The Bears were one of the three worst defenses in the NFL last season, maybe the worst.
You probably knew that, but you may not have realized how bad the numbers really were.
They were 30th in total defense, 32nd in average yards allowed per play, 32nd vs. the run, 26th in QB sacks and tied with the Redskins for 30th in the NFL in points allowed. Only Minnesota gave up more points.
Without significant improvement on that side of the ball, the Bears will be no better than 8-8 again this year. So what’s the answer?
The holy trinity for the 2014 Bears defense appears to be talent, coaching and attitude.
Phil Emery and Marc Trestman hope as many as seven new starters – Jared Allen, Lamarr Houston, Jeremiah Ratliff, Willie Young, either Shea McClellin or Jon Bostic at linebacker and two out of Ryan Mundy, M.D. Jennings, Danny McCray and Brock Vereen at safety – and significant upgrades in depth with the additions of Kyle Fuller, Ego Ferguson and Will Sutton will make a huge difference.
That is a ton of change in one offseason, similar to what the Bears did on offense last year. So far, defensive coordinator Mel Tucker is pleased.
"The guys today, they had a lot of fun out there," Tucker said. "All the groups are playing fast. We’re running three and four groups a day, and from top to bottom guys are having fun. They’re flying around. We see progress and improvement at every position. So it’s a work in progress, but I think so far, so good.”
It’s exciting but the fact is we won’t know until they start playing for real if Jared Allen for Julius Peppers is any more than a trade, how much Ratliff has left in the tank and whether McClellin or Bostic are an answer at linebacker.
Beyond that, only Houston among all the other veterans brought in has ever been more than average.
Perhaps the talent has been significantly upgraded, perhaps not. We do know just a return to good health for Lance Briggs, D.J. Williams and Charles Tillman will make a difference.
And those are not the only changes. With the addition of Paul Pasqualoni as the new defensive line coach and Reggie Herring as the new linebackers coach, Tucker is overseeing significant change on his staff as well and he acknowledges that coaching may have been an issue last season too.
“You know the run game in the NFL right now is zone plays, inside and outside zones," Tucker said. "Hard zone, flat zone, and it’s not just isos and powers. We have to understand and we do understand that, from a front seven standpoint, we’ve got to get our hands on guys, we’ve got to play blocks on the linebackers, we’ve got to be square, we’ve got to shuffle, mirror, fill and fall back, period.
"Regardless of whether we’re in Cover 2 or Cover 3 or whatever we’re in. That’s how we’re going to play and so we understand that as a group and we coach them that way, and I think the players are responding to that.”
Marc Trestman seems to have a laser focus on attitude.
“We weren’t the tough team (last season) we wanted to be for a lot of different reasons," Trestman said. "We’re a team that wants to play – even offensively – with a defensive mentality. And there’s a way to play football in Chicago and that’s to be tough and physical, set a vertical edge, violent shed and run to the football.
“The one thing we’ve done this year, we’ve tried to bring, tried to do a little bit more on what being a Bear is all about, you know? Being a Bear starts on the defensive side of the ball, with the mentality of what a Bears defense plays like and we just want to reinforce that to play for the Bears means play tough defense.”
Emery, Trestman, Tucker and company deserve a lot of credit. You don’t recover from a train wreck with a fresh coat of makeup. They’ve gone for the full makeover.
Now, do they have everything they need to make it work?
• Chicago Football editor Hub Arkush can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @Hub_Arkush.