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Age Creeping Up on Bears Defense

Biggest Bears Concerns for 2021: With six starters in their 30s this year, the Bears defense will need to show it still has youthful vigor and an ability to arrive at the ball full speed.

Bears linebacker Danny Trevathan went on full alert after a question about his age being a hinderance prior to one minicamp practice. 

He's 31.

"I mean, are you comfortable being a reporter?" Trevathan shot back at the questioner, although most reporters are older than their 20s. "It's my job. You're asking a question that you already know the answer to. So I’m just going to do the best I can. 

"Age is nothing but a number. You can try to factor that in as much as you want, but come Sunday or Monday or Thursday we'll be prepared."

                                               -Bears ILB Danny Trevathan

The Bears defense had plenty of flaws in 2020. One probably wasn't age. 

This doesn't mean it won't factor in for 2021. No one on the planet is getting younger,  and neither are the Bears starters. 

Six Bears defensive starters will be in their 30s this season, provided Desmond Trufant beats out Kindle Vildor for the left cornerback spot. 

Although it would be a stretch to label this a modern day version of Washington's "Over the Hill Gang," it is a real concern.

It isn't like their starting spots are filled with players in their mid-30s. None of their starters will be older than 31 until Akiem Hicks turns 32 in the second half of the 2021 season. 

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers won the Super Bowl when Ndaumukong Suh was 34, Lavonte David 31 and Jason Pierre-Paul 32. When New England won the Super Bowl after the 2018 season three defensive starters were in their 30s.

On the other hand, according to Pro Football Reference no team has actually won a Super Bowl with six defensive starters in their 30s since the 2004 New England Patriots did it.

"Once we get to training camp and we get that camaraderie and we gel and everyone's on the same page, I think that will be a scary thing to see, man," said safety Tashaun Gipson, who is 30. "I think that the Chicago Bears will be the type of defense that everybody's accustomed to seeing the Bears be."

In one sense, perhaps. 

But no one has seen a Bears defense with six defensive starters in their 30s since the 30-something starting defensive linemen were Steve McMichael, William Perry and Richard Dent, the linebackers were Mike Singletary and Jim Morrissey and the strong safety was Shaun Gayle. That was in 1992, Mike Ditka's last year as head coach.

Bears 30-something defensive starters

ILB Danny Trevathan, turned 31 March 24 

Five of Pro Football Focus' top nine rated linebackers were in their 30s last year, so even if Trevathan is a bit slower than before there is still no reason to think he has aged out. He needs to avoid a slow start like he had last year.

"I'm just trying to be prepared," Trevathan said. "Last year was our first time going through COVID, anybody out here not knowing whether it was safe for you to go out there, with your family, or being able to go out there and do what you wanted. This year's a little bit different for me. I know what to do and I handle it accordingly.

DE Akiem Hicks, turns 32 Nov. 16

Ndamukong Suh is three years older than Hicks and just finished a season when he played 74% of the defensive snaps while starting 16 games and making more sacks (6) than any season since 2015. Hicks last year had the same number of quarterback pressures (29) as he had when he went to the Pro Bowl in 2018, but played one less game due to a hamstring pull. He did lead the team in penalties with 10, but also had 16 quarterback knockdowns. Hicks' tackle rate overall was 3.26 per game, down from 2018 (3.43) but far better than 2019 (2.0) when he was plagued by injuries. Hicks did make the fewest tackles for loss he's had for a full season since coming to the Bears in 2016 with seven, but he also didn't have opt-out nose tackle Eddie Goldman alongside as a run stuffer who allows him to make more plays. Is 31 too old yet to be an effective interior defensive lineman? When the Bears won the NFC North in 2001 both Keith Traylor and Ted Washington were the interior defensive linemen and were older than Hicks is now.

S Tashaun Gipson, turns 31 Aug. 7

If age has hurt his play, he has a funny way of showing it. PFF graded Gipson the league's 18th best safety last year among 94 who were given marks. The last time he rated higher than 38th best safety was in 2014, when he was 13th. Gipson's PFF grade of 72.0 was his second best and he had a better mark only in 2014 with Cleveland when he was a at 79.2.

OLB Khalil Mack, turned 30 Feb. 22

When Mack is still graded No. 1 by Pro Football Focus among edge rushers as he was last year when he attained the same score as in 2016  when he was defensive MVP, it's safe the Bears don't need to worry about their biggest name on defense aging out. What would be helpful would be for the defense to actually produce a counter rush from the opposite side of the line because there hasn't been one since Mack arrived. Leonard Floyd brought occasional heat and could drop into pass coverage. Robert Quinn has brought two sacks in 15 games. They still gang up on Mack and it's one of the great challenges for new defensive coordinator Sean Desai to come up with a way to prevent this. The opposite-side rush would do this.

OLB Robert Quinn, turned 31 May 18

While the age number gets looked at, it's often the health which becomes a bigger factor. Quinn is a case in point. The rumors about a case of drop foot surfaced last year and he had only two sacks. After an offseason away, he was at minicamp but not practicing because of a lower back issue. That's one of the worst problems an older player on the defensive line can have, although it should be helped by the fact the Bears play their edge rushers standing up in the 3-4. The Bears have a strong backup in Jeremiah Attaochu but they're lacking in overall athleticism at this position to cover against passes the way they could in a similar defensive scheme under Vic Fangio when they had Floyd. Quinn never was the player who could do this. His health doesn't help. Neither does his age.

LCB Desmond Trufant turns 31 Sept. 10

He hasn't been given the starting left cornerback position outright and has the right kind of a spur to produce, considering Vildor earned praise for his play each day at minicamp. There's no doubt Trufant's production has dropped considerably the last two seasons, but his health had more to do with this than anything else with 15 games played total for Atlanta and Detroit. Then again, this is what happens as anyone ages. If Trufant isn't in top shape and ready to play, he'll be quickly shuffled to the rear in favor of younger players. Artie Burns, Tre Roberson and Xavier Crawford are younger and looking for roster spots at cornerback on the outside if the Bears need depth behind Vildor. 

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