New Chicago Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker – who guided the NFL's 30th-ranked defense in Jacksonville last season – doesn't want to talk about the past.
"I'm really trying to move past that," Tucker said at the recent meet and greet with Chicago media. "Really, now, it's a different team – different coaching staff, an entirely different set of circumstances. So I just think it's important to move forward."
Tucker – who spent four years as defensive coordinator for the Jaguars, following one season as DC in Cleveland – inherits a Bears defense that sent four players to the Pro Bowl last season, as well as a pair of linebackers, Lance Briggs and Brian Urlacher, with 15 Pro Bowl appearances between them.
In his five seasons as an NFL coordinator, Tucker has not coached a single Pro Bowl player. The upgrade in talent alone should give him a better chance to succeed in Chicago.
In an effort to keep continuity, Tucker won't be changing much about Chicago's defense, which was consistently successful for nine seasons under former head coach Lovie Smith.
"We're going to be a 4-3 … because of the personnel that we have here in place," said Tucker. "We'll base out of a 4-3 ‘over' defense. It will be an attacking, up-the-field, penetrating defense. Guys have played at a high level in this 4-3. The plan is to keep a lot of the terminology for the guys. I thought that was important in this particular situation."
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Head coach Marc Trestman also talked about the importance of keeping things relatively the same on defense going forward.
"We're going to be very similar to what we have been here. We're not going to change the style of defense that we're playing. We're going to call things generally the same way," Trestman said. "We're going to put some spin on it that Mel can bring with him from where he's been in the past. Essentially, the style of play and the type of football that we're going to play defensively will not change much. We've talked to the players about that and they're excited about the fact that we're going to continue to play the Bears defense that they've been accustomed to playing here over the years."
While the new staff won't be digging up the foundations of the defense, they will be making significant tweaks and adjustments.
"I think Mel will add some things that will make them excited and stimulated in their football," said Trestman. "They've been around the same thing for so long – which is good because it's a great defense, a great style of defense and it fits our personnel – but I think that the conversations and the discussions that the guys have had in the meeting rooms have stimulated new ideas, not only from Mel but from the other guys on the staff as well."
Of major importance in developing successful schemes will be producing a consistent pass rush. It's an area in which Tucker's defenses have struggled. In his five years as a coordinator, his units have never finished higher than 23rd in the league in sacks.
"[Pressure] has got to come from everywhere," said Tucker. "We've got to get pressure on the quarterback. It could be four [pass rushers], it could be five, it could be six, it could be three. But it's a deal where rush and coverage have to work together."
As for the locker room, Tucker's biggest challenge will be getting the veterans to buy into his system, after having so much success under the previous regime.
"It's going to be a daily process," Tucker said. "Again, it's about trust and respect. That's earned on a daily basis. I'm different. I'm not going to try to be someone that I'm not. But I think as guys get to know our staff, I think they'll like what they see. I'm a different guy. They'll hear things maybe a different way from me, and my style of teaching and our style as a staff will come through as we go, and then we'll add it up at the end of the day.
"The NFL, change is constant, and how we adjust to that, that's going to be a big determining factor in how successful we'll be, and how quickly we move past that. But I do have a tremendous amount of respect for the coaches who coached here, and all of the coaches in the league. I understand that. It's a challenge, but we're up to it."
To help ease his transition into this new role, Tucker retained two members of the old coaching staff: defensive backs coach Jon Hoke and defensive line coach Mike Phair.
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"I think it will [help the continuity]," said Tucker. "I've known Coach Hoke for a long time. We've been great friends. And Mike Phair, I've known him for about five years now. They're great coaches, they're great guys, first and foremost. They're great people. Coach Trestman, that was important to him. They're very good at what they do, and they're going to help us. Right now, we've got to come together as a staff, first and foremost, and then that will spill over to the team."
Tucker said he will rely not only on his coaching staff but also the players on the field to help make adjustments on game days.
"Input from the players is huge. They're on the field. They're the guys out there getting it done. So, input from the players and the coaches – that's the chemistry part of it. Communication is huge. You've got to have that. So that's very, very important. And you want to encourage the players to give you feedback, not just in games but in the out-of-season and the coaching sessions, the OTAs, build those relationships and the trust and respect, and you'll get the communication you need on game day."
Trestman, an offensive-minded head coach, will give Tucker relative autonomy to do what he feels fit on defense.
"I didn't know Mel when we interviewed," said Trestman. "He came highly recommended. After speaking with him, not even talking football for a couple of hours, just talking in general about his personal life and ideologies and philosophies and just how he dealt with players and how he wanted to present himself to the team, I thought he was exactly at the right place at the right time.
"And then when I got into the meeting room with him and Jon [Hoke] and Mike [Phair] and the new guys on the staff, I felt completely confident that he was exactly the right guy for this job. I think you'll see this as we move along. He's got tremendous potential as a leader and his abilities to teach are as good as anybody I've been around."
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Follow Bear Report on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Bear Report Web site or magazine, click here.