Bears look to make jump with revamped defense
CHICAGO (AP) Given their history, last season sure was an odd one for the Chicago Bears.
Just as they finally managed to get things right on offense, their defense pulled off quite a disappearing act.
Well, it's back. At least, the Bears think it's back.
They believe thanks to a major overhaul that they now have the defense to support a prolific offense and make a run at the playoffs after an 8-8 season.
They missed the postseason for the sixth time in seven years since a Super Bowl run because they could not stop anyone. But they believe that's about to change because they made a series of moves, most notably signing Jared Allen.
They're deeper. They're healthier. There still are some holes, but they also have a five-time Pro Bowl defensive end in Allen.
He replaced an accomplished player in Julius Peppers. But unlike him, Allen has not really shown any signs of slowing down.
''I've got plenty. I've been healthy throughout my career,'' he said. ''I feel great. I'm in great shape. I'm excited for this season. I think we can do something this year that's really special.''
Here are some things to look for from the Bears in 2014:
LINE `EM UP: With Allen anchoring the line, the Bears are looking for more from their defense. It would be hard not to improve, considering how bad they were in that area.
The Bears ranked 30th overall and last against the run while tying Jacksonville with a league-low 31 sacks. Not exactly Monsters of the Midway numbers.
Allen should boost a pass rush that was sorely lacking and a run defense that gave up 2,583 yards and 5.3 per carry - both club records.
CUTLER, CONTINUITY: The Bears improved from 29th to fifth in passing and 28th to No. 8 in total offense last season, their first under coach Marc Trestman.
Throw in the fact they have all their starters back and things sure look good for Jay Cutler - if he stays healthy. That's a big ''if.''
Cutler hasn't played a full 16 games since 2009, his first season in Chicago after being traded from Denver, and he missed five last year because of injuries. When he was on the field, he was as productive as he's ever been. His rating was a career-high 89.2 and his sack total got cut in half, dropping from 38 in 2012 to 19 behind a rebuilt line.
The reward for Cutler was a seven-year contract that kept him off the free agent market.
WHO ARE THE BACKUPS?: The Bears won't have Josh McCown to turn to if Cutler gets hurt again.
McCown played his way to a starting job with Lovie Smith in Tampa Bay. Jimmy Clausen and Jordan Palmer battled for the backup job in the offseason, but that's not the only area of concern when it comes to depth on offense.
The Bears don't have a proven backup to running back Matt Forte. They scrambled to find a third receiver behind Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, particularly after Marquess Wilson broke his collarbone. They decided to give former Steelers and Jets receiver Santonio Holmes a try.
Depth behind tight end Martellus Bennett might be an issue.
TUCKER'S TIME: Defensive coordinator Mel Tucker came under criticism last season, his first in Chicago, and the heat will really intensify if the defense struggles again. The cover-2 is gone. The Bears are sticking with a 4-3 set, but the language is different. Tucker is putting his stamp on things. He has another chance after injuries and poor execution left Chicago with one of the worst defenses in franchise history.
SAFETY NET: For all the changes the Bears made on defense, there are still some big questions at safety.
Chris Conte and Major Wright both struggled last year. Wright reunited with Smith in Tampa Bay. Conte missed the start of the preseason after having shoulder surgery, and the Bears brought in competition. They added Adrian Wilson, Ryan Mundy and M.D. Jennings to the mix.
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