The Chicago Bears run a base 4-3 defensive scheme–four linemen and three linebackers. That’s how it has been and that’s how it’s going to be. For now. The organization made that clear despite last off-season’s media and fan discussion of a scheme change. Mel Tucker1 laid out the vision back in February:
We want to be very stout and physical in the run game and then in the passing game be able to pressure with four guys. Our pressure packages will fit our personnel and be dynamic enough where we can play to guys’ strengths and be unpredictable.
Although Tucker’s comments suggest the Bears will rush four down linemen, words like unpredictable, versatility and flexibility have come out of Bears’ camp when describing the new look defense. Head coach Marc Trestman2 knows his team can transform into a 3-4 base alignment if the roster talent fits the scheme. “I can say this: We know we have the coaching ability to move scheme… Part of our decisions and how we move forward schematically will be based on the players that are in our locker room.” Trestman and General Manager Phil Emery, decided quickly this off-season that sticking with Defensive Coordinator Mel Tucker along with the Bears’ traditional 4-3 defense was the least disruptive of all the options. But the new look roster suggests a defensive scheme change is coming. There is another word I see in the team’s future: transition.
The Bears have closed the books on Lovie Smith’s defense. Some concepts and terminology may linger but, make no mistake, it’s Mel Tucker’s vision, language and scheme in play now. No more crutches. No more excuses. Expect a hybrid defense to take shape this season as the Bears look to confuse opposing offenses and kick-start a defensive scheme transition. The head coach3 is on board: “You’d like to be flexible enough to have the ability to play different-looking fronts, to bring different kinds of pressures, to play different kinds of coverages and then put it all together.” So look for the defensive coordinator and his staff of veteran coaches to mesh the Bears’ existing linebackers and linemen–Lance Briggs, Jonathan Bostic, Shea McClellin, Jeremiah Ratliff, D.J. Williams–with some fresh talent–Jared Allen, Lamarr Houston, Willie Young, Ego Ferguson, Will Sutton.
The defensive roster has the right mix of athletes to rush four linemen. Defensive ends like Allen, Houston and Young will get to the quarterback while tackles Ratliff, Paea, Ferguson and Sutton create pressure up the middle. Expect to see that kind of attack plenty on Sundays this season. The upgrades on the defensive line–regardless of scheme–will create at least a dozen more sacks than last season’s 31 team total–good for a dead last ranking4 in 2013. But here’s the twist.
With Shea McClellin’s move to linebacker, the defensive coaches will have an opportunity to stand up four linebackers in a 3-4 set. Lance Briggs and D.J. Williams along with Bostic and McClellin are an imposing, athletic foursome that can either drop into short coverage or blitz the quarterback. And the 300 plus pound inside tackles are hefty enough–former Bears’ star tackle Henry Melton is a slender 280–to eat up space and cause trouble in the middle. The formation gives McClellin a chance to use the cushion between himself and the offensive line to gain momentum and make a move towards the quarterback. And having both Williams and Bostic as inside backers frees up seven time Pro Bowler Lance Briggs to create havoc near the line of scrimmage and in the opposing backfield. It won’t happen much. But shifting to a 3-4 alignment from time-to-time this season will prove to Trestman and Emery that the Bears have the talent suited to make the switch permanent.
Words like flexibility and transition will define the Bears’ defense this season. It’s time for the coaches to mix it up a little–4-3, 3-4 and even some 4-4 and 3-3-5 alignments. Use the four skilled linebackers to give offenses something new to prepare for. Will the Bears eventually switch to a 3-4 base defense full-time? It’s quite possible based on some of the roster talent that’s been brought to Chicago this past off-season. But the staff should first test the waters and see how much success will come of it. And there is an excellent core of defensive ends that are best highlighted in a 4-3. So expect Mel Tucker to bring a hybrid defense that challenges offensive tackles and guards while causing offensive coordinators to lose a few more hours of sleep each week.
Niral Patel ~ SecCitySportsReport@gmail.com