Strange things happened during my visit to Jacksonville almost three months ago.
I saw a lizard in a tree. I saw everyday people wearing Blaine Gabbert jerseys. I saw Bears third-string running back Armando Allen rush for a 46-yard touchdown.
Like I said, strange things happened.
As I watched the Bears clobber the Jaguars, 41-3, beneath an impeccably blue Florida sky, I never could have imagined a late-season nosedive that would cost Lovie Smith his job. Nor could I have imagined that the man behind the Jaguars’ overmatched defense would be lured to lead the Bears’ defense in 2013.
Yet that’s what happened.
I’m telling you, strange things.
Say hello to Mel Tucker, the Bears’ new defensive coordinator. The Bears hired Tucker on Friday after he spent four seasons in the same role with the Jaguars and one season before that in the same role with the Cleveland Browns.
Tucker will replace Rod Marinelli, who decided that it was time for a fresh start instead of returning to the Bears for a fifth season. New Bears coach Marc Trestman had hoped that Marinelli would stick around, but the veteran coach opted to reunite with longtime friend Monte Kiffin as the defensive line coach of the Dallas Cowboys.
By adding Marinelli, the Cowboys’ defense became better Friday than it was Thursday.
Can the same be said for the Bears?
Hey, it’s possible. No one will know for sure until the opening kickoff next fall.
But Tucker has some big cleats to fill. Or, you know, whatever footwear coaches prefer.
For months (make that years) (actually, decades), Bears fans begged and pleaded for improvements on offense. Those fans were met with disappointment after almost every season, including the most recent one in which the Bears finished No. 28 in total offense.
In response, the Bears dumped Smith and hired Trestman, an accomplished coach who assembled some of the NFL’s top offenses in San Francisco and Oakland before he headed to the Canadian Football League. Trestman then bolstered the Bears’ coaching staff by hiring offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer, an expert when it comes to the offensive line.
Zero doubt exists in my mind that the Bears’ offense will be better next season.
As for the defense, I am far less certain.
While Trestman and Kromer and others confer with Jay Cutler and decide how best to use Matt Forte and Brandon Marshall, Tucker will be on an island with the Bears’ defense.
It’s an island filled with talent, absolutely, but an island nonetheless.
Tucker will inherit a defense better than any other he has coached. Behind the guidance of Smith and Marinelli, the Bears led the NFL with 44 takeaways in 2012 to go along with a franchise-record nine defensive touchdowns, 41 sacks and 54 tackles for losses.
Yet the stars of the group are aging.
Brian Urlacher will turn 35 years old in May and might not re-sign with the Bears as an unrestricted free agent. Julius Peppers celebrated his 33rd birthday Friday. Lance Briggs will turn 33 next season. Charles Tillman will turn 32 next month.
Henry Melton is a young star on the defensive line, but he also will be a free agent. Will Melton want to join one of his favorite coaches (Marinelli) in his hometown (Dallas)?
It’s completely possible that Tucker will be a success with the Bears. He coached the Jaguars’ defense to a No. 6 ranking in 2011 before they slid to No. 30 in 2012, and he has proved to be adaptable with both 4-3 and 3-4 schemes in his background.
But Tucker, like Trestman, will have to prove himself to his new players.
Let’s wait and see whether he can tackle the job.
• Tom Musick covers Chicago professional sports for Shaw Media. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @tcmusick and @Bears_Insider.