Bears defense needs more work before figuring out Chuck Pagano's scheme
The biggest question facing the Bears this season isn't whether Mitchell Trubisky's knowledge of the offense has increased, or if their kicker meets the standards of critics like John Fox.
The real question is whether their defense can play with the same flow and speed they had last year in their fourth season under Vic Fangio, when they led the league in points allowed, turnovers forced, passer rating against and stopping the run.
It was in January, shortly after Chuck Pagano took over as Bears defensive coordinator, when he made a statement sure to be scrutinized on up into this regular season.
"To throw everything out and start anew would not be very smart on my part," Pagano said.
It wouldn't be accurate to say Pagano threw out everything the Bears did before, but the stamp he's leaving on this year's scheme is one with very dark ink.
Anyone who assumed just a few additions and reductions after Pagano's initial comment will be disappointed.
"There's a great deal of learning that's going to be required of us — that has been required of us — during these OTAs, that's going to continue during training camp," defensive end Akiem Hicks said. "We'll hopefully be polishing it all up towards the end of training camp and getting ready to lay it all out there in preseason.
"It's a progression right now and there's a lot of things we still have to sharpen. We expected that, though, with a new defensive coordinator. If anyone was good for the transition, it was Chuck because he knows how to handle it."
Understanding things on the fly during a play might get hairy at times this year. Everything in pass coverage depends on communication.
"The terminology is a little different but you expect that when you switch coordinators," linebacker Roquan Smith said. "But it's great. I think he's a great guy. I'm enjoying getting to know him even more so I think it's pretty sweet."
No one is complaining. Players seem to be adapting, but there was a definite uptick in the amount of plays won by the offense during minicamp and OTAs as opposed to last year.
Some of this naturally could be the result of a better offense, which even defenders have noted. Then again, some of it could be due to learning more of a new scheme on defense.
Coach Matt Nagy noted several times how he liked the fact his offense was getting different looks from the defense during offseason passing work. Whether it works the other way against real teams remains to be seen.
Players are certain they can learn what's needed, and cite Pagano's coaching methods.
"You know, coach Pagano is a down-to-earth guy," safety Eddie Jackson said. "You know coach Vic didn't really talk as much. Coach Pagano is more vocal.
"And just the things that he's inputing, he's playing us to our strengths, the same thing coach Vic has done with us. Also, we can go back and give him feedback. If we see something or we don't like something, he'll take that into consideration and he'll change a few things around. And that right there is what you need when you come in here, especially with the type of players we got, for us to be able to trust you and vice versa."
Cornerback Prince Amukamara noted a similar style difference, but ultimately he said it's the players who have to make the difference on the field.
"I've been telling everybody that faces change, schemes might change, but our mindset, our mentality hasn't," Amukamara said.