Backup Plan

Lake Forest - The Bears' injuries on defense have altered coordinator Ron Rivera's expectations for improvement, but they've given other players a chance to step up into more prominent roles. That has given the defense more depth and more players capable of contributing to the success of the unit.

"I think it's delayed the continuity of this defense," Rivera said of the injuries. "But one thing that we're beginning to see is that when a guy plays for an extended period of time, he improves, and the guys around him improve."

The defensive line is a prime example. Adewale Ogunleye's acquisition provided a huge jolt of talent, but he and his linemates still needed some time to become acquainted. And Bryan Robinson's release late in the preseason has allowed young players to accelerate their learning process.

"I think the D-line's getting more comfortable with Adewale out there," Rivera said. "The tackle who works next to him (rookie Tommie Harris) is getting more comfortable. I think the end on the opposite side (Alex Brown) is getting more comfortable."

When Lovie Smith hired Rivera, the defensive line was at best a gigantic question mark and at worst one of the weakest units in the NFL. Now it's possible that it will become a team strength. Backup Michael Haynes is contributing much more than he did last season as a rookie, as is tackle Ian Scott, who moved into the starting lineup after Alfonso Boone was hurt. Second-round pick Tank Johnson has shown flashes, and second-year man Israel Idonije has moved from end to tackle to provide solid depth.

"Those young guys are developing, and they're developing quite rapidly," Rivera said. "We took a chance. Coach (Smith) felt that it was in the best interest of developing our young players for the future that we let Bryan Robinson go. It was a tough decision, but Coach felt that it was much needed because we had young guys who had to get on the football field. He took that chance and I think it's beginning to pay dividends."

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