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New top-secret Bears defense is no joke

Bears Training Camp Digest — Day 3
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Updated: August 29, 2014 1:15PM

BOURBONNAIS — Getting any information about the details of ­defensive coordinator Mel Tucker’s scheme changes is like pulling teeth strapped with braces. Tucker’s playbook seemingly has ‘‘Top Secret’’ stamped on it.

There are polite refusals.

‘‘I don’t want to get into any scheme things,’’ defensive backs coach Jon Hoke said. ‘‘There are a few subtle things, but nothing elaborate.’’

And there are jokes.

‘‘What have we changed?’’ linebackers coach Reggie Herring said. ‘‘Somebody gave you some bad info. A little wacky weed involved?’’

Still, everyone knows the changes are real, although not everyone can see them. Only so much can be gleaned during open practices and as we get deeper into the ­preseason, things will be adjusted in the secrecy of Halas Hall.

Last year, the Bears toyed with what they called a Joker position (an upright interior lineman) during organized team activities and camp, but rarely featured it during the season.

“We’ve dedicated quite a bit of time to some of the new things, but it’s been in really good proportion,” Tucker said Sunday at Olivet Nazarene University. “The installs have gone smoothly, where we’re getting enough reps at the things we’re putting in.”

One basic premise has emerged: the linebackers will have the ­freedom to play instinctively. To do that, different techniques up front will be used more often.

In the simplest terms, defensive tackles will be required to control blockers instead of always ­maintaining assigned single gaps.

Recall that defensive tackle Ego Ferguson was drafted with idea of being a two-technique tackle, which plays over and controls a guard. General manager Phil Emery said the massive Ferguson “controlled the front” at LSU.

“Just the way we play now is less penetration and more of no linemen can touch the linebackers,” said ­defensive tackle Stephen Paea, who remains ahead of Ferguson on the depth chart.

“If all three of the linebackers make the Pro Bowl, that means our line is doing great things. That’s our goal. That’s how we’ll get better ­defensively and that’s how we’ll win a championship.”

Because of his changes, Tucker said handwork is “a big point of ­emphasis” and that he’s pleased with the first three practices.

“There will be penetration, but it will also press blocks with our ‘D’ line when necessary,” Tucker said. “But there is still get off in the front and there’s still penetration. They’re still playing fast.

“We want those guys to be ­instinctive linebackers. Up front is going to allow those guys to do that and they’re going to work together.”

Second-year linebacker Jon Bostic has likened the changes to the hybrid defense he starred in at Florida, saying he’s “a lot more comfortable” this season.

“I’m back to playing football the way I’ve always been taught to play,” he said. “So I’ll be able to play a lot faster than I did in the past.”

Of course, Bostic, Lance Briggs, D.J. Williams and Shea McClellin only will succeed if those in front of them do. A certain type of personnel is required and the Bears believe they have it with Jared Allen, Lamarr Houston, Willie Young, Jeremiah Ratliff, Nate Collins, Paea, Will Sutton and Ferguson.

“It’s a good mix,” Tucker said.

Defensive line coach Paul Pasqualoni said Ratliff and ­Allen are on track for “really good chemistry” and that Paea is “a solid guy” who is “doing a great job.”

Houston, meanwhile, has emerged as a headliner early in camp, frequently roughing up ­offensive tackles and guards.

“We can play Lamarr both ­inside and outside,” Pasqualoni said. “That’s the flexibility. He’s very versatile. That’s the beauty.”

A line featuring Houston at tackle with Ratliff and Young at end opposite Allen has given the offense fits.

“We’re basically in the 4-3,” Pasqualoni said. “They’ve been in the 4-3 here. The Monsters of the Midway made the thing famous. That’s who we are.”

Tucker said there’s “some new language, some new calls” with his defense, but that the integration of it, especially with Briggs, has been better than smooth.

“We’ve been at this since April 15 or whatever,” Tucker said. “So at this point, they know what it is. [Training camp] is actually review for us in a lot of ways in terms of what we’ve installed.”

Considering the personnel ­upgrades, it seems unlikely that the defense is in store for a repeat of their disastrous 2013 season, especially if the injuries don’t mount.

But Tucker will be judged by how well his changes work.

“The things that we’re doing and the changes we’ve made are for a reason,” Tucker said.

Contributing: Patrick Finley, Mark Potash


Twitter: @adamjahns

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