Times Could Be Changing for Chicago Bears' Defense

By Jimmy Johnson
Chicago Bears
Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

There’s been speculation the next head coach for the Chicago Bears could alter the scheme and personnel of the current defense.

An adjustment from a 4-3 to a 3-4 defense is a desire many fans and media pundits of the Bears have recently pondered since Lovie Smith was fired, but the franchise’s defensive philosophy will depend on who general manager Phil Emery picks as the next head coach.

There are a few players who have the potential to carryover fro a 4-3 to a 3-4 switch. The need of the Bears’ current pass-rushing ends to stand-up linebackers would be necessary, and Julius Peppers and Shea McClellin would be logical fits for those two spots. During the 2010 free agency period, there was talk of interest coming from 3-4 based teams that saw Peppers as a fit into their defenses – including the New England Patriots and Green Bay Packers.  If necessary, Peppers could play some time at both end positions in a 3-4. The need to create an up the field pass rush to exists in 3-4 ends, but they’re also given responsibilities to clog up running lanes, too.

The selection of McClellin in the first round sparked initial talk about the Bears making a switch to a 3-4. During his career as a Boise State Bronco, McClellin was a versatile piece to defense that used him in several ways. McClellin’s performance at the 2011 NFL let him showcase his top attribute: his speed. Emery did say recently he still envisions McClellin’s as an ideal end in a 4-3.

Henry Melton – a free agent this off-season – wouldn’t return if the next coach decides to revamp the defense. Melton’s game is best suited in a 4-3 since his athleticism has allowed him flourish as a solid interior pass rusher. Playing nose guard wouldn’t be a good fit for Melton, and Emery would have to look for a robust tackle that would be plugged into the middle of the field. Despite standing only 6-0, Stephen Paea could translate into a 3-4 defensive across all three spots of the line. His superb strength could allow Paea could be a rotational player at the nose guard position.

With McClellin and Peppers moving to pass-rushing linebackers, the two starting inside linebacker spots in a 3-4 are expected to provide run support, and Lance Briggs could make the slide inside.  Yet the man Briggs’ has been sometimes overshadowed by – longtime Bear Brian Urlacher – would be casualty in defensive regime changes. Whether or not Urlacher can stay healthy will be the biggest factor in bringing him back. Urlacher did look a step slower this season and has seen his overall play dip. Neither Nick Roach and Geno Hayes would be brought back since there skills fit better in a 4-3.

The most fascinating position change of any current defensive player for the Bears would be Charles Tillman. Tillman could make the switch from corner to safety – something Smith was unwilling to consider during his tenure with the Bears. Tillman does matchup well against opposing offenses’ No. 1 receivers, but he hasn’t been given many responsibilities to be a coverage corner in the 4-3 and cover-2. He isn’t a poor coverage corner, but he simply doesn’t have the speed of a coverage-corner. His length and aggressiveness to find the sweet spot to punch out the football could be best suited as a safety in a 3-4.

Tim Jennings will be a in a contract year next season. He’s gone from an average corner to excelling his game to a Pro Bowl level this season. Jennings could reprise his role as the Bears’ No. 2 corner in the event they change their defense. D.J. Moore‘s blitzing ability makes him an appealing player to keep, while Kelvin Hayden struggled and showed his age last year and won’t be brought back no matter what defense the Bears decide to run.

Safeties Major Wright and Chris Conte were a successful combination in Chicago’s secondary this past season. Finding two players to man the free and strong safety positions has been a problem for Chicago since the departure of Mike Brown, so keeping Wright and Conte would be a smart move. Last year’s fourth round pick Brandon Hardin is an intriguing prospect with his blend of almost linebacker like size and great athleticism.

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