SUNDAY PLAYBOOK: Bears aren’t changing defense, but Mel Tucker will add a few twists
BY ADAM L. JAHNS firstname.lastname@example.org | @adamjahns September 8, 2013 12:38AM
Defensive coordinator Mel Tucker already has experimented with the ‘‘Jack’’ position and made frequent use of the blitz against the Raiders. | Andrew A. Nelles/Sun-Times Media
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Updated: October 10, 2013 6:18AM
Everyone knows the Bears’ offense operates differently now. But how much will the defense change?
Since defensive coordinator Mel Tucker joined coach Marc Trestman’s staff, the discussion has largely been about how things will remain the same — that while there may be some new wrinkles, the base concepts, responsibilities and even the terminology of former coach Lovie Smith’s defense will go unchanged.
But might those wrinkles change the defense? Might they end up defining it in a way?
Trestman is expecting and even encouraging Tucker to add his own twists. Just as Trestman didn’t show much of his offensive plans this preseason, the same can be said about Tucker.
‘‘We don’t carry a whole lot into the preseason games,’’ Tucker said.
But training camp and the preseason did provide some glimpses of what may be coming. Tucker has incorporated the ‘‘Jack’’ position, which entails using an upright interior defensive lineman to rush the passer or drop in coverage. Henry Melton and Stephen Paea both tried it at training camp.
Then there were all the blitzes against the Oakland Raiders. Cornerback Charles Tillman had a sack coming off the edge against the Raiders, which is significant because he only has two in 10 seasons.
Defensive players have been less revealing than their offensive counterparts when asked about some of the changes Tucker is installing. They compliment Tucker for adjusting to them and appreciate his decision to keep things the same and to learn their scheme.
But the benefit of having a defense that knows its scheme so well is that it makes it easier to add new elements. So look out for them against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday.
‘‘We do what we need to do within the game,’’ Tucker said. ‘‘We’ll play the type of game we feel we need to play.’’
Don’t be surprised if that includes more blitzes.
Tucker is an accomplished coordinator and is considered head coach material. He has experience running 3-4 and 4-3 defenses and succeeding with rosters that aren’t filled with stars like the Bears’. The Jacksonville Jaguars’ defense ranked sixth in 2011 under Tucker after being 28th the year before.
This Bears’ roster is the best Tucker has been handed, especially with three possible Hall of Famers in defensive end Julius Peppers, linebacker Lance Briggs and cornerback Charles Tillman.
Tucker will tell you it takes certain types of players to execute blitzes. And the Bears seemingly have them.
‘‘It’s all about who is doing it,’’ Tucker said. ‘‘It all looks good on the board, but you really have to ask yourself, ‘Who is doing what? Who is doing the blitzing? Who is doing the movement? When we create ones-on-ones, can we win?’
‘‘Every team is different, and certain pressures are different because you’ve got different guys coming. That’s the first thing we try to evaluate — ‘Is this effective?’ I know it looks good on the board, but it is effective on the field? And usually the effectiveness starts with who is doing it.’’
With defensive tackle Geno Atkins eating up offensive linemen and wide receiver A.J. Green being a highlight-reel machine, it often goes unnoticed that the Cincinnati Bengals’ real strength is special teams.
Cornerback Adam ‘‘Pacman’’ Jones and receiver Ben Tate are big, aggressive return threats. Jones has five career touchdowns on punt returns, while Tate is averaging 30.5 yards on his kickoff returns.
‘‘They’ve got great speed,’’ DeCamillis said. ‘‘They’ve got excellent returners. Both Pacman and Tate are both excellent returners.
‘‘The field-goal kicker [Mike Nugent] is a real solid guy and the punter [Kevin Huber] is a real solid guy. They’ve got good speed all the way throughout. Darrin Simmons is the coach and does a great job, so it’s going to be a heck of a challenge for us coming right out of the gate.’’
DeCamillis’ special-teams units will feature a number of rookies, including linebackers Jon Bostic and Khaseem Greene and undrafted running back Michael Ford.
Meanwhile, the Bears have their own star returner in Devin Hester.
‘‘You’ve got to make sure that [Hester] gets the right amount of work, and practice was a huge emphasis for us, getting as many catches as we could and trying to get the looks he’s going to get in the game,’’ DeCamillis said.
‘‘I’m encouraged going in. I know we got a heck of a challenge because we’re playing a really good group for sure.’’
UNSUNG SPOTLIGHT: Defensive tackle Nate Collins
The four-year veteran seemingly has found a home with the Bears. He’s their third defensive tackle and will get plenty of snaps against the Cincinnati Bengals, especially with Henry Melton working his way back after his concussion.
The rotation of the defensive line is an essential part of the Bears’ success, and Collins played like a starter in the preseason.
‘‘I’m just happy I’m taking strides,’’ he said. ‘‘With this injury situation with Henry going down for a few weeks, it has given me the opportunity to get more reps in there with the starters, and it was just an opportunity I had to try to take advantage of — I think it helped out. But it’s only the preseason. I’ve got to keep producing once the season starts.’’
Fans shouldn’t be too worried about receiver Earl Bennett not having a grasp of the Bears’ new offense after being sidelined so long with a concussion. He found a way to learn.
‘‘I wasn’t supposed to look at my iPad, but, you know, I just stayed abreast of what they were installing,’’ Bennett said. ‘‘I knew each and every day that we were installing something new. I definitely didn’t want to get left behind. So I had to peek in there for at least five to 10 minutes.’’
The Bengals’ two tight ends, 6-5 Jermaine Gresham (right) and 6-6 rookie Tyler Eifert, will create matchup problems. But this is nothing new for the Bears’ linebackers and secondary. They’ve worked against 6-6 Martellus Bennett, 6-4 Brandon Marshall and 6-3 Alshon Jeffery on a daily basis since camp opened and they were the fiercest battles during practice.
The Bears have to find a way to neutralize Bengals star receiver A.J. Green. Cornerback Charles Tillman has limited Detroit Lions star Calvin Johnson in the past and should get the call again. But the Bengals will move Green around to shake Tillman.
Nickel back Isaiah Frey, who will make his NFL debut, seems eager for the test.
‘‘He moves everywhere,’’ Frey said of Green. ‘‘I’ve been waiting for this since last year.’’