By Chris Emma–
INDIANAPOLIS (CBS) — Without context, the word “progress” can seem rather vague, but it’s the judgment that makes progress relevant.
The formerly beleaguered Bears have their own measurement of progress. Following two disastrous seasons for the franchise’s identity, its defense, simple steps of competence are considered positive.
Now three weeks into the preseason, the Bears are indeed showing signs of progress defensively. That’s important, considering the switch to Vic Fangio’s 3-4 defense won’t come easy.
“We’re able to feel comfortable, be where we’re supposed to be and able to make plays,” Bears cornerback Tim Jennings said. “It’s a good job by the coaching staff, but it’s an even better job in the locker room with the guys we have.”
Comfort is only the beginning of the Bears’ transition, but it’s a solid start. Former defensive coordinator Mel Tucker was fired at the end of a 2014 season in which the defense broke franchise records for futility. One of his greatest faults was often having players in the wrong place.
Consider that if safety Chris Conte had his assignment correct on the infamous fourth-and-8 against the Packers in 2013 finale, the Bears make the playoffs and Marc Trestman may still be head coach. Tucker could still have been defensive coordinator. But Conte drifted to the wrong receiver, unaware of his assignment, and Randall Cobb was wide open to win the game.
For Fangio’s defense to succeed in Chicago, the first step is for the players to understand their assignments in the complex schemes, then react without wasting time thinking. The Bears are improving at this, slowly but surely. Saturday’s preseason game in Indianapolis provides another proving ground.
“Every day is a work in progress,” said Bears linebacker Pernell McPhee, a veteran of the 3-4 defense.
What’s encouraging about the Bears’ defense is it’s beginning to produce. The defensive line, anchored by Jeremiah Ratliff, is getting push up front. The rushers are getting to the backfield and disrupting plays. And the secondary is consistently in the right spot, even forcing turnovers.
Two days of joint practice with the Colts and the phenomenal Andrew Luck brought troubling moments for the Bears and reminded of a couple realities: Luck’s one of the best quarterbacks in the league, and Chicago has more work to be done. But there’s nothing new there.
“We’re adjust fairly well,” Bears safety Antrel Rolle said. “Obviously, we’re still a long ways from where we want to be, and that’s totally fine right now at this point. We’re only trying to get better, each and every day.”
Plenty of questions must be answered before the 2015 version of Fangio’s defense is complete. Nose tackle Eddie Goldman may end up playing the 5-technique next to Ratliff, at least for this season. Jared Allen must continue to show what he’s capable of with Lamarr Houston pressing for his job. Shea McClellin has more to prove. Rookie Adrian Amos needs to hold onto the starting safety spot next to Rolle.
The list goes on and on, because this is all new for the Bears. Jobs must be earned, and trust must be gained. It’s a long process at hand. Down the road, there will be vastly different personnel and a more rounded, better suited unit. In 2015, Fangio must work with what he’s got — largely square pegs for round holes.
Collectively, improvements must constantly be made for the Bears defense, in every regard.
“Everything,” Rolle emphasized. “It’s only the beginning. We have to improve on everything at this point.”
At the least, progress is something to grasp, no matter how small it may be.
Follow Chris on Twitter @CEmma670.