LAKE FOREST – Mel Tucker had nowhere to run.
The media horde spotted the Bears’ defensive coordinator near the sideline of the practice field at Halas Hall on Wednesday and cornered him within seconds.
All around him, cameras. All around him, microphones.
All around him, questions.
“You guys want to talk about tackling?” Tucker said with a half-smile, half-grimace.
We guys (and gals) wanted to talk about the absence of tackling.
The Bears will play the New Orleans Saints this weekend, and you’ll hear all about the chess match between Marc Trestman’s complex offense and Rob Ryan’s complex defense. You’ll hear all about the Saints’ super-thanks-for-asking offense and the Bears’ sneaky counter attacks on defense.
But for the most important key to unlocking Sunday’s game, let’s get back to the basics.
The Bears have to do both. Otherwise, they’ll be 3-2 with another game coming in four short days.
For evidence, see the Debacle in Detroit from Week 4. The Bears’ defense played its best version of zero-hand touch, allowing Lions running back Reggie Bush to frolic across the turf of Ford Field for 173 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown.
The Bears surrendered 40 points – 40! – and deservedly lost the game despite a late rally.
“If we just tackle,” Bears safety Chris Conte said Wednesday, “I think that game is a different game.”
It’s a better game.
Maybe, just maybe, it’s a winning game.
As for this weekend?
It will be a more difficult game.
The Saints’ offense is packed with playmakers, from Super Bowl winner Drew Brees to all-purpose waterbug Darren Sproles to lanky go-to receiver Marques Colston. And that list doesn’t include Jimmy Graham, the Saints’ 6-foot-7, 265-pound matchup nightmare at tight end.
How in the world do the Bears expect to bring down a guy such as Graham?
“That’s easy,” Bears cornerback Tim Jennings said. “The big guys are the easy part.
“It’s the small, shifty guys that are the problem. Trust me.”
Perhaps now would be the time to mention that Sproles (5-6, 190) is a small, shifty guy.
Even still, the Bears have great talent on defense just like the Saints have great talent on offense. There’s no reason why they can’t wrap up and tackle, a skill that most learned at a young age.
Could defenses go through tackling slumps, kind of like how baseball teams endure hitting slumps?
“I hope not,” Tucker said.
He cracked a smile. That was good to see. It’s important to smile.
“It’s one of those things where we learn from it, address it,” Tucker said. “[We] did some extra drills and will continue to emphasize it. You get what you emphasize. Then, we’ll take it to Sunday.”
That seems great in theory, but what about in practice?
In practice, defensive players are not permitted to take down offensive players. In practice, defensive players can do everything in regard to tackling except, well, tackling.
“There’s definitely ways you can work on it,” Conte said. “The biggest thing with us is just having our feet right when we’re going to make the tackle, closing space and not getting our feet too wide.
“There are little things you can work on without the actual contact of hitting, so we’re going to spend some time doing that.”
Yes. Do that.
In the meantime, find some friends to help the cause.
“We’ve just got to have all 11 guys get to that ball,” Jennings said. “It can’t be all one-on-one tackling. That would be a bad picture. And we saw that last week with Reggie Bush.”
That was a bad picture.
• Shaw Media sports columnist Tom Musick can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @tcmusick.