McPhee sees Bears striking fear in opponents
Considering the way the defense performed the past two years, that is one lofty picture. But this is a different group of Bears from last season.
They have a defensive-minded coach in John Fox, a new coordinator in Vic Fangio, a different scheme and no shortage of newcomers, including McPhee. Most of all, they believe they are poised to make a big jump and re-establish Chicago as a ball-stopping force.
''I think that's what we're going to do this year is put fear in the other team's offense,'' said McPhee, who signed a five-year deal in the offseason. ''When they see us come out there they're going to be like, `Whoa, these guys are playing, everybody's flying to the ball, everybody is being very aggressive.'''
That would be another big change for the Bears, who made several in the wake of a five-win season.
General manager Phil Emery and coach Marc Trestman lost their jobs and Ryan Pace and Fox replaced them. Their goal is to restore Chicago's defensive identity, something that was lost under the previous regime.
They switched to a 3-4 from a 4-3 scheme and landed one of the league's most successful defensive coordinators, hiring Vic Fangio from San Francisco to replace the fired Mel Tucker.
In Fangio's four years, the 49ers were second in the NFL in scoring defense (17.4 points per game), third in total defense (310.2 yards per game) and fourth in takeaways (122). They also had the top run defense at 92 yards per game, gave up the second-fewest yards per carry (3.78) and were the league's stingiest team when it came to giving up first downs. They allowed just 1,143 during Fangio's tenure.
Yes, the 49ers missed the playoffs at 8-8 last season after making three consecutive NFC title games. But that hardly compares to the nosedive the Bears experienced.
It helps that the new coaching staff brings credibility, with Fox having led two teams to a Super Bowl and two respected coordinators working with him in Adam Gase on offense and Fangio on defense.
''Strategy, man,'' cornerback Tim Jennings said when asked what Fangio brings. ''I think he puts guys in position to make plays.''
Linebacker Christian Jones praised Fangio for going ''into details about everything,'' and for making sure players understand their responsibilities and the thinking behind them.
''He takes his time going over certain plays and guys respond to that,'' he said. ''Sometimes in football you get a lot of rah-rah coaches that just want to yell at you and just tell you `You've got to do this, you've got to do that.' But he helps you try to understand it.''
Fangio is trying to help revive a defense that gave up the two highest point totals in franchise history the past two seasons and bore no resemblance to the old Monsters of the Midway. The Bears have plenty of work to do, with players competing for spots all over while trying to learn the new system.
''We're going to be a lot more aggressive this year,'' linebacker Jon Bostic said. ''That's the thing I love.''
Bostic has been largely a spectator through three days of training camp practices because of an injury that started with his shin and hip and impacted his back. He did not need surgery, but he was not able to participate in the offseason program because of it.
With the switch to a 3-4, some players find themselves in unfamiliar territory. Put Jared Allen, the NFL's active career sacks leader, in that group along with Willie Young. They're moving from defensive end to outside linebacker, where they are part of a group that includes McPhee, Sam Acho, Lamarr Houston and David Bass. They also have pass coverage responsibilities, something they did not have in the past.
Young could not remember how long it has been.
''It might have been about (three or four) days ago, I covered my son up when he went to sleep,'' he joked.
NOTES: LT Jermon Bushrod (back) sat out Saturday's practice, the first in full pads, but CB Kyle Fuller (ankle) and DT Eddie Goldman (dehydration) participated. G Kyle Long (bruised shoulder) and DLs Ego Ferguson (leg cramp) and Will Sutton (ankle) experienced minor setbacks. TE Dante Rosario was excused for personal reasons for the second straight day. And Fox said WR Kevin White is ''making progress'' recovering from a shin injury.
AP NFL websites: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL