The Chicago Bears don’t play their first preseason game until tomorrow but already there’s a different feel about the defense.
That can be credited to the presence of defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, who is installing a 3-4 system after the organization ran a 4-3, Cover 2 scheme the last 10-plus years. The changes are already evident and the players are certainly buying into what Fangio is selling.
“[Fangio] is intense,” said safety Ryan Mundy, who is entering his second season with the Bears. “He has a very straight forward personality and he demands execution from his players.”
Fangio ‘s defenses have a history of playing with intensity, dating back to his days as coordinator for the Carolina Panthers and, most recently, four very successful seasons in San Francisco. Now Fangio is bringing that intensity to a unit that has lacked fire the past two seasons.
“Well, we’re off to that start,” said Fangio. “But like I tell the defense in meetings, it’s easy to be enthusiastic and emotional and physical early on. You’ve got to maintain it over a 16-game schedule.”
Getting back that intensity that made the Bears’ defense a once-feared unit won’t happen overnight. Fangio believes it’s on the players to get the team to that level.
“That’s part of our job,” Fangio said. “We try and instill it any which way we can, but ultimately they’ve got to take it upon themselves.”
The Bears open up the preseason Thursday night against the Miami Dolphins, which will give us our first look at the new defense in game action. It will also give a clearer picture as to who is playing well and who might fit this defense, as well as which players are square pegs in round holes.
That includes the defensive line, which is still a wide-open competition amongst a number of players.
“Well, we need to find our d-line. The coaches don’t pick them, the players do,” said Fangio. “Somebody’s got to step out and be an obvious pick as to who are the starters and who makes the team. Right now we have one really good player in Jay Ratliff. The other guys are fighting for that second, third, fourth, fifth and potentially sixth spot. There’s a good fight going on right now.”
The defense is improving on a daily basis but not everything has been positive so far for Fangio.
In May, Fangio vehemently vouched for Ray McDonald, whom the Bears signed and quickly released this off-season following his third off-the-field incident in less than a year. On Friday, Fangio spoke for the first time publically about McDonald.
“I don't regret trying to vouch for him. At the time I believed it was the right thing to do,” said Fangio. “The only thing that I regret is that because it didn't work out, and the club put their faith in my recommendation, and George [McCaskey] and Ryan [Pace] and John [Fox] took some hits from you guys and you really should've been hitting me and not them.”
Further Fangio Tidbits
On the progress of OLB Lamarr Houston:
“We’ll it’s hard to say. We’ve been picking and choosing the drills he gets in and then just the last day or two he’s gotten in some 11-on-11 drills. I’m trying hard not to evaluate him, let him get comfortable back to playing, so trying hard not to look at him in evaluation.”
On Jared Allen’s progress:
“It’s been going well. He’s doing well mentally for a guy that’s never played there. He’s picked up the stuff good mentally. He executes well. He just has to learn and feel and be exposed to more route combinations, when he’s dropping exactly how to play them.”
On Shea McClellin at inside linebacker:
“He's done well in there, you know I know he has a history of being moved around but one of our first discussions when we got here was where to play him and most people wanted him to play outside including him, himself, but I didn't see it that way. I said I want to put him at inside first and I'm glad we did and I think he's glad we did now, even though he wanted to play outside first. I think he's found a home in there and it's going to be a growing process. It's a position that relies a lot on experience, instincts, play recognition and I think he's getting better and better at that.”
On ILB Christian Jones:
“He's coming. Inside linebacker is an instinct, play-recognition position That's why you see some of these guys that maybe don't have the greatest ability sometimes surviving in there and playing good because they're just really good at play recognition and reacting and he's getting better and better at that. He's not where he needs to be. He wont be where he needs to be until two or three years from now, you know it takes time.”
On the impact of S Antrel Rolle:
“Hopefully a good impact. Hopefully he can get his movement back to where it was and play like a young man again.I think he'll be a great leader for us, quarterbacking the secondary a little bit and we'll see how it shakes out as to who's back there and he can be a positive influence.”
On CB Kyle Fuller:
“Every defense, I don't care what scheme you're playing, you need good corners. They're going to have to play some one-on-one coverage sometimes, and they've got to be able to stand up and handle the hard downs. Hopefully, we think, but hopefully we're right, that we think he can do that.”
On DL Ego Ferguson:
“I think he's improved from last year, to the offseason, to now. I think he's gotten better. He's learning the techniques and the style the way we want to play. I think he's had a maturity from Year 1 to Year 2. We'll see if he can carry it over into the games.”
Is OLB Willie Young starting from scratch?
“Yes, yes. For two reasons: One because it's a new position, and then because he missed the entire off-season because of his injury. So he's battling not just a new position, like a lot of them are, but he didn't get the off-season work, so he's behind.”
Zack Pearson graduated from Columbia College Chicago with a journalism degree and has years of experience covering the Chicago Bears. He has written for BleacherReport, FanSided and founded ChiCitySports.