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Bears veterans showing their age at the worst time

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Updated: November 23, 2013 6:35AM



It’s the nightmare scenario that has loomed over the proud Bears defense for years.

Linebackers Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs took great joy in disproving the notion that the defense was getting too old. But with Briggs out for four to six weeks with a fractured shoulder and the Bears now 25th in the NFL in total defense after allowing 499 yards and 38 points to the Washington Redskins in a 45-41 loss Sunday, the worst-case scenario looks more real every day: The old guys are only getting older, while the young guys aren’t getting any better.

Urlacher is out of the NFL at 35. Briggs, while playing at a Pro Bowl level, will celebrate his 33rd birthday on Nov. 12 on the sidelines after hurting his shoulder in the third quarter against the Redskins. Cornerback Charles Tillman, 32, is week-to-week with knee inflammation that flared up, forcing him to miss most of the fourth quarter after he failed to defend Robert Griffin III’s 45-yard touchdown pass to Aldrick Robinson.

And 33-year-old defensive end Julius Peppers, with no apparent injury, is not the same player who came into this season with 111 1/2 sacks in 11 NFL seasons. Peppers has one sack in seven games. He had five at this point last season.

Briggs’ injury looms even larger than quarterback Jay Cutler’s torn groin muscle. Briggs was by far the Bears’ best defensive player. He had two more tackles-for-loss Sunday to give him 10 for the season — second-best in the NFL.

‘‘We’re losing a great leader in Lance,’’ coach Marc Trestman said. ‘‘We’re going to have to work very, very hard to recover, but that doesn’t say we can’t. It’s been done before. We’ve got time to work through it, and there’s no reason why we can’t be confident we can rally around that position [and] find a way to win games.’’

Briggs arguably was the player the Bears could least afford to lose, and now he’ll miss three games or more. Typifying the Bears’ quandary on defense, Trestman did not know who would take Briggs’ place. Rookie Khaseem Greene is a likely candidate. But Greene wasn’t even good enough to be Briggs’ backup. Blake Costanzo replaced Briggs against the Redskins. How ready could he be?

Still unsolved with Briggs’ absence is the issue of calling defensive signals. Rookie Jon Bostic or veteran James Anderson will get the job. But it remains to be seen if it will even make a difference.

So now what? The Bears are hoping for the best. The defense looks like it needs an overhaul. But the Bears believe a little spit-and-polish will do the trick.

‘‘It really comes down to fundamentals and techniques,’’ Trestman said. ‘‘Not an improvement in scheme. Not an improvement in structure. Just being in the right place at the right time and doing the right thing with the fundamentals that we’ve been taught.’’

‘‘We need to improve our assignments, our discipline and our fundamentals,’’ general manager Phil Emery said. ‘‘If we do those things, we’ll play better defense. We’ll rush the passer better. We’ll have more stops.’’

We’ll see about that. Emery has built up a lot of well-earned trust since becoming general manager. But he’s not seeing the same Shea McClellin and Peppers that the rest of us are. Now, with injuries taking a larger toll, we’ll get a better idea of just how well he’s doing.

Email: mpotash@suntimes.com

Twitter: @MarkPotash



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