INDIANAPOLIS — Mike Ditka once declared that rookie cornerback Donnell Woolford “apparently can’t cover anybody.”
Buddy Ryan stated matter-of-factly after the 1980 season that too many defensive problems were because “that rookie No. 55 [Otis Wilson] just didn’t get it.”
Woolford apparently could cover somebody, and Wilson ultimately did get it, both players going on to very successful Bears careers and Pro Bowls.
Adrian Amos, Eddie Goldman and other very, very young Bears may or may not make Pro Bowls. But they already have figured prominently in Bears offseason personnel deliberations, and coach John Fox is not expected anytime soon to muse, “that No. 91 (Goldman) apparently can’t stop anybody.”
Just the opposite, in fact, and that is a critical underpinning of the Bears’ 2016 offseason.
When Fox succeeded Marc Trestman as head coach, the Bears were in disarray and needing a rebuild makeover. After a 6-10 season marked by demoralizing breakdowns in the second half of 2015, particularly on a defense already converted to a 3-4 scheme, Fox and his staff are faced with starting over — again.
Not so fast.
The plethora of needs on virtually every stratum of the defense – line, linebacker, cornerback, safety – has naturally suggested multiple crises. But some Bears struggles involved Amos in the deep secondary, Goldman at the point of attack in the middle, Hroniss Grasu staffing that middle on offense, even Kevin White never seeing the field in a year when the Bears could barely field a nickel wideout package.
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The expectations of Year 2 from all of those players, as much as any free agent or draft pick, hold the key to 2016.
“I think we made a lot of changes last year,” Fox said Wednesday at the NFL Scouting Combine. “I think we went from one of the older rosters in the NFL — that includes offense, defense, special teams — and became a younger roster. It's no mystery we had a lot of younger players play on defense this year and extensively.
“The thing that sometimes I think people get lost about is the improvement of that player from a freshman to a sophomore, from Year One to Year Two, whether it's in a particular system or just in NFL football and how to view NFL offenses. It's a full-time job now. It's not a part-time job like college football. There are a lot of things that go into the preparation in being the best, how to do it, as far as film study, opponent study that these guys will just take off from in my experience from Year One to Year Two.”