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Bears’ secondary vs. the ‘trees’ is the best battle in camp

Chicago Bears wide receiver BrandMarshall left runs with ball against cornerback Charles Tillman during NFL football training camp Friday July

Chicago Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall, left, runs with a ball against cornerback Charles Tillman during NFL football training camp Friday, July 26, 2013, at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Ill. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

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Updated: August 4, 2013 10:50PM



BOURBONNAIS — The Bears’ defensive backs are under attack.

They’re dealing with receivers’ long, outstretched arms. Their agility and quickness to box out. Their leaping ability and speed.

They’re getting a good idea during training camp of what the Bears’ new-look offense wants to do to opponents: get after them relentlessly with three big receivers in Brandon Marshall (6-4, 230 pounds) and Alshon Jeffery (6-3, 216) and tight end Martellus Bennett (6-6, 265).

Few teams can throw that many big and mobile targets at a defense at one time. Or as veteran defensive back Kelvin Hayden put it, “We’ve got some trees out there.”

And those “trees” play with an edge, an aggressive bravado that can be infuriating. Take all the scrums with Bennett last week as an example.

“[Bennett’s] a guy that’s maybe 6-4, 6-5. Me being 5-11, there’s a disadvantage right there,” said Hayden, who tussled with Bennett last week. “There’s going to be mismatches come this season.”

Coach Marc Trestman calls his offense one “that’s got to get the right matchups.” Numerous formations, personnel groupings and plenty of motion will be used to get that for Marshall, Jeffery and Bennett. Trestman will force nickel backs, safeties and linebackers to guard them.

“If I’m on the other side of the ball, it’s more about technique than anything else,” Trestman said. “Your techniques have to be perfect to cover a guy like that, and then it’s about a contested throw, getting a hand in and running through him and getting the things done that you have to do fundamentally to get it done.”

The secondary is arguably the Bears’ biggest strength on defense. There are concerns about the depth of the defensive line, and Lance Briggs is the only starting linebacker returning. But the secondary returns Pro Bowl cornerbacks Tim Jennings and Charles Tillman, solid young safeties Chris Conte and Major Wright and veteran Hayden at nickel back.

That’s why what’s happening at training camp is so interesting. Marshall’s arrival last season, the free-agent signing of Bennett, the continuous improvement of Jeffery and Trestman’s system have made the battles in the secondary the best to watch. The Bears’ defense dominated early in camp, but the offense gradually has caught up, making “explosive plays,” as Trestman says, with Bennett, Marshall and Jeffery.

“We’ve got some big dudes out there [with] ‘B’ and Alshon and Martellus in there,” quarterback Jay Cutler said. “You just kind of have to put it up high.”

Add in speedy receiver Earl Bennett when he’s healthy and running back Matt Forte (who will get ample touches), and it’s clear how challenging things can be in one-on-one situations.

“We also feel challenged, so if Brandon makes a great play, I have to make one, it’s my turn. And Alshon’s the same way,” Martellus Bennett said. “So you got three big guys out there not only competing against the defense, we try to out-do each other.”

The Bears’ defensive backs look at their new situation as a positive. Tillman has had success against some big, top-tier receivers, such as the Detroit Lions’ Calvin Johnson, but now every defensive back is getting daily work covering players bigger than them. Bennett’s arrival is key. The Bears weren’t able to get the same looks with tight end Kellen Davis last season.

The Bears will face some big receivers and tight ends — the Cincinnati Bengals’ A.J. Green (6-4, 207) and New Orleans Saints’ Jimmy Graham (6-7, 265 pounds), for example — early this season.

“Having it in practice is the best thing ever because you know what you’re getting every day,” Wright said. “We definitely have size at every position.

“Every team has big guys, [but] it’s not like a shocker [because] we go against it every day in practice. We know we’ll already be prepared for it.”



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