By Chris Emma–
LAKE FOREST, Ill. (CBS) — Year 1 in the John Fox and Ryan Pace era saw the Bears record a lowly 17 takeaways in 16 games. They declared it would be an emphasis for improvement moving forward.
The Bears followed that lowly mark with an even an more embarrassing total — 11 turnovers forced in 2016, the lowest mark in the NFL. That could largely be traced to the secondary, a unit that was constantly in flux this season.
“I looked at that and obviously that’s a major issue,” Pace said of the takeaway total Wednesday at the season-ending press conference. “I looked back where (Bears defensive coordinator) Vic Fangio’s been. In San Francisco and wherever he’s been, he’s ranked very high in takeaways. That’s his track record — top five for a number of years in San Francisco.
“I honestly think we need to add more playmakers to our secondary. We need to add more ball skills to our secondary. That’s on me, and we’ll do that.”
After the 2015 season, the Bears upgraded their front seven, adding players like lineman Akiem Hicks and linebackers Danny Trevathan, Jerrell Freeman and Leonard Floyd. Pace believed that a revamped defensive front would create the kind of pressure to force turnovers in the secondary.
That didn’t happen. The Bears’ secondary struggled and failed to change the game. How does Pace explain the disregard last offseason for the secondary?
“We re-signed Tracy Porter,” he said. “I had high expectations that (2014 first-round pick Kyle Fuller) would be healthy this year. Tracy battled some things this season; obviously, Fuller wasn’t available. (Bryce) Callahan was another player that we had high expectations for, and he was in and out of the lineup.
“That’s a position that’s going to be a major need going forward. We just had too many injuries and bumps that kind of derailed that a little bit.”
The Bears finished with eight intercptions on the season, with Porter and undrafted free agent Cre’Von LeBlanc leading the way with two.
In addressing Fuller’s future, Pace said that the Bears are still committed to developing him. Fuller had a knee scope in August that eventually forced him out for the entire season. The Bears were frustrated with Fuller’s inability to return from his designation on the injured reserve, with Fangio questioning Fuller’s desire.
The Bears have the No. 3 pick in the 2017 draft and high picks in each of the seven rounds. They also have a top-five number in cap space to sign players in free agency, Pace said.
Pace made it clear that upgrading the secondary would be a primary emphasis.