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Musick: Bears could learn from playoff defenses

Green Bay's Jordy Nelson spins out of the grasp of the Bears' Tim Jennings (left) and Julius Peppers for a 34-yard gain in the fourth quarter Dec. 29, 2013, at Soldier Field.
Green Bay's Jordy Nelson spins out of the grasp of the Bears' Tim Jennings (left) and Julius Peppers for a 34-yard gain in the fourth quarter Dec. 29, 2013, at Soldier Field.

LAKE FOREST – Everything is on the table.

That’s what we learned this week about the Bears defense. Media members sat in plastic desks, and Bears general manager Phil Emery and coach Marc Trestman spoke into microphones, and we learned that everything is on the table.

This must be a big, sturdy table.

New players? New coordinator? New schemes? New thigh pads that don’t stink so much?

Yes. Everything.

Come along, Bears fans. Fortunately for us, Lovie left the keys in his old bus (remember how he always got off of it running?), and there’s room for everyone.

It’s time to go idea shopping.

Writers do this when they read works by better writers. Teachers do this when they seek other teachers’ successful lesson plans. We all do this in one way or another, whether it’s searching for new recipes or borrowing design concepts from HGTV.

Take a hard look at the defenses that will be showcased in the NFL playoffs.

Perhaps you’ll settle in to watch the Kansas City Chiefs (3-4 defensive scheme) visit the Indianapolis Colts (3-4). Or maybe you’ll tune in for the prime-time game between the New Orleans Saints (3-4) and Philadelphia Eagles (3-4).

If you have a short memory and/or family members from Wisconsin, your TVs likely will be dialed into Sunday’s game between the Green Bay Packers (3-4) and the San Francisco 49ers (3-4). In fact, the only defensive outlier this weekend will be the Cincinnati Bengals, who will trot out a traditional 4-3 base defense when they square off against the San Diego Chargers (yep, you guessed it: 3-4).

To be fair, a playoff defense is not necessarily the same thing as a good defense. Several of these teams have great offenses that have bailed out shoddy defenses.

And if you keep digging, you’ll see that each of the four teams with first-round byes (Denver, New England, Seattle and Carolina) run 4-3 defenses just like the Bears do. So the scheme can work – and it can work really, really well – with the right players.

But it’s telling that the majority of playoff teams prefer a 3-4 scheme with a behemoth nose tackle, a pair of hand-on-the-ground defensive ends, and four valuable, versatile linebackers that can be used like the queen on a chess board.

Of course, we’re focusing on base defenses here, and plenty of gray area exists in which teams can run hybrid schemes. With a quick substitution of a defensive tackle for an extra linebacker, a defense can transform mid-series from a 4-3 to a 3-4, or vice versa. The 49ers provide a great example of a 21st century, hybrid defense.

Maybe that’s what the Bears will wind up doing.

We know the Bears plan to be younger and faster on defense in 2014. We know they finally have acknowledged that Shea McClellin is not a traditional defensive end.

And we know that Trestman is creative and dynamic as an offensive play-caller.

So as Trestman moves into his second season, why not demand more creativity on defense? This holds true regardless of whether Mel Tucker returns as defensive coordinator.

“That’s part of this process as we move forward with the players that we do have,” Trestman said at the team’s season-ending news conference. “What is the best way to create uncertainty from an offensive standpoint, to create disruption?”

By adding another fast athlete on the field who can keep up with speedy opponents. By forcing opposing quarterbacks to guess whether the Bears will rush their left outside linebacker, or their right outside linebacker, or both, or neither.

By creating the type of uncertainty that tests Trestman as a play-caller.

“I can say this: We know we have the coaching ability to move scheme,” Trestman said. “We have that kind of intellect in this building. Our job is – I said this early on: We’re not looking to put a square peg in a round hole. Phil is going to do everything he can, he said it here, to give us the best possible players that we can [have].

“And he did this past year. And it’s our job, from that standpoint, to bring out the best in those players and create the environment schematically to bring out the best in them. So I don’t know. Everything is on the table in terms of a discussion.”

Yes, this must be a big table, all right.

The playoffs have started. Let’s pull up a seat.

• Shaw Media sports columnist Tom Musick can be reached at and on Twitter @tcmusick.

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