Bears Defense More Advanced Even with Three New Starters
There is supreme confidence from Bears defensive team members as they prepare on their own to come into training camp and only part of it is a healthy Akiem Hicks, Roquan Smith and Danny Trevathan.
They see themselves capable of attaining something similar to what they had in 2018, although it would be a tall order. After all, Pro Football Focus last week called that Bears defense the second best of a decade that included the 2013 Seahawks and 2017 Jaguars. Only the 2015 Denver Broncos were judged as better.
Only part of the Bears' defensive confidence has to do with a pass rush they see as greatly improved with Robert Quinn on board at outside linebacker, where Leonard Floyd used to play.
"I watched Quinn from afar," linebacker Danny Trevathan said during a conference call. "I know he's been going for a while. He knows what he's doing. He's a wrecking machine."
The part most defensive players seem excited about is what might be considered an intangible.
It's not always a real indicator of success and definitely wasn't last year for their offense.
It's the second year with their defensive coordinator in his system. Coach Matt Nagy called it the 200 level course for Mitchell Trubisky and the offense last year, but this didn't work quite as well as planned.
The difference is the defense has already seen this work when Vic Fangio was coordinator as they steadily built comprehension and unity within his system.
"Just the whole defense being under Chuck Pagano for the second year, naturally we will be a better defense," slot cornerback Buster Skrine said. "I think he did a great job last year bringing everybody together. I think we'll just build off last year.
"Pretty much the same system they had with Vic, the old D-coordinator before I got there, running just a little bit of a twist with Chuck. So, any time a defense is under the same coordinator for two years, you have no choice but to get better."
The logic is sound, although there is no real indicator Pagano will take the defense a step up in his second year.
He never got a second year as coordinator in Baltimore to show how much better the Ravens defense could be in 2012 because Indianapolis hired him as a head coach. With the Colts, he oversaw the entire team and not just the defense and there were extenuating circumstances as that defense declined. He was coming off the year when he was hospitalized with leukemia and the Colts' personnel on defense began a steady drop in 2013. Inability to reinforce defensive personnel was a constant talking point in Indianapolis.
A different situation exists in Chicago.
Last year the Bears on defense had two new members in Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Skrine and the entire group was trying to learn the Pagano version of Fangio's defense.
This year it's three new starters at right cornerback, safety and Quinn but the entire rest of the group, including most reserves, already understands what Pagano wants to run.
"For us, we're going to pick up right where we left off but more better at it," safety Eddie Jackson said. "We're gonna get better at a lot of different things.
"We need to get better in the defensive backs room. All of that really starts with building relationships with guys."
Pagano sees himself as more familiar with his personnel, and maybe even more willing to gamble to get some of the players into position to make plays. Eddie Jackson is one of those.
"I got to let those guys, like coach (Nagy) says, be you," Pagano said. "I got to let Eddie be Eddie and put him in those spots to let him go play.
"I'm not talking about violating the scheme or the call or this, that and the other, I would never do that. But you got to take some chances and some risks."
The chemistry of the new players involved, possibly Tashaun Gipson at safety and rookie Jaylon Johnson at cornerback, will be important, as well.
More important is the advanced stage in the defense of the other eight, and they can help catch up the other three.
"I feel like all we have to do is take one day at a time, push one another, call one another out, have each other’s back," Trevathan said. "And let's roll out."