In defense of Mel Tucker’s Bears defense ...
BY ADAM L. JAHNS Staff Reporter November 13, 2013 10:04PM
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Updated: November 14, 2013 12:30PM
Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker’s practices have changed. Time devoted to individual work with position coaches has increased. Fundamentals work is incessant. And drills that tediously go over keys and reads have intensified.
That’s what happens when numerous starters and veterans are lost with injuries and so many rookies and inexperienced players are counted upon.
“[We’re] working on techniques and fundamentals and key drills and things like that because that’s really the foundation to play the game,” Tucker said.
Tucker has found himself in the crosshairs for the Bears’ defensive struggles this season. The plan was to keep things — the language, the scheme — as similar as possible after a historically good 2012 campaign.
Now, more than halfway into the season, the Bears rank 26th in total defense, 31st in rushing defense and 23rd in passing defense. Their only saving grace is their plus-8 turnover differential.
“We expect them to play better,” Tucker said.
But in all fairness, playing the hand that Tucker’s been dealt would be tough for Lovie Smith, Rod Marinelli or anyone.
The attrition — a stream of injuries that’s included defensive backs Charles Tillman and Kelvin Hayden, defensive tackles Henry Melton, Nate Collins and Stephen Paea, linebackers Lance Briggs and D.J. Williams and defensive end Shea McClellin — is seemingly never-ending. It all has to be considered when judging Tucker.
The Bears went 9-17 when linebacker Brian Urlacher — the leader of all things Lovie — was out with injuries. Now, the Bears are looking at their first game without Briggs (fractured shoulder) and Tillman (torn triceps) since Sept. 30, 2007. It’s the only game the Bears have been without both players since they were drafted together in 2003.
Coach Marc Trestman said Tucker has done “an amazing job.”
“He has been consistent with the guys in terms of his passion, the way he’s teaching,” Trestman said. “He’s a positive guy. I thought, as I talked to the team on Monday, our defense played well enough for us to win [Sunday against Detroit] under unusual circumstances because of the situation of having so many players out that gave our team a chance to win.
“That starts with Mel, and our staff getting the guys ready, continuing to work with them to try and improve. Are we where we want to be? No. We’re always trying to get better. But he’s done an outstanding job in the classroom.”
Tucker has rookies such as Jon Bostic, Khaseem Greene and David Bass to teach and inexperience to overcome.
“It’s all hands on deck,” Tucker said. “It’s not the same group of guys that we started with in training camp. It’s a different set of guys. It’s a different group. But the expectation hasn’t changed from our perspective.”
But like practice, the game plans have.
“You want to make sure that you can get over from the meetings to the practice to the games,” Tucker said.
There’s a balance between overloading first- and second-year players and being prepared for all the looks offenses present.
“We factor in how much practice time we have relative to the volume of what feel we need to go into the game,” Tucker said. “We have to be able to function at a high level against multiple fronts.”
Tucker knows his defense has deficiencies. Their pass rush lacks consistency, they continuously have problems reading opponents’ run games and their poor tackling has been unforgivable.
But he won’t reflect on bad injury luck.
“There’s really no time for that,” Tucker said. “It’s not productive or effective right now to spend time reflecting on who we don’t have and why. It’s just not going to help us prepare.”