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Bears’ plan: Younger defense, with 3-4 possible later

Updated: February 5, 2014 6:06AM



As fascinating as a change to a 3-4 defense might be after years of Lovie Smith’s Tampa-2, the Bears’ brain trust — general manager Phil Emery and coach Marc Trestman — made no promises that it would happen.

What they’ve promised is that the Bears’ defense will see an influx of youth, whether in expanded roles for second- and third-year players or bolstering through the draft. The youth, ultimately, will decide whether a schematic change is best.

‘‘I think if we draft heavily towards defense, we’re going to have a younger defensive team, given that we brought in two young linebackers [Jon Bostic and Khaseem Greene] and a defensive end [Cornelius Washington] this year — given that we picked up [defensive end] David Bass as an extra draft choice, for want of a better word,’’ Emery said. ‘‘A lot of the depth players that we have right now are young, so given that, with the draft, depending on who we sign as [an unrestricted free agent], we’re not going to necessarily go after an older player. We may. [Defensive tackle] Jeremiah Ratliff played well for us, and we certainly want to entertain that discussion with him. So there will be a blend, but our overall age as a defense will be younger.’’

This is where it gets intriguing. Bass said this season that the Oakland Raiders originally drafted him to be a 3-4 outside linebacker. Ratliff was a Pro Bowl nose tackle in the Dallas Cowboys’ 3-4 defense.

Bostic played in a hybrid defense at Florida that he compared to what the Seattle Seahawks and New England Patriots run. Greene played linebacker in a system at Rutgers that mimicked some 3-4 alignments.

Even more com­pelling is that Trestman and Emery have indicated defensive end Shea McClellin may switch to linebacker.

Emery also suggested free agent Corey Wootton, who played defensive tackle and end because of all the injuries this season, could fit into a 3-4 as ‘‘a guy that transcends scheme for us.’’ Emery said he expects to continue contract talks with the 26-year-old.

So where does this leave the cover-2 staples — cornerback Charles Tillman (a free agent) and defensive end Julius Peppers (under contract for two more years)? Or linebacker Lance Briggs, the leader of the defense? Or even linebacker D.J. Williams, who played in a 3-4 defense in Denver and whom Emery commended for what he contributed in limited play this season?

‘‘We’re going to have to draft to get younger,’’ Emery said. ‘‘It doesn’t have anything to do with Tillman, Williams or Lance Briggs.’’

But Peppers is at a precarious point with the Bears. He has a cap hit over $18 million next season, and his 2013 performance wasn’t worth such a commitment. Emery said Peppers remains under contract and that he’s proud he’s a Bear but added, ‘‘We will work through each and every player on our squad to determine where we’re going with him.’’

Whatever happens, veteran cornerback Tim Jennings, with a new four-year deal, will be part of it. He wouldn’t object to being part of 3-4 defense or something similar.

‘‘It’s definitely something we could handle, if he can just get the right guys in the system,’’ Jennings said. ‘‘They’ve got a plan about it, and they want me to be a part of it.’’

Although a youth movement may lead to the departures of some long-time teammates, Jennings understands the realities of free agency and what happens after down seasons.

‘‘I definitely don’t think it’ll hurt,’’ he said. ‘‘This is a franchise that would like to continue to grow and make some improvement. I think you have to get younger. You can’t be like a mid-30s veteran team. You have to bring guys in there to get the job done and to be able to carry that legacy for a long period of time.’’

Email: ajahns@suntimes.com

Twitter: @adamjahns



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