Bears defense reaching much-needed comfort points


Bears defense reaching much-needed comfort points

The biggest single reason for dismal predictions for the 2015 Bears are the questions hanging over the defense. Either the perspective is from the rearview mirror, using the 2013-14 seasons as the frame of reference, or from a cracked crystal ball looking into a future that starts with a complete defensive change to a 3-4 scheme.

The past was an abomination and the future is an unknown of epic proportions.

Saturday’s scrimmage, however, while still just a practice and still involving players very familiar with each other, was at least a tiny hint that the Bears defensively may be nowhere near as inept as they were the past two seasons. Nor does it appear to be quite so unschooled in 3-4’ness that it needs tutorials before every play to run it.

[MORE: Bears scrimmage gives strong early hints on strategy, personnel]

The No. 1 defense was matched up with the No. 2 offense, so it should have dominated. Which it did: 36 yards on 22 plays run by the first and second

“We’re not going to get too far ahead of ourselves now,” said safety Ryan Mundy, in a position competition with second-year DB Brock Vereen. “The offense, I don’t think they came out and put their whole playbook on display… .

“It went good, because we got off the field. That’s something [defensive coordinator Vic] Fangio has been preaching all along: that you have to win on the practice field.”

On Saturday, the Bears’ defense did. Emphatically.

Misfits? Not necessarily

Conventional wisdom has been that significantly different personnel are required to run a 3-4 successfully than a 4-3. Probably. But one-time 4-3’ defensive end Jared Allen had all but locked up a position in the rotation within the No. 1 defense, and that was before Saturday.

Allen, working against overmatched tackle Charles Leno, batted down one pass and collected a simulated sack of quarterback Jimmy Clausen.

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Shea McClellin, who hasn’t really fit in anywhere through his first three NFL seasons, flashed again on Saturday with a sack of Clausen and has become visibly more comfortable at inside linebacker along with Christian Jones.

David Bass, facing a struggle for a roster spot and trying to fit at outside linebacker for the first time in his career, beat edge protection for the one sack of Jay Cutler.


The success or failure of the Bears defense, as with virtually every defense, will turn on the defensive line. Exact positions and who starts where still are in the forming stages, but as he has been much of the past week, Eddie Goldman was at nose tackle with the No. 1 defense, flanked by Ego Ferguson and Jeremiah Ratliff in a down-3 package that has been increasingly the norm.

Offensive linemen have privately been lavish in their assessments of the rookie lineman and “he’s a big, square body, which is why we drafted him where we did (second round), and he’s had a good camp so far,” said coach John Fox.

Looking ahead: Ratliff is one DL starter, whether at end/five-technique or nose tackle. Ferguson, drafted last year to be a run-stopping, 4-3 nose tackle, has played himself into one end/5 position at this point.

If Goldman is a better nose tackle than Jarvis Jenkins or Will Sutton is a five-technique (he is, at this point of camp), best guess is Ratliff lines up as the starter opposite Ferguson with Goldman, at 6-4, 335 pounds, the nose tackle and the biggest starting Bears D-lineman since Keith Traylor and Ted Washington.

Matt Nagy calls Kevin White a 'great weapon' with a new future

Matt Nagy calls Kevin White a 'great weapon' with a new future

Former first-round pick Kevin White hasn't caught a break -- or a touchdown -- through the first three years of his career. He has more season-ending injuries than 100-yard games and after an offseason focused on upgrades at wide receiver, White's future in Chicago beyond 2018 is very much in doubt.

Ryan Pace declined the fifth-year option in White's rookie contract, making this a prove-it year for the pass-catcher who once resembled a blend of Larry Fitzgerald and Dez Bryant during his time at West Virginia.

He's getting a fresh start by new coach Matt Nagy.

"He is healthy and he's really doing well," Nagy told Danny Kanell and Steve Torre Friday on SiriusXM's Dog Days Sports. "We're trying to keep him at one position right now so he can focus in on that."

White can't take all the blame for his 21 catches, 193 yards and zero scores through 48 possible games. He's only suited up for five. Whether it's bad luck or bad bone density, White hasn't had a legitimate chance to prove, on the field, that he belongs.

Nagy's looking forward, not backward, when it comes to 2015's seventh pick overall.

"That's gone, that's in the past," Nagy said of White's first three years. "This kid has a new future with us."

White won't be handed a job, however.

"He's gotta work for it, he's gotta put in the time and effort to do it," Nagy said. "But he will do that, he's been doing it. He's a great weapon, he's worked really hard. He has great size, good speed. We just want him to play football and not worry about anything else."

Nagy on Trubisky: 'He wants to be the best'

Nagy on Trubisky: 'He wants to be the best'

The Bears concluded their second round of OTAs on Thursday with the third and final set of voluntary sessions scheduled for May 29-June 1. Coach Matt Nagy is bringing a new and complicated system to Chicago, so the time spent on the practice field with the offense and quarterback Mitch Trubisky has been invaluable.

"We’ve thrown a lot at Mitch in the last 2 ½ months,” Nagy told Dog Days Sports’ Danny Kanell and Steve Torre on Friday. “He’s digested it really well.”

Nagy’s implementing the same system he operated with the Chiefs, an offense that brought the best out of Redskins quarterback Alex Smith. The former first-overall pick went from potential draft bust to MVP candidate under Andy Reid and Nagy’s watch.

Nagy admitted he and his staff may have been a little too aggressive with the amount of information thrust upon Trubisky so far.  It took five years to master the offense in Kansas City, he said, but the first-year head coach sees a lot of similarities between his current and past quarterbacks.

"These guys are just wired differently,” Nagy said when comparing Trubisky to Smith. “With Mitch, the one thing that you notice each and every day is this kid is so hungry. He wants to be the best. And he’s going to do whatever he needs to do. He’s so focused.”

Smith had the best year of his career in 2017 and much of the credit belongs to Nagy, who served as Smith’s position coach in each season of his tenure in Kansas City. He threw for eight touchdowns and only two interceptions during the five regular season games that Nagy took over play-calling duties last year.

Nagy said Trubisky has a similar attention to detail that Smith brought to the Chiefs’ quarterback room.

"Each and every detail that we give him means something. It’s not just something he writes down in a book. He wants to know the why,” Nagy said of Trubisky. “He’s a good person that is in this for the right reason. His teammates absolutely love him. It was the same thing with Alex [Smith] in Kansas City.”

A locker room that believes in its quarterback is a critically important variable for success, one that Nagy already sees exists in Chicago.

"When you have that as a coach and when you have that as being a quarterback, not everybody has that, and when you have that you’re in a good spot.”