Upgraded staff will help Bears' front seven

It can be argued that defensive line coach Paul Pasqualoni and linebackers coach Reggie Herring were the best acquisitions the Chicago Bears made all offseason.

The struggles of the Chicago Bears defense last year have been well documented. The once-vaunted Monsters of the Midway were pushovers in 2013, particularly when the games mattered most.

"There are a lot of things that we're going to have to correct this year as far as last year. Everything we did was almost all atrocious," Lance Briggs said during OTAs. "Everything we're doing now is not just to correct that but to be better and get ourselves back to a top-five defense."

To that end, numerous personnel changes were made this offseason, particularly along the front seven. The defensive line is almost unrecognizable and the linebackers have a new addition in Shea McClellin.

Yet those aren't the most significant changes to the Bears' front line of defense. It could be argued that signing defensive line coach Paul Pasqualoni and linebackers coach Reggie Herring were Emery's most important acquisitions of the entire offseason.

Consider this: in 2013, the Bears employed defensive line coach Mike Phair and linebackers coach Tim Tibesar, both of whom had never previous held those positions. Phair was an assistant under former coordinator Rod Marinelli, while Tibesar was a first-year NFL head coach who spent most of his career at the collegiate level.

It's unfair to blame the deficiencies of Chicago's defense on just two coaches but when the injuries started to mount, it became clear that Phair and Tibesar were in over their heads.

After a historically awful season, one in which the club ranked dead last against the run for the first time in franchise history, Tibesar and Phair were given their walking papers.

In stepped Pasqualoni and Herring, two men no one would classify as inexperienced.

Pasqualoni was a walk-on linebacker for Penn State from 1968-1971. He began his coaching career the following year and has not taken a year off since. For the past 42 years, Pasqualoni has been a coach at either the collegiate or professional level, including stops as defensive coordinator for both the Miami Dolphins (2008-2009) and Dallas Cowboys (2010).

"I've gotten to know Paul over the years," Mel Tucker said. "First of all, he's a tremendous human being. He's a great person. High-integrity guy, tremendous experience on both sides of the ball in multiple positions. He's a high-energy, up-tempo, very intense, passionate, old-school, no-nonsense, get-after-it ball coach. And that's what we're looking for."

Herring is also a veteran football coach. After serving three years as a starting linebacker for Florida State (1978-1980), Herring moved right into coaching. Since 1982, Herring has been a defensive coordinator or linebackers coach at the collegiate and professional levels.

"Number one, Reggie has tremendous experience," said Marc Trestman. "His specialty is linebacker play. He was a linebacker. He's coached at all levels. He's extremely passionate and dynamic in his presentation. I think that will help. He's very good at developing players and I think he will have the respect of our veterans because of his experience. He relates well to our other coaches.

"I think that Mel having not only Reggie, but Paul in his pocket in terms of guys he can work with and communicate with is only going to benefit not only our defense but our entire football team."

Both coaches are football lifers who are more seasoned than a filet from Ditka's. There isn't any football-related situation they haven't yet come across. There's no injury they haven't seen, no formation with which they're unfamiliar, no attitude they haven't dealt with, no player type they haven't molded.

If the chips fall like they did last year and injuries mount on defense, it will be the solidifying presence of Chicago's veteran coaches that will keep the ship afloat.

"Experience on the coaching staff is huge," Tucker said. "At the top level here where the best compete, the success is measured in inches. So when you have experienced coaching, experienced staff, that can often times help define the winning edge. So that's what they bring."

The early returns for both coaches have been very positive, particularly from the players. Lance Briggs, who never appeared to fully trust Tibesar, has spent a lot of individual time with Herring, ostensibly to build mutual respect.

"I love the guy," said Briggs. "He's intense, he's kind of a throwback, kind of coach that I always remember growing up, so that part of the whole deal is in a weird way kind of comforting."

Intense might be an understatement when it comes to Herring's coaching style on the practice field. With the amount of yelling he does before, during and after plays, it's amazing he doesn't lose his voice on a daily basis. With Herring, there will be accountability.

Pasqualoni may not be as demonstrative but he's had just as big of an impact with his defensive linemen.

"He's a tough coach," said Stephen Paea. "You want to learn the game and he expects you to learn the game. He's going to make sure you get something out of it. The past few weeks that I've learned from him, I've learned a lot more now than I had the last three years."

The value of experienced coaches like Herring and Pasqualoni cannot be understated. When adversity hits, as it does for every NFL team, having coaches who have been there and done that will pay huge dividends.


Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his fourth 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.


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