Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports
We’re still over a month from NFL Free Agency and about three months away from the NFL Draft, but it’s never too early to start planing ahead to look at the Chicago Bears offseason needs. After a full gut job of management and an expected switch to a 3-4 defense, there are certainly plenty of needs to fill on a 5-11 team that had historically bad back-to-back defenses in 2013 and 2014.
New defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, who most recently coordinated the San Francisco 49ers defense, has historically run a 3-4 defense. Meanwhile, the Bears have never run a 3-4 D. Let’s look at their most pressing needs on defense.
1. Pass Rusher
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Regardless of whether the Bears stick with the 4-3 or flip to the 3-4 defense, they need to bolster their pass rush. Both Willie Young and Lamarr Houston are coming off devastating, significant injuries and Jared Allen may or may not be done with the Bears. You would hope that Shea McClellin, David Bass or Cornelius Washington could fit the role of a stand up, pass rushing outside linebacker, but they haven’t exactly shown you any consistency to make you believe they can do it for a dominant defense. John Fox started his tenures in Carolina and Denver by drafting Julius Peppers and Von Miller respectively, so we know what he values.
The Bears have been in need of help at safety for the last few seasons. It’s been a revolving door in the defensive backfield for years and it’s time to change it. Chris Conte is a free agent and he should honestly stop playing for his own good. Ryan Mundy was OK, but he was just a guy. If you watch what Seattle did with their secondary, that’s what the Bears should aspire to. They need a couple of playmakers in their defensive backfield. They need guys with range to cover and the ability to knock someone on their ass.
3. Nose Tackle
If the Bears change over to a 3-4 defense, they’re going to need to drop a space eater in the middle of their defensive line. They’ve never played a 3-4 and it’s one position that doesn’t change over cleanly from a 4-3. Lovie Smith wanted lighter, faster guys to play a single gap and penetrate to get upfield and that’s what Mel Tucker inherited. In the 3-4, the nose tackle is a beast, a 330 pounder intended to soak up double teams to allow the linebackers to flow to the ball and make plays. Think Vince Wilfork or Terrance Knighton.
Do the Bears have anyone like that on their roster? Maybe Stephen Paea could bulk up to try to play the nose. We know he’s strong enough, but needs to show he can stay healthy. Ego Ferguson would need to bulk up to play nose tackle, but he might be better suited to play the 5-technique defensive end in a 30-front. Jeremiah Ratliff played a little nose in his days in Dallas and certainly has the nasty to take on the double teams, but is on the wrong side of 30 to be counted on to handle that workload.
Mandatory Credit: Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports
The cornerbacks used in a traditional 3-4 defense usually have a different skill set than a Cover-2 cornerback. You’re looking for more of a man-to-man defender who can play press coverage.
Kyle Fuller started off so well as a rookie in 2014. He was the defensive rookie of the month in September when he was pressed into duty to fill in for the injured Charles Tillman. Fuller was slowed down by a few different injuries throughout his first pro season and eventually hit the rookie wall. With free agent Charles Tillman’s future in doubt, the Bears definitely need to add another cornerback in the offseason. Tim Jennings might make sense to play the nickel corner inside, but the Bears will need another big body on the outside.
With a change to a 3-4 defense, the Bears will need some major turnover in the linebacking corps. Lance Briggs and DJ Williams are expected to be gone, paving the way for some of the younger Bears defenders. Jon Bostic and Christian Jones had plenty of opportunities in 2014, but never really turned the corner to show they are elite NFL defenders. That means the Bears are likely to be in the market for a linebacker or two.
What do you think about the Chicago Bears offseason needs on defense? Where would you invest your resources?