This entire offseason, Chicago Bears head coach Marc Trestman has been adamant that the team's defense going forward will be the same 4-3 Cover 2 system ran under Lovie Smith the past nine years.
"We're going to be very similar to what we have been here," Trestman said in February. "We're not going to change the style of defense that we're playing. We're going to call things generally the same way.
"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."
New defensive coordinator Mel Tucker – the DC in Jacksonville the past four years, following one year as head of Cleveland's defense – confirmed the team's plan to continue with the familiar system.
"We're going to be a 4-3 and the plan is to keep a lot of the terminology for the guys. I thought that was important in this particular situation. I think that will be best for us," Tucker said. "It's because of the personnel that we have here in place. Guys have played at a high level in this 4-3. I think it's a good fit."
Tucker ran a 4-3 with the Jaguars but his first gig as a DC was running a 3-4 with the Browns.
"I've done both. I've done 3-4 and 4-3 defenses," he said.
Throughout most of the offseason programs, Tucker stayed the course and worked a base 4-3 scheme during voluntary minicamp, rookie minicamp and OTAs. Yet, during veteran minicamp, Tucker began working on his blitz packages, and things changed.
"We're going to put some spin on it that Mel can bring with him from where he's been in the past," Trestman said. "I think Mel will add some things that will make them excited and stimulated in their football, because 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 conversation and the discussions that the guys have had in the meeting rooms have stimulated new ideas."
During veteran minicamp, defensive linemen were being used as linebackers, with just three down rushers up front. This included dropping Henry Melton, Shea McClellin and Corey Wootton off the line scrimmage, with linebackers, safeties and even cornerbacks moving up in the box. Before the snap, there were as many as seven players crowding the line of scrimmage in a standup position, with as few as two players with their hands in the dirt.
That's a far cry from the blitz packages of former defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli, who relied almost exclusively on placing his two linebackers over center as his only means of dialing up a blitz. Marinelli did experiment last season with using McClellin as a standup rover but it appears Tucker is going to take that concept to the next level.
In 2012, the Bears finished fifth in total defense, and eighth against both the pass and rush. They also led the league in fumble recoveries, interceptions and total turnovers. So despite the loss of Brian Urlacher, Tucker doesn't need to reinvent the wheel. The Bears aren't going to suddenly become a traditional 3-4 defense, which many have predicted since McClellin was drafted, but they will no longer be the stale 4-3 team they were under Smith and Marinelli, particularly when it's time to pressure the quarterback.
"[Pressure] has got to come from everywhere. We've got to get pressure on the quarterback," Tucker said. "It could be four, 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."
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his third season covering the Chicago Bears full time. 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.