This 2013 edition of the Bears' defense was a bit of an enigma to start the season, with new starters at defensive end, strong side linebacker, middle linebacker and the nickel back.
After linemen Henry Melton and Nate Collins were lost for the season, cornerback Charles Tillman started bouncing in and out of the lineup with “lower body” issues, and linebacker D.J. Williams went down for the count with a torn pectoral muscle, it’s been trending toward awful.
Will the loss of linebacker Lance Briggs, its lone contributor playing at a Pro Bowl level now out with the shoulder he busted up in Washington, be the death knell?
We can’t know yet, but there are a few things we know must happen for the Bears to have a chance Monday night in Green Bay.
First, Julius Peppers absolutely must assert his will on the line of scrimmage. Whether he still can, and why it hasn’t happened so far this year, are open questions. But he is the last man standing with the résumé to replace the production lost with Briggs going down.
Next, the Bears have to figure out how they are replacing Briggs and Williams, what they’re doing at linebacker in the nickel and who will lead this defense.
Coach Marc Trestman originally said of his dilemma about who will lead, “I don’t know that there’s a clear choice. Where James (Anderson) is and where Jonathan (Bostic) is right now, they would be the two likely candidates, and probably either one could make those calls and be sufficient.”
As far as who starts in Briggs’ spot, while it seems it almost has to be Khaseem Greene, Trestman is waiting as long as possible to commit.
“A lot of it will be based on tape of practice," Trestman said, "and there’s also special teams issues as well with our linebacker corps that we’re going to talk about over the next couple days.”
Defensive coordinator Mel Tucker said of Greene’s game readiness, “We’ll see how it plays out throughout the week. He’s been getting reps, and we’ll make that decision and we’ll go with it.”
It seems everyone but the Bears' coaching staff is assuming Greene will get the start. Why are Trestman and Tucker hesitant? Probably for the same reason it appears Anderson has been handed the play-calling and leadership roles Trestman suggested either he or Bostic might be “sufficient” at. The Bears need a lot more than sufficient to fix this defense.
Consider Tucker’s response when asked what his defense has to do to improve and stay competitive.
“Do your job. Do your job. Don’t try to do too much," he said. "Just be where you’re supposed to be, trust the defense, trust your teammates, trust your training and then read your keys and go. That’s the biggest thing.”
The obvious problem if you study tape is neither Bostic nor Greene knows yet where he’s supposed to be on every play, and safeties Major Wright and Chris Conte, who should know by now, can’t seem to get where they’re supposed to be, either.
When I asked Bostic how he felt about him and Greene starting next to each other against the Packers he said, “We’re just trying to get better from the last game and the previous game, and we’re just trying to improve each and every week.”
In other words, give us a chance.
The recipe for success will be extremely difficult to execute, but through all of this we at least know it exists.
Peppers must tear up the line of scrimmage enough to cover for the occasional assignments the young linebackers will blow, and the kids have to keep them to a minimum. Whether they’re in the right spot or not, the rookies must be as physical and disruptive as possible. And Conte and Wright must stop making everyone else’s job that much more difficult. If they can do all that, maybe, just maybe . . .
• Hub Arkush covers the Bears for Shaw Media and HubArkush.com. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.