Of all that has been good with these Bears and their 2-0 star, no star has shone brighter than Lance Briggs.
What more could a seven-time Pro Bowler entering his 11th season in the NFL have to prove?
In Briggs’ case, he was told during the preseason that, in addition to again playing at a Pro Bowl level, he would be expected to take over the responsibilities of future Hall of Famer Brian Urlacher.
Those duties include getting the defensive play calls in from defensive coordinator Mel Tucker, getting each player on the defense lined up in the proper position and then calling out adjustments and moving players around during the pre-snap count as the offense’s plans unfold in front of him.
Urlacher had become so good at it, he was considered an extra coach on the field by Lovie Smith and the previous coaching staff. Briggs appears to have taken over without skipping a beat.
Without a copy of the Bears’ playbook, and the coaches sharing with me what coverage is called on every play, there’s no way I can say for sure what Briggs has or hasn’t done.
But I can say, in two games so far, we have seen absolutely no signs of confusion by the defense on the field. They appear to be positioned properly before every play and we haven’t seen any instances of players yakking at each other after plays over who was supposed to be where.
Asked to evaluate his own performance after the Vikings game, Briggs said “There’s always room for growth. There were a couple of plays I could have changed. There was a play that I changed during the game that even when I changed it, I thought maybe we could just run it anyway, but that’s just the way games go.”
“I’m comfortable with it and as long as everybody is playing fast and everybody is okay, then I’m okay with it.”
Asked if any of his teammates have argued with him over calls, Briggs responded “They better not or they’re going to have trouble.”
Briggs believes this defense is just beginning to develop its own identity with him in charge. “We’re getting better. Outside of some turnovers - that opening kickoff for a score and the turnover for a score - defensively we look at it as that first game we gave up 21 points, (Sunday) we gave up 13. We’ve got to keep getting better that way.”
And how much of the defense’s performance to date is due to Briggs the linebacker? Through two games, Briggs is tied with Major Wright for the team lead in tackles with 17. He leads the Bears with 12 solos, two tackles for loss and four passes defensed.
He has been particularly effective on several third-down plays, even though the defense as a group needs improvement in that area. When Briggs talks about playing fast, he clearly is taking it to heart personally.
One of the benefits of running the defense for Briggs is that he appears to be diagnosing plays much quicker and flashing to the ball. His tackles for a loss and passes defensed are proof.
There is a perception among some that Briggs is blitzing more this season, perhaps one of the differences between the Lovie Smith defense and Mel Tucker’s. But, according to Briggs, “I’m not blitzing more. I just have opportunities to play faster. We had a blitz (in the Vikings game) that was successful and it was me, but I think we’re actually blitzing less than in the past.”
Regardless of where Briggs and the rest of the defense goes from here, the most important test has already been passed. That Briggs is capable of running the entire unit on the field, and is playing as well himself as he has in several years, would seem to validate the decision not to bring Urlacher back.
• Hub Arkush covers the Bears for Shaw Media and HubArkush.com. Write to him a firstname.lastname@example.org.