Chicago Bears fans are excited about the improvements made to the defensive front seven this off-season.
GM Ryan Pace upgraded the front seven at every single position with highly-sought-after free agents and high-round draft picks. That should result in a drastically improved run defense and more pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
Yet nearly every Bears fan in existence has concerns about the secondary.
I believe these concerns are overblown for a number of reasons and that fans are overlooking some glaring signs of substantial improvement on the back end of the defense this year.
On the Right Track
The Bears gave up 31 passing touchdowns last season, which was fifth most in the NFL. That's obviously not good but remember, the coaching staff made some important personnel changes early in the year.
In the first three weeks of the regular season, Alan Ball gave up five touchdowns as a starter at boundary corner. Sherrick McManis gave up five touchdowns of his own in five starts at nickelback.
Both players were benched but not before they combined to allow 10 touchdown receptions. Inside linebackers Shea McClellin, Christian Jones and Jonathan Anderson combined to give up five more TDs. They've been replaced by Jerrell Freeman and Danny Trevathan, who are very good coverage linebackers.
So there's 15 of the team's 31 TDs allowed wiped off the books.
McManis was replaced by Bryce Callahan, who didn't allow a single score out of the slot. Tracy Porter and Kyle Fuller gave up 12 TDs combined, which isn't great, but Fuller showed serious improvement as the season progressed.
Additionally, the secondary finished 4th in the NFL in passing yards, 14th in opposing completion percentage (62.9) and 20th in yards per attempt (7.5), so they weren't a total liability last year. Now that they've cut the dead weight, those numbers should continue to improve.
History of Success
Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio took over the San Francisco 49ers defense in 2011, with Ed Donatell as his secondary coach. Those two inherited Dashon Goldson and Donte Whitner at safety, and Carlos Rodgers and Tarrell Brown at cornerback.
Goldson played four uneventful seasons in San Francisco before Fangio and Donatell. He earned Pro Bowl honors in 2011 and 2012, and was named All-Pro in 2012.
Whitner was a former first-round pick of the Bills who never played to his potential in Buffalo. He went to three straight Pro Bowls (2012-2014) under Fangio and Donatell.
Rodgers, another former first rounder, played five mediocre seasons for the Redskins before joining the 49ers. He went to the Pro Bowl and was named second-team All-Pro his first year in San Francisco in 2011.
Brown was a backup and special teams contributor for four years in San Francisco from 2007-2010. Fangio and Donatell quickly developed him into a starter and Brown combined for 39 pass breakups the next three years combined.
That starting foursome had zero Pro Bowls before Fangio and Donatell. They earned six Pro Bowl berths, and two All-Pros, the next four years.
Fast forward to 2015 in Chicago. Fangio and Donatell took a fifth-round safety, Adrian Amos, and quickly turned him into a starter. Amos played more snaps than any player on defense last year.
Porter had played for three different teams the three years before signing with the Bears, and he instantly became a viable starter at the boundary position.
Callahan was an undrafted free agent who developed under Donatell on the practice squad for five weeks. Callahan thrived after given the starting role and enters camp this year as the presumed starter at nickel.
Fuller struggled mightily early in the campaign but, during the second half of the season, he was one of the league leaders at his position in opposing QB rating against.
Bottom line: Fangio and Donatell have a long track record of getting the most out of their secondary. There's no reason to believe they won't continue to mold serviceable corners and safeties in Chicago.
Fooled by the Bling
Bears fans are excited about the defensive front seven because so many big names have been added to the mix. Yet big names don't always equate to big production.
Pace made investments in the secondary, they just weren't the big shiny investments he made up front. That, more than anything, is the reason I believe Bears fans are so concerned about the cornerback and safety positions.
Re-signing Porter wasn't a flashy move but he's a starter-caliber corner who came at a fraction of the price as the other big-name free-agent cornerbacks.
Pace then added three secondary players in the draft but all came in the fourth round or later, so no one is hyped about them.
Remember, Goldson was a fourth-round pick and Brown was a fifth-round pick, yet both were legitimate, productive starters under Fangio and Donatell. And arguably the two best cornerbacks in the NFL, Richard Sherman and Josh Norman, were fifth-round picks. Why can't Deon Bush or Deiondre Hall or DeAndre Houston-Carson be the next Dashon Goldson?
If one of those three steps up and plays at a starter level, then the Bears should be able to field a serviceable secondary in 2016. Those aren't unrealistic expectations.
And if the front seven is able to pressure the quarterback at a more consistent rate this year, then serviceable will be more than good enough on the back end.