LAKE FOREST – With all of the hubbub (I had to try and use that word) surrounding the “new” Bears offense, it is time we all reminded ourselves the 2013 Chicago Bears eventually will go as far as their defense takes them.
I already have bought into the offense. I’m comfortable that with the addition of Marc Trestman, Jermon Bushrod, Marcellus Bennett and the maturation of Alshon Jeffery, they already are much better. Obviously, I can’t predict whether or not Jay Cutler will take care of the football, and they are dangerously thin at quarterback, receiver and offensive line.
But if the offense stays healthy, it will be the best we’ve seen in Chicago since 1995.
Ask yourself this about the defense. At what position(s) is the defense more talented than last year or in recent seasons?
Are the Bears improved over last year or even as good at left defensive end with a choice of either Corey Wootton or Shea McClellin over the departed Israel Idonije? Izzy was the Bears’ second-leading pass rusher last season with 7½ sacks – only Julius Peppers had more with 11½ – and was arguably their best defensive lineman against the run.
Wootton could be the Bears’ breakout player of the year this year but he hasn’t done it yet. He did have seven sacks last season while McClellin had only 2½ and is yet to offer any real evidence he will be more of a factor this year.
Where is Idonije’s lost production coming from?
Nate Collins has had a nice preseason filling in for the concussed Henry Melton. But the cupboard is so bare at defensive tackle after Collins that it appears undrafted rookie free-agent Zach Minter will be the choice as the fourth tackle.
Be as excited as you like about rookie middle linebacker Jon Bostic. But are the Bears actually better with Bostic in place of Brian Urlacher, and Lance Briggs forced to do Urlacher’s job as well as his own?
James Anderson has been fine at Nick Roach’s “sambacker” spot, but he’s not an upgrade and still has plenty to prove.
Now, let’s peek into the secondary, which NFL quarterbacks are going to be doing all season long. Major Wright and Chris Conte both are fine at safety against the run. We’ve known that for a while. But will they be better against the pass?
What is really disconcerting in the defensive backfield is the lack of depth. The loss of Kelvin Hayden for the season leaves the untested Isaiah Frey at the “nickel,” and behind your five starters there is really no one to feel good about should one of the frontliners get nicked.
Asked what is left to do heading into the final preseason game, defensive coordinator Mel Tucker replied: “Everything. We’re a work in progress and we talk about getting better each and every day. It’s a constant push to try and get better individually and as a unit. We’re constantly trying to get better, because if you don’t do that you’re going to be in trouble.”
To be clear, Tucker wasn’t predicting trouble or expressing concern. His answer was basically coach-speak, but the words could not have rung any more true.
San Francisco, Seattle, Green Bay, Atlanta, New Orleans, Washington and the New York Giants all are going to boast offenses capable of scoring points by the bushel. As improved as the Bears might be on offense, will they be favored in a point-scoring matchup over any of them?
Of that group, only San Francisco and Seattle should be clearly better than the Bears on defense.
The good news in Chicago these days is that, finally, the defense won’t be asked to get the job done alone. There is no bad news yet, but the question is will the defense still be able to make sure the job gets done?
• Hub Arkush covers the Bears for Shaw Media and HubArkush.com. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.