By Chris Emma–
MOBILE, Ala. (CBS) — With that touch of central Pennsylvania toughness, Vic Fangio has carved himself out a decorated career in defensive coaching.
The 58-year-old Fangio is an accomplished coordinator who has built defenses that fit his identity. His units are usually tenacious, physical and change games with takeaways.
Two seasons in, the Bears still don’t have a Fangio defense. Major upgrades are needed in the secondary. That starts with finding players to force turnovers. They’re well aware of the need.
“It’s a priority,” Fangio said Wednesday at the Senior Bowl. “To be a good defense, you got to be able to take the ball away. We haven’t done that well. We got to find guys that can do it. We got to improve in a lot of areas. If you improve a little bit in all spots, the takeaways will come, as long as you got some guys that have the knack for doing it.”
Fangio joined coach John Fox and the Bears brass in Mobile to coach the North team in the Senior Bowl this week. With this comes an important opportunity to coach some intriguing draft prospects within his 3-4 defensive schemes. Fangio gets to test players with his verbiage and plays.
He’s looking for prospects who could transform his defense.
The Bears forced just 11 takeaways in 2016, ranking dead last in football. That followed forcing only 17 turnovers in 2015. Those are damning numbers for a defense looking to forge Fangio’s identity, and they help explain how 9-23 in the past two seasons has happened.
Year 3 for this Bears regime must bring results, or else changes could come. To win games, the Bears must find players who can force turnovers.
“In San Francisco and wherever (Fangio has) been, he’s ranked very high in takeaways,” Bears general manager Ryan Pace said. “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.”
Last offseason, Pace continued his work to upgrade the front seven, signing defensive end Akiem Hicks and linebackers Danny Trevathan and Jerrell Freeman while drafting edge rusher Leonard Floyd ninth overall. The hope was that a bolstered defensive front could bring better in the secondary.
Instead, cornerback Kyle Fuller missed the entire season after an August knee scope, while safeties Adrian Amos and Harold Jones-Quartey regressed and defensive back Deon Bush struggled when he took the field. It was a revolving door of disappointment in the defensive backfield.
Cornerbacks Tracy Porter and Cre’Von LeBlanc tied for the team lead in interceptions with two apiece. Even with a solid pass rush, the Bears finished dead last in takeaways.
With ample cap room available, the Bears should be aggressive in free agency to find instant fits for their secondary. Safety Eric Berry and cornerback A.J. Bouye are among the top defensive backs available, with both set to draw a major market in free agency.
This week in Mobile, the Bears have turned their attention to finding upgrades for the secondary in the draft. Iowa’s Desmond King and Michigan’s Jourdan Lewis are two intriguing options at cornerback who have been coached by the Bears in their North practices.
Perhaps Fangio could use this coaching chance in Mobile to identify a player he can help transform into a ballhawk. The Bears have their hands on these prospects for an entire week, leaving no stone unturned.
When the Bears open up training camp in late July, their secondary must be drastically different. First comes a critical offseason. They’ve started by acknowledging their great problem and need for better.
Fangio’s defensive identity relies on it.