The focus of the talk around the Bears’ 3-4 makeover has been on who plays end, inside linebacker, nose tackle, outside linebacker. But the Bears were among the NFL’s worst in passing yards allowed and 31st with an average passer rating against of 101.7 — an average higher than Bears quarterbacks reached only three times in 16 games last season.
Over most of the past decade, the Bears have annually invested at least a draft choice and usually some free-agency capital trying to stanch the bleeding in the back end of their defenses, even when those were actually pretty respectable. That didn’t stop this offseason — a fourth-round pick for safety Adrian Amos following a 2014 fourth-rounder, to go with veteran Antrel Rolle after landing Ryan Mundy last offseason.
But more than the personnel has changed. And more than just at safety.
It would be difficult for change not to be for the better. The Bears had just three total interceptions through their final five games (all losses).
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The ideal, as elsewhere on the defense, is that the whole merges into something that is better than the sum of the parts. One of the reasons assessing the 2015 Bears defense is next to impossible is the magnitude of the changes, beginning with Vic Fangio as coordinator and defensive backs coach Ed Donatell, himself a coordinator with Green Bay (2000-03) and Atlanta (2004-06) as well as Mike Shanahan’s Denver defensive backs coach in winning two Super Bowls.
“I think it's going to work great,” Rolle said. "We've got the young guys pushing us and the veteran leadership there, too. We're all flying around. The veterans just have to lead by example. We want to be a force.
“We're going to grow, but this is a good group to grow with.
"The chemistry of this group is excellent. It's going to take some time, but I feel like we're going to click.”
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The expectation is that safety is secured at least in the near-term with Rolle and Mundy and Brock Vereen in waiting. Kyle Fuller is written in ink at one cornerback spot.
But one major position competition, overshadowed by the shuffling in the front seven, lies opposite Fuller. Tim Jennings suffered through his first interception-less season since he became a starter for Indianapolis in 2007 and is in a battle with newly acquired Alan Ball for the starting job on the side away from Fuller. Ball has practiced little this offseason because of injuries, but the casual handicapping has him emerging as the starter and Jennings moving inside to nickel.
“We're hungry, but it's because first and foremost we want to win,” Rolle said. “That's the competitive nature in us, that's our attitude and that's going to be our motto.
"We want to win games. Whether you've been here before or not, you want to win. ... It's coming together.”