Key to Victory

The only questions on the NFL's top-ranked unit are in the secondary, where the Bears lost two starters: hard-hitting safety Tony Parrish (49ers) and cornerback Walt Harris (Colts). The Bears filled those voids internally with Jerry Azumah replacing Harris and Mike Green stepping in for Parrish. The Bears are confident the replacements will play just as well as those who departed.

"Those two guys are ready to play," Brown said. "They were ready to play last year. They got in crucial games for us and made big plays for us. There's not going to be any drop-off at all."

Green plays a position where hitting is vital, so questions surround his 190-pound frame. The mind is willing, but is the body able over a 16-game season plus the playoffs?

"He's one of those guys that doesn't love his body," secondary coach Vance Bedford said of Green. "He just throws himself around. If it's moving, if it has a different color jersey, he's going to hit it."

Green was the last player taken in the 2000 draft, making him the NFL's beloved "Mr. Irrelevant." Nonetheless, defensive coordinator Greg Blache says Green was the Bears' most productive tackler last season based on stops per chances.

Azumah has 11 starts during the last three seasons, so the Bears are confident he can deliver. Still, rookie third-round pick Roosevelt Williams is pushing Azumah for the job.

The other pressing issue on the Bears defense - and this speaks volumes about the unit's dominance - is who will be the third-down pass rusher. That position was a huge weakness last season. Karon Riley, a fourth-round pick last season, did next to nothing. While he refuses to blame last season's struggles on some personal tragedies, Riley's lost his cousin, R&B superstar Aaliyah, in a plane crash, as well as a grandfather and another cousin all within three months. Alex Brown, this year's fourth-round pick, and former Packer and Brown Keith McKenzie are pushing Riley.

The Bears' defensive line is solid and anchored in the middle by the mammoth Ted Washington and the slim-and-trim Keith Traylor, who has lost about 30 pounds to get down to 320 after working with a personal trainer. The linebackers are the best group west of Washington, D.C., with former Eagles starter Mike Caldwell backing up stars Brian Urlacher, Rosevelt Colvin and Warrick Holdman.

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