Bears

Jerrell Freeman, Danny Trevathan impact multiple areas of Bears 3-4 'D'

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Jerrell Freeman, Danny Trevathan impact multiple areas of Bears 3-4 'D'

Not many teams would replace two of their three leading tacklers from the previous season and believe they’re improving. But the Bears are in the process of doing exactly that.

The makeover of the Bears defense that began effectively a year ago with the hirings of coach John Fox and coordinator Vic Fangio took another step on Saturday when the Bears signed former Indianapolis Colts inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman to a three-year contract. This follows by a matter of hours the addition of former Denver Broncos inside linebacker Danny Trevathan.

The signings presumably foreshadow the exits of Christian Jones and Shea McClellin as the Bears retool their 3-4 linebacker corps closer to players from that scheme rather than attempting to staff the defense with players specifically acquired for another system, which inside linebackers Jones and McClellin were.

Jones was second to rookie safety Adrian Amos on the Bears last season with 98 tackles. McClellin was third with 96, with Pernell McPhee a distant fourth at 64.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

Running the defense

McClellin primarily and Jones in his absence were tasked with handling defensive signals, assignments and positionings in the Bears’ scheme. Both Freeman and Trevathan have done precisely those duties at a demonstrably higher level.

“My greatest strength is understanding and knowing my job and understanding the defense,” Freeman said. “I'm a big studier. You may not know a lot about [Div. III] guys, but we don't get athletic scholarships. We get academic ones. Speed, being able to run around and tackle. Just a lot of things that make me who I am.”

Freeman was surprised when the Colts made no effort to re-sign him after four years with them, chalking it off to the NFL simply being a business. “It was just like a, 'good luck in free agency,'” Freeman said. He said he didn’t realize that the Colts were on the Bears’ 2016 schedule, but being informed of that on Saturday brought a healthy laugh.

In the meantime, Freeman was clear on what Fangio and Fox expect of him.

“Being a three-down linebacker,” Freeman said. “Being able to stay on the field, cover, my understanding and being able to dissect plays, just being a playmaker. Just doing what I've been doing. I guess that's plenty.”

[MORE: Bears bolster defense, agree to terms with linebacker Jerrell Freeman]

Coverage issues

Freeman and Trevathan are unique upgrades in part because they are inside linebackers with coverage skills, which neither Jones nor McClellin demonstrated. Neither has an interception in their Bears careers. Jones had 4 pass breakups last season, McClellin two. For purposes of perspective: little-used backup cornerback Alan Ball had 5, as did linebacker Jonathan Anderson who spent the first five weeks of the season on practice squad and played fewer than half the ’15 snaps that Jones and McClellin did. Reserve defensive tackle Will Sutton had four. Defensive end Willie Young had three.

Freeman is one of three NFL linebackers since 2012 to record at least eight forced fumbles and four interceptions along with Lavonte David and Thomas Davis. Freeman has 17 pass breakups in his four Indianapolis seasons, more than Jones and McClellin combined for their four years as Bears linebackers (McClellin was played at defensive end his first two years).

The Freeman and Trevathan signings combine to dramatically dial down any need to address that position, beyond on a best-player-available basis, in the draft, which is generally considered below average in 2016 at the inside-linebacker position.

NFC North standings: Bears fall to last in division with Week 7 loss to Patriots

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USA TODAY

NFC North standings: Bears fall to last in division with Week 7 loss to Patriots

The great Ricky Bobby once said, “If you ain’t first, you’re last.” Talladega Nights hit a little too close to home for the Bears in Week 7.

They came into Sunday at 3-2 at the top of the NFC North. After a 38-31 loss to the New England Patriots, they dropped to the bottom of the division.

The Detroit Lions defeated the Miami Dolphins 32-21 to improve to 3-3, leaving them tied with the Bears in the cellar.

The Minnesota Vikings’ 37-17 victory over the New York Jets jumped them to 4-2-1 overall and first place in the division over the 3-2-1 Green Bay Packers, who were off for their bye week.

The NFC North remains the most tightly contested division in the NFL, the only one with no teams under .500 through seven weeks of the season.

The final standings may not be decided until Week 17, and the Bears have already blown the early season cushion they built for themselves while the Vikings and Packers were struggling.

The divisional action will pick up in November, and Chicago only has a pair of games left to put it all together before back-to-back-to-back games against the Lions, Vikings and Lions again.    

Under Center Podcast: Bears lose 38-31 to the Patriots

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USA TODAY

Under Center Podcast: Bears lose 38-31 to the Patriots

Matt Forte, Lance Briggs and Alex Brown join Laurence Holmes to break down the Bears 38-31 loss to the Patriots. What happened to the Bears defense over their bye week, and how did the special teams struggle so bad against New England? Plus – the guys debate Mitchell Trubisky’s decision making in the red zone and Matt weighs in on how the Bears should play his former team – the New York Jets – next week.

0:35– Special teams to blame for loss?

4:12– Where did the Bears pass rush go? 

5:27– Bad tackling followed Bears from Miami

7:25– Are the coaches to blame for the defense after the bye?

10:10– Evaluating Mitchell Trubisky’s game

11:55– Agree with Matt Nagy on Mitch’s “mental” game?

13:30– Trubisky’s red zone decision making

17:10– Are the Bears giving away games so Mitch can learn?

18:00– Bears need to run the ball more

21:04– Matt Forte scouts his former team, the New York Jets

Listen to the full podcast here or in the embedded player below.

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