Vic Fangio Influence Is Strong on Bears Duo

A former Denver Broncos tackle and outside linebacker are finding they could have a chance to make an impact in Chicago.
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It seems the Bears can't avoid the Vic Fangio influence even three years after his departure.

Defensive coordinator Sean Desai carries the stamp of being Fangio's understudy and uses his system, but the Bears also have a pair of ex-Denver Broncos on the team now in tackle Elijah Wilkinson and outside linebacker Jeremiah Attaochu.

Coming to a place where a good Fangio story goes a long way, Wilkinson knew his cue.

"He didn't like music in practice, but every day while we were warming up he would make our equipment manager play (the theme song from) 'Shaft,' " Wilkinson recalled. "Every day.

"And that was his favorite song. He knew all the words. He was like, 'who is the man?' He'd walk around singing it. So I thought that was awesome. He's a pretty cool dude, man."

Chicago would agree after Fangio's 2018 defense dominated in a 12-4 season. 

Fangio, and former Bears defensive backs coach Ed Donatell even influenced the decision for Wilkinson.

"Knowing that Vic and Ed Donatell were (once) here and just knowing that they were known and loved around here and around this city kind of gave me a factor to be comfortable about it," Wilkinson said. "But also on my visit, just meeting the staff and everybody, I felt very welcomed and it felt like home here."

The Bears haven't been the same on defense since Fangio left, although the degree to which it has to do with the coordinator on that side of the ball is uncertain. 

Getting Sean Desai as coordinator can't hurt in this respect.

Attaochu made the free agent move from Denver to Chicago partly because of the familiarity he had with Fangio's and Desai's defense.

"I just kind of knew the systems were similar, so I knew there would be a lot of carryover from his system in Denver to here in Chicago," Attaochu said.

From what Attaochu has seen, Desai's ability to relay this system is high.

"Just as far as the teaching aspect of getting all the guys on the same page," he said. "We've got some really good players, and (then) him making the system as easy as possible for everyone, regardless of who's in there. That was one thing that was very obvious.

"In Denver, even with our injuries, the system allowed us to be productive, so I think that's the same thing Sean's trying to build here."

In Denver, Attaochu played behind Von Miller and Bradley Chubb. He had five sacks last year, although he felt like he had a better season overall in Year 2 while with the Chargers. He had six sacks then. The five sacks were possible because of increased playing time resulting from Miller's torn ankle ligaments.

The Bears can use the help. They've lacked a third productive edge rusher to spell Mack and either Robert Quinn or Leonard Floyd before him.

From what Attaochu has seen of the defense assembled, it can do exactly what Desai wants.

"It's just very, very impactful," Attaochu said. "I definitely think we can be able to control games, take the ball away, cause a lot of turnovers. We're going to control the field position on defense."

Attaochu seemed the player more likely to have an impact of the two former Broncos.

However, Wilkinson now is in the starting left tackle spot at practices where Teven Jenkins would be, if not for an unspecified back injury.

Coach Matt Nagy calls it a minor injury but the Bears over the years have had their share of offensive linemen who had minor back injuries suddenly have major problems. So it doesn't hurt to have help.

The problem is, Wilkinson has never started an NFL game at left tackle. He's played right tackle, right guard and left guard

"I'm getting there," he said of the left side. "Everything comes with time. I've played left and right before so it's nothing new."

He just hasn't started there.

"But once you play it for a few days you get kind of comfortable and settle in and it kind of becomes natural, you know?"

This isn't always true, but if it is for Wilkinson and he's able to help protect Andy Dalton or the franchise, rookie quarterback Justin Fields, then the Bears might be singing "who is the man," to him.

Then again, GM Ryan Pace might be scouting out the waiver wire or trade market at this moment to find someone with left side experience.  It might be for the best considering right tackle Germain Ifedi is on the physically unable to perform list with a hip-flexor injury. They're using seventh-round pick Lachavious Simmons with starters at the moment.

Wilkinson is focused on playing the left side until told otherwise.

"You know, nobody's talked about that and who's starting and what's going to happen," Wilkinson said. "But I came to camp to work my butt off and let the chips fall where they may. I come to work every day and work hard and see what happens.

"Being an undrafted guy, you never really know what's going happen, who's going to start, who's not, so you really can't worry about that. You just gotta come to work and get your reps in and make them count."

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