Bears

Hoge’s Bears Offseason Notebook No. 13: Figuring Out The Defense

Lance Briggs. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Lance Briggs. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

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By Adam Hoge-

(CBS) — Tuesday’s OTA practice provided our first glimpse at the Bears’ defense since the end of last season, which is why I spent the majority of the practice watching the defensive alignments and techniques.

So what did I see? To be honest, I didn’t see much difference from the defenses Bears fans have been used to over the last decade. But trust me, there will be significant new wrinkles when the Bears defense takes the field in September against the Buffalo Bills.

I don’t expect those wrinkles to be obvious until the season actually starts. Tuesday’s practice was just the first of the OTA sessions, and it was the only one of three practices open to the media this week. The Bears are still in the early process of installing the defense, and any exotic looks will probably be installed when reporters aren’t around.

What we saw this week was a lot of the 4-3 base defense “over” and “under” looks, as well as plenty of nickel personnel to combat the Bears’ frequent use of “11” personnel (one back, one tight end, three wide receivers). But if you watched closely you could see some minor wrinkles, including more more man-defense played by the secondary with safety Ryan Mundy playing some press-man near the line of scrimmage (this is something Chris Conte did in Week 17 against the Packers last season).

In fact, while walking off the field after practice, one offensive player commented, “They played more man-to-man than I thought.”

And that was just the first practice. Expect more moments like that for the offense this summer.

Now let’s get to your questions.

Tweetbag

With the Bears showing mostly base looks this week, Willie Young was the No. 2 left defensive end, behind Lamarr Houston. He’s essentially the No. 3 defensive end on this team — behind Houston and Jared Allen — and he’s going to see the field a lot. On passing downs, Houston provides a lot of versatility, as he has the ability to move inside or rush from a two-point stance. I believe there will be times when Houston, Allen and Young are all on the field at the same time.

As for two-back sets with Matt Forte and Ka’Deem Carey, I wouldn’t rule it out completely, but I’d say that’s not something you’ll see a lot. The Bears run plenty of two-back sets, but that’s with fullback Tony Fiammetta on the field, a player Marc Trestman likes a lot in his offense. According to my research, Forte and Michael Bush were only on the field together for 10 snaps last season. Of course, that doesn’t mean Trestman won’t see different possibilities with Carey and use him with Forte more, but I don’t expect it to be a common occurrence.

No. Everything but a 2015 roster bonus is guaranteed in his original rookie contract, which means it would actually cost the Bears nearly $1.9 million in cap space to cut McClellin this year. That’s not happening. He’ll get at least this full season to prove himself at linebacker.

This is a hard question to answer because it really depends on injuries. Currently, the Bears have done a good job of leaving the space they currently have so they have the flexibility to add if they need to, much like they did with Jeremiah Ratliff in the middle of last season after pretty much all of their defensive tackles got hurt.

Right now the Bears are probably looking for another receiver after Domenik Hixon tore his ACL, but with league rosters at 90 right now, there aren’t many options out there. There will be minor moves here and there, but any major spending likely won’t occur right before the start of the season, after rosters are reduced to 53 players. And even then, the Bears won’t spend unless they have to. You always want to leave yourself with as much flexibility as possible during the season.

I believe that Jordan Palmer is in a much better position to win the backup quarterback job, and if that’s how it plays out after the preseason, then I don’t think the Bears will have any problem cutting David Fales with the hope of signing him to the practice squad. A lot of that will depend on roster availability and how competitive Fales turns out to be, but if I were a Bears fan right now, I’d think of Fales as Matt Blanchard rather than Josh McCown.

It’s hard to tell after one practice in shorts, but I will say that Marquess Wilson looked stronger when I saw him Tuesday. Hixon was supposed to be the main competition, so it’s even more important now for Wilson to take a big step forward. Josh Morgan should provide a little bit of a push, and yes, I think Emery will add another wide receiver, but it will be hard to find competition like Hixon would have provided. The Bears are gambling on Wilson, and it’s his job to lose.

Film session

We’re going to let Dan Durkin take over this week’s film session with his breakdown of the “Switched Verticals” concept.

Extra point

Former Bears defensive end Julius Peppers met with reporters after the Packers’ OTA practice in Green Bay Thursday and produced this cryptic quote: “I felt fine last year. Circumstances around me and the team led to certain things.”

It’s hard to get more vague than “circumstances” and “certain things,” so who knows what Peppers is referring to, but if he indeed “felt fine” last year, then it’s hard to explain his sub-par production.

It will be interesting to see how Peppers performs in the Packers’ defense this year. I think his hybrid role will suit him well, but how much does he have left in the tank?

I know this: Peppers must have something left if Ted Thompson was willing to make a signing like that.

Adam Hoge covers the Bears for CBSChicago.com and is a frequent contributor to 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter at @AdamHoge.