Believe it or not my fantasy football league just recently eliminated having a defense on your team because of the insane year that the Bears had on defense last year. Getting 25+ fantasy points on the reg(ular) last year from a defense wasn’t a thang for these guys.
But as they say, “new season, new results”. Without needing to state the elephant in the room, the Bears defense will be under more of a microscope this year more than they have been over the last 10+ years.
Lovie, Gone. Urlacher, Gone. (Idonije), (Gone).
As Garth Algar from Wayne’s World once said, “people fear change” and that seems to be the common consensus amongst Bears fans about this revamped defense for 2013 and beyond (at least before the preseason started). But have no fear Bears fans, this year’s defense should make you feel right at home.
Here the three biggest keys to ensuring you will feel that way at the end of the season:
1) Bears Corners Can’t Lose A Step
The biggest variable with this year’s team is matching the level of play from last year at the CB position. The Bears were so hot last year on defense because of the insane run that Peanut Tillman & Tim Jennings had with turnovers and locking down receivers.
Any Bears fan will tell you that the superior “ball punching” skills from Peanut was not unique last season. But what was unique was his ability to do it so consistently to the point where Sportscenter found themselves saying “ball punch” more frequently than they would like.
Peanut had 10 forced fumbles and 3 INTs last season. At the age of 32, going on his 12th season, can he keep up this level of play for 1, 2 or even 3 more years while Phil Emery replaces around other positions?
There is legitimate concern each year (as there has been at this point over the last three seasons) about whether or not this year would be the year that Peanut shows signs of regression. If Peanut can see it through another year, lord would that be huge for the Bears this year!
The other side of the defense was the Bears’ biggest surprise of 2012: Tim Jennings.
Jennings had 9 INTs last year. His ability to sniff out the ball and anticipate INTs last year was just flat.out.insane. But it was certainly uncommon for Jennings if you look at all years leading up to the last in the league.
Both Bears deservedly earn Pro Bowl nods. However, both would also probably tell you that was unexpected a year ago in the preseason. In order for the Bears to shoot for the playoffs this year and ring in a successful year 1 under the Marc Trestman era, both Peanut & TJ need to lock down both sides of the field like they know how.
They need to create turnovers like they have done time and time again. And they need stop some of the league’s best wide receivers in Megatron, A.J. Green & the Packers arsenal week in and week out.
Unnamed player to watch – keep an eye out for youngbuck Isaiah Frey filling in for injured Kelvin Hayden at the Nickle position. Frey, originally from California, grew up a Bears fan, brings a ton of energy and a hard hitting mindset to the Bears secondary in his second year in the league.
2) Lance Briggs’ Leadership & Young Linebackers Performance
Almost the most obvious of any headline coming into the Bears season revolved around replacing Brian Urlacher. Subsequently, that also brings into question the true ability of Lance Briggs as the Bears #1 leader.
For years, Lance took a backseat to Urlacher as #54 was the face of the franchise. It was a match made in heaven for fans as #54 & #55 never once had any leadership or trust issues. Bears fans just assumed that Lance was a #2… a “Dwyane Wade” if you will.
Early indications in the preseason show that assumption isn’t the case. The Bears defense, early on, hasn’t lost a step with their attitude and swagger, leading me to believe that Lance has that locker room on point with where they need to be.
What will be most important, though, is how his leadership rubs off onto the youngin’s Jon Bostic & Khaseem Greene?
Bostic & Greene both bring impressive collegiate resumes to the table, similar size and strong early signs that they will contribute right away. From everything they’ve shown, their games will be different and will complement each other very favorably. Greene brings sure-tackling, an ability to fill any gap & intelligence in his reads. Bostic brings an instinctual, big play ability and is known for his on-field attitude. Both will bring production, there is no question about that.
That being said, Bears fans only want this young linebacker core to quickly rise to the top of the league. In order for that to happen, Briggs needs to quickly show his leadership and influence on the young guys and the young guys need to inject youth into the defense. The responsibility will be on all three (and James Anderson/DJ Williams) to quickly gel together and solidify the front seven.
If Briggs shows he is a top notch leader and that he can groom the young LBs, things will be looking up for this new core. The responsibility is on each and every one of them to take the opportunity.
3) Henry Melton Needs To Earn His Money
Big Hen Mel’s best storyline is that he was a running back in the Texas backfield when Vince Young took the Longhorns to the Championship in 2006. Melton, known as a power back, switched to DT quickly in 2007 for UT, showing that he is the definition of a football player.
Melton’s rise & talent on the Bears often goes underappreciated. Maybe Bears fans are still bitter about Tommie Harris, but Melton has emerged from an unknown player, hoping to make the roster to an All-Pro defensive tackle. Needless to say he deserves the credit and the paper that comes along with it.
Henry is currently under the franchise tag and he’s playing for a big contract. He loves Chicago and wants to stay here, so the Bears & Phil Emery would be foolish to not pay him (along with Cutler) after this season IF Melton is able to get back to the pro-bowl.
That shouldn’t be a big IF, but it certainly remains a valid question.
One of the biggest keys to Urlacher’s success early on in his career was what Ted Washington and Keith Traylor were able to do to clog the middle. The “swallowing up of lineman and running backs” allowed #54 to make big plays right from the start. Great defensive tackles are meant to absorb double teams and screw with pulling guards in the run game all while making plays. Great defensive tackles also make their linebackers look better all season long.
Melton brings big play ability already, but if he can continue to improve in his ability to take pressure off of the interior linebackers then we will not just see Melton have a great year. It will feed off on our linebackers and all will be happy on the defensive side of the ball.
If these key points are shown throughout the year then it is a safe assumption that the Bears will be back to being a top 10 defense. The points above highlight the need for our veterans to take their game to another level this season all while asking the rookies to play like young veterans.
If the leadership and the health is there, Bears fans should be excited to bruise up the black and blue division.