Bears will go as far as defense takes them
BY HUB ARKUSH August 27, 2013 9:28PM
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Updated: August 28, 2013 11:50AM
With all of the hubbub (I had to try to use that word) surrounding the “new” offense, it’s time we reminded ourselves that the 2013 Bears will go as far as their defense takes them.
The additions of Marc Trestman, Jermon Bushrod and Martellus Bennett and the maturation of Alshon Jeffery have made the offense significantly better. Obviously, we can’t predict whether Jay Cutler will take care of the football, and the Bears are dangerously thin at quarterback and wide receiver and on the offensive line.
But if the offense stays healthy, it’ll be the best we’ve seen in Chicago since 1995.
Ask yourself this about the defense, though: At which position is it more talented than last year or recent seasons?
Are the Bears improved over last year or even as good at left defensive end with a choice of Corey Wootton or Shea McClellin over the departed Israel Idonije? Izzy was the Bears’ second-leading pass rusher last season with 7½ sacks — only Julius Peppers had more with 11½ — and was arguably their best defensive lineman against the run.
Wootton could be the Bears’ breakout player this year, but he hasn’t done it yet. He did have seven sacks last season, while McClellin had only 2½ and has yet to offer any real evidence he will be more of a factor this year.
Where will Idonije’s lost production come from?
Nate Collins has had a nice preseason filling in for the concussed Henry Melton. But the cupboard is so bare at defensive tackle after Collins that it appears undrafted rookie free agent Zach Minter will be the choice as the fourth tackle.
Be as excited as you like about rookie middle linebacker Jon Bostic. But are the Bears actually better with Bostic in place of Brian Urlacher, and Lance Briggs forced to do Urlacher’s job as well as his own?
James Anderson has been fine at Nick Roach’s strong-side linebacker spot, but he’s not an upgrade and still has plenty to prove.
Now, let’s peek into the secondary, which NFL quarterbacks are going to be doing all season long. Major Wright and Chris Conte are fine at safety against the run. We’ve known that for a while. But will they be better against the pass?
The lack of depth in the defensive backfield is really disconcerting. The loss of Kelvin Hayden for the season leaves the untested Isaiah Frey at nickel back, and behind the first five, there’s really no one to feel good about should one of the frontliners get nicked.
Asked what is left to do heading into the last preseason game, defensive coordinator Mel Tucker said, “Everything. We’re a work in progress, and we talk about getting better every day. It’s a constant push to try to get better individually and as a unit. We’re constantly trying to get better because if you don’t do that, you’re going to be in trouble.”
To be clear, Tucker wasn’t predicting trouble or expressing concern. His answer was basically coach-speak, but the words could not have rung any more true.
The 49ers, Seahawks, Packers, Falcons, Saints, Redskins and Giants are going to boast offenses capable of scoring points by the bushel. As improved as the Bears might be on offense, will they be favored in a point-scoring matchup over any of them?
Of that group, only San Francisco and Seattle should be clearly better than the Bears on defense.
The good news in Chicago these days is that, finally, the defense won’t be asked to get the job done alone. There’s no bad news yet, but the question is, will the defense still be able to make sure the job gets done?
Hub Arkush covers the Bears for Shaw Media and HubArkush.com. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.