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Bears confident defense will be better when games count

Updated: October 3, 2014 6:26AM



Hold your fire.

After a miserable 2013 season and an unimpressive 2014 preseason, the Bears’ defense is in the crosshairs of fans, media and other dubious critics. And rightfully so. The Bears finally have an NFL-quality offense that should strike fear in even the best opponents. If the defense sabotages a playoff berth again, defensive coordinator Mel Tucker, coach Marc Trestman and general manager Phil Emery will pay the price — in varying degrees of scorn and punishment — when the dust settles in January.

But let’s wait until we see exactly what they are before pulling the trigger. There’s hope for this defense yet, if it can stay healthy.

“There’s always concern,” Pro Bowl cornerback Tim Jennings said. “But we’re going to have our guys hyped up, ready to go. It’s a full game. We’re not going to play just a quarter here, two quarters there. We’re going to play a whole 60 minutes of football. So this first one is a good test to see where we’re at.”

The notion that “we’ll be there when the bell rings” usually is reserved for much better defenses than the Bears were last year. This team hasn’t earned the benefit of the doubt. The safety and linebacker quandaries appear to be as problematic this season as last. Nothing cornerback Charles Tillman or linebacker/restaurateur Lance Briggs did in the preseason inspired confidence. Jennings at nickel back is a big question mark. On third-and-anything, we’ll close our eyes and hope for the best.

But the straw they’re grasping at is a good one. When you have a defensive line, you have a chance. And in an uneven preseason, the first-team defensive line was a strength — by the eye test and Pro Football Focus ratings, for whatever they’re worth. And the great Jared Allen played only 29 snaps. It’s enough to persuade the Bears that despite the trepidation outside of Halas Hall, they’ll be able to turn it on against the Buffalo Bills on Sunday at Soldier Field and prove that this defense is indeed better than it looked in the preseason.

Trestman, more hands-on with the defense this year than last, is confident it will be better in the regular season than it was in the preseason. But he also was careful not to set the bar too high. It’s a work in progress from the start.

“I don’t feel that trepidation,” Trestman said. “The whole defense wasn’t together at one time during [the preseason]. We’re going to have to come together. It’s going to be a process working together, getting to know each other, how each other works.

“But the talent level’s there. We think the talent level is in a place where we’ve got a chance to get better and improve every week. And that’s what we’re going to try and do.”

The heat is on Tillman and Briggs to be as good as they’ve been and stay healthy. It’s on the coaching staff to get much more out of safety Chris Conte and linebackers Jon Bostic and Shea McClellin and turn rookies into contributors: cornerback Kyle Fuller, defensive tackles Ego Ferguson and Will Sutton and safety Brock Vereen.

And Allen can make all their jobs easier by being himself. The five-time Pro Bowl defensive end cruised through the preseason games. The Bears are expecting a lot from him in the regular season.

“Major impact,” Trestman said. “We brought him here to make a difference in our team. He’s worked his tail off throughout training camp. We’re excited to see him play.”

Aren’t we all. Allen needs to be at his manic best from the start of the season. If not, it could be open ­season on the defense in 2014. No offense to Emery, Trestman, ­Tucker & Co., but we’ve all ­renewed our permits.

Email: mpotash@suntimes.com

Twitter: @MarkPotash



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