Bears will rely on veterans to turn around defense
BY ADAM L. JAHNS Staff Reporter July 24, 2014 9:57PM
Updated: August 26, 2014 6:42AM
BOURBONNAIS — Out with the old and in with the . . . old?
General manager Phil Emery’s retooled defense hasn’t exactly fallen in line with his stated goal of establishing a younger roster. It has been almost the exact opposite.
Emery’s list of offseason signings and extensions could make for a defense with seven starters who are 30 or older.
Defensive end Jared Allen and defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff are 32. Cornerbacks Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings are 33 and 30, respectively. Safety Adrian Wilson is 34, and linebacker D.J. Williams is 31.
It’s not exactly the youth movement many expected.
With training-camp practices beginning Friday, it’s apparent the success of the Bears’ defense in 2014 will be defined by its veterans, led by linebacker Lance Briggs, 33.
There are reasons to be excited about linebacker Jon Bostic’s second season, Shea McClellin’s move to linebacker and such rookies as cornerback Kyle Fuller, safety Brock Vereen and defensive tackle Will Sutton.
But the Bears’ best chance to find balance between coach Marc Trestman’s high-flying offense that returns every starter and a defense coming up from rock-bottom is through experience. And the Bears have a lot of it — proud veterans who understand what’s required to rebound, regardless of scheme changes.
Briggs and Co. won’t be overwhelmed by the pressure of keeping up with Trestman’s prolific offense. They won’t be bewildered by the changes coordinator Mel Tucker is instituting.
Thinking that the Bears’ defense might be good because of the veterans isn’t a crazy concept. There are a combined 25 Pro Bowl selections among Briggs, Tillman, Allen, Jennings, Ratliff and Wilson.
Fast turnarounds also happen. The Saints allowed the most yards in NFL history in 2012. Last season, they finished fourth in total defense.
“We are on the grind of wanting to get back to being a great defense — what the Chicago Bears are known for,” Tillman said. “We want to get back to that life and to that habit. I’m excited about it.”
The additions of veterans such as Allen have resonated with Briggs and Tillman. It has alleviated any concerns they might have had about the supposed rebuilding going on around them.
An underlying storyline of the 2014 season is that this could be the last hurrah for Tillman and Briggs with the Bears. Tillman re-signed for one year, and Briggs is in the last season of a three-year extension.
Thanks to all of Emery’s moves, Tillman and Briggs, two of the best players in team history, get to go down fighting with players of the same ilk.
“It’s good to have more vets, like good vets, true vets,” Tillman said. “Jared is one of those old-school vets. . . . You lose a guy like Julius [Peppers], another great guy. He was a good guy around the locker room. But Jared does a good job of filling that void in his own Jared Allen kind of way.”
Of course, age could equal more injuries. Briggs, Tillman, Ratliff, Wilson and Williams have had lengthy injuries in recent seasons.
Still, the excitement brewing among the defensive veterans is unmistakable. Wilson said Tillman, Briggs and Allen reached out to him immediately after he signed, so he’s “ready to roll” during training camp.
“[It’s] pretty exciting, man,” Wilson said. “We can really have something special here.”
Of course, Wilson’s safety position remains one of most competitive at camp. There also are spots to be had at linebacker, and the defensive-line depth needs to be sorted out.
The young will push the old. But the old will still lead the way.
“We have a lot of [veteran] guys who know what it takes to win and be successful,” said former Raiders defensive end Lamarr Houston, considered a young starter at 27.
“That’s going to help us and give us an advantage in our competitive edge every week. I’m excited about being around a group of guys who are older and mature and ready to take on a season as a whole.”