The Chicago Bears have some heavy lifting to do during training camp this year. A new coaching staff will be installing new systems in every phase of the team, which includes defensive coordinator Vic Fangio’s 3-4 front.
The biggest concern for Fangio has to be pass rush. The Bears made a wise free-agent investment in Pernell McPhee, a versatile pass rusher who had 7.5 sacks last year as a backup in Baltimore. Yet beyond McPhee, the outside linebacker position is littered with questions.
Can Jared Allen bounce back from a career-low 6.5-sack season in 2014? Can Lamarr Houston (ACL) and Willie Young (Achilles) return to their pre-injury form? Can Sam Acho, who has just 6.0 sacks the last three years combined, provide any type of consistency off the edge? Is David Bass ready to take the next step in his development?
Within the outside linebacker position group, only Acho and McPhee have previous experience as 3-4 OLBs, which is concerning. The learning curve for the rest of the unit is steep and it could take a while for them to acclimate.
The Bears ranked dead last in the NFL in sacks in 2013 (31) and just 16th last season (39). If the club can’t improve in that area and fails to consistently collapse the pocket, it’s tough to foresee this defense taking a substantial step forward.
In the secondary, the cornerback position is unsettled. Kyle Fuller struggled mightily in the second half of his rookie season, while 31-year-old Tim Jennings took a step backward last year. Alan Ball hasn’t practiced all off-season and Tracy Porter is a mid-level journeyman.
High-upside guys like Sherrick McManis and Al Louis-Jean could be pleasant surprises but they are painfully untested.
If the Bears can’t find a competent cornerback duo and no one steps up to claim Charles Tillman’s role of lock-down No. 1, then they have little chance of shutting down the high-octane passing attacks of the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions in 2015.
- Camp Preview: Safety
- Camp Preview: Cornerback
- Camp Preview: Inside Linebacker
- Camp Preview: Outside Linebacker
- Camp Preview: Defensive Line
- Camp Battle: Mundy vs. Vereen
- Camp Preview: Offensive Line
- Camp Battle: Ball vs. McManis
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his fifth season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Follow Bear Report on Twitter.