Training Camp Preview: Defense

The Chicago Bears finally flock to training camp at the end of this week, as 80 players make the trek to Bourbonnais. Here are JC's top five things to watch on the defensive side of the football.

How long will it be before Harris takes a day of rest?
This past season, it finally came to a head that Tommie Harris wasn't practicing enough to be effective on game day, although we still don't know whose side of the story is correct. While Harris himself says he has wanted to practice more than he has been allowed by the coaching staff, coach Lovie Smith hinted that it was Harris not wanting to put in the work necessary to suit up on Sunday and, ultimately, led to him being deactivated for Week 7's humiliation at Cincinnati. All indications this offseason suggest that the days of "Club Lovie" in Bourbonnais are over and done with, so it will be interesting to see if Harris is taking as many reps as the rest of the starters along the defensive line.

And if Harris is given a day off early on in training camp, this far removed from the December 2006 knee/hamstring injury he seems to have suffered from ever since, then it may be safe to assume the three-time Pro Bowler is damaged goods and will never return to form.

Does having Peppers mean Smith calls more Cover 2?
Smith has been an advocate of the Cover 2 ever since he came to the Windy City, professing that the system will work against any opponent provided it's run properly. "Properly" means consistent pressure from the front four, which has not been the case in recent years, so general manager Jerry Angelo rolled the dice in free agency and signed all-decade pass rusher Julius Peppers to the richest contract in franchise history. Contrary to popular belief, the Bears have actually blitzed quite often the last few seasons in order to speed up the quarterback's decision-making process, but that eliminates the umbrella coverage making the Cover 2 somewhat immune to big plays in the passing game.

Should Peppers ultimately prove to be worth the money and capable of pressuring the passer down in and down out, Smith can go back to the scheme's roots and force enemy offenses to beat his defense with 10- and 12-play drives.

Can Urlacher still cover the deep middle of the field?
When the defense gives the opposing QB too much time to throw in the pocket, not only do the linebackers, cornerbacks and safeties have to cover receivers longer, but there is more actual ground to cover. That's a bad thing when your middle linebacker is Hunter Hillenmeyer, who did about as well as he can do in 2009 subbing for an injured Brian Urlacher, but he's simply not enough of an athlete to sprint backward between the hash marks and take away those deep crossing routes to wideouts and seam patterns to tight ends. Urlacher says that his body is fresh after sitting out 15 of 16 games last season due to a freak wrist injury, but now 32 years old, it remains to be seen if he has lost any of his trademark speed.


LB Brian Urlacher
Scott Boehm/Getty

Bears fans should be very happy to hear about Urlacher getting his hands on balls over the middle in training camp, even if he doesn't intercept them, as that might mean he has enough gas left in the tank to be a Pro Bowler once again.

Has Roach improved enough to beat out Tinoisamoa this time?
While it appears that Mark Anderson is going to end up as the starter opposite Peppers at defensive end, the race to the top of the depth chart at strong-side linebacker is a two-man affair between Nick Roach and Pisa Tinoisamoa. It was Roach losing out to Tinoisamoa last year, but after Tinoisamoa was hurt in the opener, Roach spent the majority of the season in the starting lineup and is still only 25. Although he is technically not a draft pick and was instead plucked off the Chargers practice squad in 2007, Angelo admitted to treating Roach like a draft pick and was looking for further development from him down the road.

Just because Tinoisamoa beat out Roach a year ago, that doesn't mean the same thing will happen this time around.

When will Wright threaten to break into the lineup?
If there is only one draft choice that needs to stand up and deliver as a rookie, it's third-round safety Major Wright. As he was getting no better than second-team reps during the offseason program, the coaches had natural free safety Danieal Manning playing strong safety and natural strong safety Chris Harris playing free safety. This has all been done because Manning makes too many mental mistakes as the last line of defense, the most glaring example being Peyton Manning to Reggie Wayne in Super Bowl XLI, but Harris isn't equipped to be effective 30 and 40 yards downfield against elite receivers.

The less time it takes Wright to learn the defense and let his natural play-making ability take over, the better the chances that Manning is put out of his misery for good as a safety and can go back to playing nickel and returning kickoffs.


Agree? Disagree? Let your voice be heard on our message board RIGHT HERE.


John Crist is the Publisher of BearReport.com, a Heisman Trophy voter and a member of the Professional Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.