providing them — and the team — some security. With Smith’s ouster, many of those assistants might want to move on, but the Bears intend to keep them and let the new coach make the final decision.
If Melton and Tillman have their way, the defensive coaches won’t be going anywhere.
‘‘We’ve built considerable relationships with those coaches,’’ Melton said, noting how much defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli and defensive line coach Mike Phair have helped him in his development into a Pro Bowl player.
Defensive backs coach Jon Hoke is widely respected, as is safeties coach Gill Byrd. They’ve helped the development of cornerback Tim Jennings and safeties Major Wright and Chris Conte. For the first time in years, the Bears might not be tempted to draft a safety.
Tillman is hopeful the personnel won’t change, either. The Bears inevitably will add some players, but he doesn’t want a lot of departures.
‘‘In all honestly, I would like our whole defense to come back,’’ he said. ‘‘But I know that’s not a perfect world. That’s just wishful thinking.’’
Emery seemed open to keeping the Bears’ 4-3 base defense intact. But he noted he would consider any changes from the next coach if he had a compelling argument.
‘‘We have 4-3 personnel,’’ Emery said. ‘‘For somebody to move from 4-3 to 3-4, they’re going to have to convince me that we have the players with the skill sets and the body types to move towards that defense.’’
One of those potential square pegs could be Melton.
He’s 26 and slated to become a free agent. The Bears discussed a long-term contract with him during the season but weren’t able to finalize anything.
Melton, who’s listed below 300 pounds, isn’t sure how he’d fit in a 3-4 scheme.
‘‘The way I’ve been used — how I got to the Pro Bowl — was in a 4-3,’’ Melton said. ‘‘I probably wouldn’t be here if a coach comes in and changes to more of a modern-day 3-4. I wouldn’t have as much value in a 3-4 system. It’s not how my skills get used to the max.’’
But Melton relented, noting that, depending on the scheme, he has the athleticism to play inside or outside on the defensive line.
The shock of the season ending and Smith’s firing is dissipating for players.
And despite the obvious struggles of the offense, Tillman insisted the Bears’ failure was a collective one.
‘‘I don’t put it on our offense,’’ Tillman said. ‘‘We didn’t come through as a team. There were some games that we gave away defensively.’’
But in five losses down the stretch, the Bears averaged 11.2 points per game, and the offense ended the season ranked 28th overall. The Bears also were in the bottom six in yards per play (28th), net passing yards (29th) and sacks per pass play (27th).
‘‘It’s a team effort,’’ Tillman said, ‘‘and we came up short.’’