Hub Arkush: Briggs loves defense's veteran presence

Expects big bounce back

Chicago Bears linebacker Lance Briggs talks to reporters after NFL football practice in Lake Forest, Ill., Tuesday, May 27, 2014. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh) (Nam Y. Huh)

OTA stands for organized team activity, and they are supposed to be quite different from minicamps, training camps and practices. But as the NFL has evolved in recent seasons, there really is only one difference.

Organized team activities are completely voluntary.

Of course choosing not to come to play with your teammates at OTAs is a great way to find yourself in the unemployment line come August, but it is a chance every player is free to take.

Last year all the focus at OTAs was on the offense with the arrival of offensive savant Marc Trestman, and a Bears offense desperately in need of a trip to the 21st century.

To the delight of most Bears fans, Trestman and his troops took them on that ride, but along the way the Bears' once monstrous defense became one of the worst in the league.

So the focus at the Bears' first 2014 OTA on Tuesday squarely was on the defense that literally will feature only one constant – Lance Briggs.

It is likely that when the defense lines up for the first snap of the 2014 season against the Buffalo Bills, Briggs, D.J. Williams and Charles Tillman will be the only starters from last season in the same positions, and they also will be in the final years of their contracts.

Tim Jennings will be starting again but could be at the nickel back, and although Tillman and Williams are back, their futures with the club appear to be short term.

Shea McClellin was the staring left end last year but now finds himself in the battle of his career with Jonathan Bostic for the starting SAM linebacker spot.

It is Briggs who will be counted on to lead the renaissance.

Asked how he and his teammates will approach getting the defense turned around, Briggs said, “You’ve got to move forward. There are a lot of things that we’re really going to have to correct this year. As far as last year, our tackling was really bad. I mean everything we did pretty much was atrocious, so you know everything we’re doing now is to not just correct that, but to get better and get ourselves back to being that top-five defense.”

It started with a roster makeover that delivered new projected starters Jared Allen, Willie Young, Lamarr Houston and Ryan Mundy via free agency, the resigning of veteran free-agents Williams, Tillman, Jennings and Jeremiah Ratliff and the drafting of Kyle Fuller, Ego Ferguson and Will Sutton.

But it’s those new and recycled vets who have Briggs’ juices flowing.

“There are a lot of good veterans out there. It’s nice to see Jay Ratliff back; it’s nice to see Jared Allen, some of these other guys, Willie, Lamarr, it’s great to have that veteran presence in the defensive huddle, I think that’s important.”

Briggs added, “The veterans we’ve brought in, they’re leaders. They’ve been leaders everywhere they’ve been, and being here, veterans understand what you’ve got to do, these guys know what they’ve got to do and they’re going to get it done.”

Defensive coordinator Mel Tucker also has promised some scheme adjustments are in the works, but Briggs is less certain now what to expect from those changes.

“I have an idea, but it’s still going to come down to running to the ball," Briggs said "You know, get the guy down and get the ball away from him. We’re going to see ball and I’m going to hit ball.”

That is something Bears fans know they can count on Briggs to do, and he clearly was in much better shape physically to do it on the first day of OTAs than he was when he returned from his shoulder injury late last season.

How well Briggs and his new defensive teammates rebound will determine whether this club can take another step forward in Year 2 of the Trestman regime, and whether or not the Briggs era will continue in Chicago.

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