When a defensive unit finishes 30th in yards allowed, 31st in points allowed and dead last against the run, saying that group could finish in the top 10 the next year may sound a bit outlandish. For the Chicago Bears, though, this is their situation. And looking at the amount of additions they’ve made during this offseason, they may just be able to make that kind of turnaround. But have they done enough?
First, let’s take a look at the notable players they’ve gotten rid of: Julius Peppers, Henry Melton, Zack Bowman and Major Wright.
Releasing Peppers was unfortunate, but it’s a move the team had to make because he simply wasn’t worth the obscene amount of money he was due. Melton was out almost all of last season with a torn ACL, so who knows how he’ll come back? Also, he would’ve had a hefty price tag as well. Bowman was a decent spot starter when the team needed him to be, but he was certainly expendable. Finally, Wright was just an average safety at best, and we certainly all know the safeties were nothing special last year anyway.
As you can see, the players they lost aren’t going to hurt the unit so much and were certainly replaceable — which they have been, and more.
Looking at the plethora of players added during this offseason, one can start to see how GM Phil Emery may have fixed that side of the ball.
Through free agency, the Bears signed two marquee DL in Jared Allen and Lamarr Houston. Those two alone make the defensive front that much more stout. To add to that group, Chicago brought in ends Israel Idonije and Willie Young and selected tackles Ego Ferguson and Will Sutton in the second and third rounds of the 2014 NFL Draft.
The biggest key to the Bears fixing their defense was bolstering the defensive line to a) stuff the run by plugging up holes more consistently and b) put more consistent pressure on the passer with just their front four, as it’s a staple of their defense. If you remember two years ago, the Bears’ DL was much more impressive and subsequently, they had one of the best defenses in the league. With the additions made this offseason, there are currently 13 DL on the roster, and overall, the group should be one of the best in the NFL in 2014.
Moving on to the next unit, the linebackers, contrary to popular belief, were solid last year and didn’t need much help. They’ve got the talent in Lance Briggs, D.J. Williams and Jon Bostic — three stout starting-caliber players. The issue is, without a strong defensive line, any linebacking corps is going to look pathetic. This year, with an improved group in front of them, we’ll all see how good this unit can be.
All that leaves is the secondary. How have the Bears improved there? Getting more playmakers in this group was almost as important as fixing the defensive line, and Chicago has hopefully done enough to fix that.
The first thing the Bears did was bring back Charles Tillman. This was a great move because even though he’s older and missed the end of the season in 2013 with an injury, it was just a triceps injury, not something like an ACL. He’s still got some in the tank and will be a good starter opposite Tim Jennings.
With their first pick in the draft, the Bears took CB Kyle Fuller. From the looks of it, this appears to be a great selection. In this division with the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions, you have to have at least three starting-caliber corners to match up with their receivers. This addition made sure of that.
But the biggest issue was at safety. Have the Bears fixed this problem? That I am unsure of. Sure, they added enough bodies with Ryan Mundy, M.D. Jennings, Danny McCray and fourth-round pick Brock Vereen (who I like a lot). Problem is, who will step up and play better than Chris Conte and Wright from a year ago? My hope is that it will be Mundy at SS and Vereen at FS, but only training camp will tell.
All this said, the Bears have made an excellent number of acquisitions this offseason. All of these changes could very well vault this defense back to the top.