Bears defense starts post-Urlacher era
LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) - Chicago Bears players and their new coaches are promising not to tamper with what worked in the past on defense.
So while conducting their first minicamp practices this week under coach Marc Trestman and defensive coordinator Mel Tucker, only the faces have changed. The defensive scheme looks identical to the same 4-3, cover-2 zone approach they used under Lovie Smith to lead the league in forcing turnovers the past nine years.
"I think that's been the way and the style of defense that we're going to play and have played here,'' Trestman said Wednesday. "Obviously Mel being here and being a new guy from a defensive standpoint he's going to put his spin on things and his take. He's going to try to use all the positive elements that we have and have a system that's flexible to use this speed, to use the type of players that we've got on the field here.''
Tucker sounded an awful lot like Smith did when asked about the chief aim of his scheme.
"It's all about taking the ball away and getting to the quarterback,'' he said.
Even the way Bears defenders practice looks the same.
Under Smith, defenders started a tradition of scooping up incomplete passes off the ground and returning them to repeatedly simulate returns after turnovers. They're still doing it.
"It made us a successful defense, so why change it?'' free safety Chris Conte said. "We're going to keep that stuff going. We have mostly the same players. The same mentality is still there. And these coaches are preaching the same thing now that our coaches were before.''
Conte said even the terminology used by players in the defense is staying the same.
"We want them to hit the ground running, and I've been in a lot of different schemes,'' said Tucker, who served as defensive coordinator for Cleveland and Jacksonville. "A lot of (the challenge) was just terminology, so we're going to take it and try to move it forward down the road.''
What doesn't look the same is the lineup. The face of the franchise since 2000, Brian Urlacher, is gone and former Bronco D.J. Williams is manning his middle linebacker spot while former Carolina linebacker James Anderson is playing the strong side linebacker spot formerly held down by Nick Roach.
Williams had only one start and played in seven games last year due to a violation of the banned substance policy and a DUI conviction.
"He's a guy who has come here to reinvent himself, so to speak,'' Trestman said. "Maybe that's the wrong term, but you know he's in a new place in a new time and a new start. There's guys on this team that know him and think very highly of him, guys in the locker room that think very highly of him.''
Still, Urlacher had been a leader and the face of the Bears for 13 years.
"It's different,'' defensive end Julius Peppers said. "But we have got to keep moving forward with the guys that are here. We definitely miss him, but we've got to adjust to it.''
Urlacher's leadership has to be replaced on a defense that has veteran Pro Bowl players like Peppers, cornerback Charles Tillman, linebacker Lance Briggs and cornerback Tim Jennings.
"We have a lot of leaders on the team and we have a lot of guys that are ready and willing to step up and take that role,'' Peppers said.
Urlacher remains unsigned by any team. Bears general manager Phil Emery on Tuesday said he could "never say never'' regarding anything but he has moved on without Urlacher.
Notes: Return star Devin Hester, who will not be used in the team's offense, is getting more special teams roles. He lined up with coverage teams in addition to performing as a returner, and was taking part in the special team's tackling drills with tackling dummies. ... A day after Trestman said third-year player Gabe Carimi would only be at guard, the backup offensive line used Carimi at right tackle, left guard and right guard.
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