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.
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.