Bears sticking with 4-3, but it won’t be that simple
BY PATRICK FINLEY Staff Reporter February 18, 2014 9:57PM
Chicago Bear Lance Briggs celebrate with the defense during the home opener at Soldier Field, September 8, 2013. | Jessica Koscielniak / Chicago Sun-Times
Updated: March 20, 2014 6:50AM
If Florida State defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan is available to the Bears with the 14th pick in the NFL draft, Mike Mayock knows exactly what he’d do.
‘‘I think you’d sprint to the podium,’’ NFL Network’s draft guru said Tuesday.
The Bears’ confirmation Tuesday that they’re keeping a 4-3 base defensive front — while reserving the right to be unpredictable — makes the second-team All-American, already a popular target for the Bears among mock drafters, an even better match at this week’s NFL combine.
That the Bears have stayed loyal to the 4-3 after the worst defensive season in franchise history doesn’t preclude creativity, however.
Mel Tucker, in his first public comments since being retained as defensive coordinator, told the team-run website the Bears want to ‘‘be able to pressure with four guys.’’ However, Tucker — who general manager Phil Emery said will benefit from the offseason addition of veteran assistants Paul Pasqualoni and Reggie Herring — said the Bears want to be ‘‘dynamic” and “unpredictable.’’
Having a stand-up outside rusher— hello, Shea McClellin? — might still be a possibility in certain down-and-distance packages. Coach Marc Trestman has said since the season ended that the Bears need to tailor their scheme to their players — though they aren’t sure who those defensive linemen will be yet.
Free agency, which begins March 11, will shape the team long before the draft. The Bears have three defensive tackles — Henry Melton, Nate Collins and Jeremiah Ratliff — who could walk. So could free agent Corey Wootton, a defensive end/tackle who had arthroscopic hip surgery Jan. 7.
Defensive end Julius Peppers, whose effectiveness last season was inversely proportional to his onerous contract, could be a salary-cap casualty.
The Bears, then, are looking to add pass rushers both in free agency and — after combine evaluations that start Thursday in Indianapolis — the draft.
Problem is, so is everyone else.
Missouri’s Kony Ealy wouldn’t be a reach at No. 14, Mayock said. The draftnik listed the 6-4, 275-pounder as his second-best defensive end prospect, behind South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney.
He compared Ealy to former Missouri end Aldon Smith, though admitted he’s ‘‘not quite as athletic’’ as the San Francisco 49ers star.
‘‘I think [Ealy] is a little more physical, a little better against the run,’’ he said.
Jernigan is Mayock’s second-best defensive tackle, behind Notre Dame’s Louis Nix III, but he said the two ‘‘couldn’t be more different.’’
The Bears’ commitment to the 4-3 fits the 6-1, 295-pound Jernigan. He can play the three-technique defensive tackle spot, while Nix profiles better as a nose tackle in a 3-4 scheme.
‘‘I think Jernigan can step in and be special early,’’ Mayock said.
So could Minnesota’s Ra’Shede Hageman, a former basketball player and converted tight end whom Mayock praised for his ‘‘freakish’’ athleticism but docked for inconsistency. On some plays, he said, Hageman looks like a top-15 pick.
Aaron Donald, Pitt’s undersized three-technique tackle, isn’t regarded highly enough to go in the middle of the first round and is probably too good to last until the Bears’ second-round pick.
If the Bears seek versatility in their defensive ends — Mayock referenced McClellin, who is converting to outside linebacker, as an example — they could turn to Auburn’s Dee Ford or Stanford’s Trent Murphy in the second round or later.
The ability to rush and cover is key against spread offenses, Mayock said, but also against the oh-so-popular three-tight-end sets. In the huddle, defenses aren’t sure whether all three will block or line up for passes.
‘‘It’s a different world as an edge defender in today’s NFL,’’ he said.
The Bears will embrace it — even if they’re still calling it a 4-3.