Bears’ defense will be focus as OTAs get underway
BY ADAM L. JAHNS Staff Reporter May 26, 2014 10:08PM
Updated: May 27, 2014 9:41AM
Coordinator Mel Tucker’s vision for a new-look Bears defense — the vision that kept him in Chicago — hits the field this week at Halas Hall.
Much like coach Marc Trestman did with the offense a year ago, Tucker must put his stamp on the defense after an awful 2013 season and an offseason full of personnel changes. He has said there will be some ‘‘significant changes’’ coming to the defense after a decade spent in the same system.
‘‘We’re really going to work to lay the foundation on our base principles and techniques [during organized team activities],’’ Tucker said. ‘‘[It] will allow us to do pretty much anything we want to do down the road.’’
With defensive changes in mind, here’s what we’ll be watching during OTAs, which start Tuesday:
The new coaches
Linebackers coach Reggie Herring, line coach Paul Pasqualoni and assistant line coach Clint Hurtt will be important for a defense that wants to feature multiple looks.
Herring, Pasqualoni and Hurtt also bring a different demeanor. It took only one day at rookie minicamp to notice their no-nonsense, in-your-face styles.
Tucker also is counting on their overall experience. Pasqualoni, for instance, was Syracuse head coach from 1991 to 2004 and still sounds like a man in charge. His predecessor, Mike Phair, was a former scout before joining Lovie Smith’s staff.
‘‘At the top level here, where the best compete, the success is measured in inches,’’ Tucker said. ‘‘So when you have experienced coaching, experienced staff, that can
often times help define the winning edge.’’
The linebacker battle
The best competition will be at linebacker between veteran D.J. Williams, second-year linebacker Jon Bostic and end-turned-backer Shea McClellin (who is wearing No. 50).
McClellin has a lot to prove, but the 2012 first-rounder can also do something the others can’t: rush the passer.
Williams, Bostic and McClellin may actually be competing for one spot when it comes to frequent playing time. Rookie cornerback Kyle Fuller is expected to have an important role, especially in today’s pass-happy NFL.
“We’re going to blend them, coach them fundamentally, see where they fit the best in this scheme and then let the dog lie with them on who is the most productive and consistent,” Herring said.
Linebacker Lance Briggs may be the defense’s leader, but it has a new voice after the signing of defensive end Jared Allen.
Adding Allen, who averaged more than 14 sacks per season during his six-year run with the Vikings, was a statement move by general manager Phil Emery. The four-time All-Pro end changes the dynamic of the locker room.
‘‘He’s got a great blend of energy, almost a boyish love for the game and maturity,’’ Emery said. ‘‘Any locker room can use that and the Chicago Bears certainly can use that.’’
The front line
There’s so much to watch with the Bears having 15 defensive linemen currently on their roster.
How will Tucker and Pasqualoni use Lamarr Houston, their versatile free-agent prize? Can rookie tackles Will Sutton and Ego Ferguson steal snaps from veterans Jeremiah Ratliff, Stephen Paea and Nate Collins?
Some of the linemen, including veteran Israel Idonije and 2012 sixth-round pick Cornelius Washington, are squarely on the bubble with OTAs opening.
Safety Chris Conte will sit out OTAs after shoulder surgery, but he still has a spot, considering he has the most starting experiences of any safety.
That said, Conte’s starting job is up for grabs. Veteran Ryan Mundy should entrench himself at strong safety, leaving M.D. Jennings and rookie Brock Vereen to get abundant work at free safety.
“I’m just trying to show my speed and, hopefully, that I can pick up the concepts quick,” Vereen said.