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Mel Tucker is only 41, 7 years older than Brian Urlacher.
Most recent position: Defensive Coordinator, Jacksonville Jaguars (2009-2012)
Mark this down as three straight downgrades in coaching.
Marinelli was given the chance to stay on as defensive coordinator in Chicago, but he refused to do so after Lovie’s dismissal. Marinelli is a loyal and humble coach who builds good rapport with players. He was effective at running the Tampa 2, and he brought the Bears’ defense back to heights last seen in 2006 (under Ron Rivera).
Mel Tucker will have his work cut out for him as a young coach trying to win over a veteran team. The Bears’ defense was very unhappy to see Lovie go, and Marinelli would have provided some continuity. Instead, Tucker will step in and try to win over Urlacher, Briggs, Peppers, Tillman, and company.
Tucker has run both 3-4 and 4-3 defenses, but he presumably will install a 4-3 base defense and show some Cover 2. His scheme has been called similar to Smith and Marinelli’s Tampa 2, which is a positive sign. Much has been made of his low blitz percentages, which were explained as him not having the talent and choosing not to blitz for the sake of blitzing.
The Jaguars’ defense was riddled with injuries and far less talented than the Bears’ defense, so reading too far into any of his stats may be misleading. He didn’t bring much pressure in Jacksonville though. They ranked dead last in sacks last year with 20, as no Jaguar recorded more than 3.5.
Tucker was still a highly coveted coach, and he is incredibly young. He has an approach similar to Smith and Marinelli – he is a players’ coach. This will help him get the grizzled vets to buy into his defense right away. Tucker also emphasizes turnovers, perfect for the Bears’ ball-hawking defense, and his teams produced them at a high rate in 2008 (3rd) and 2011 (11th).
The reason this is a downgrade is because of timing. Tucker is young, and while it may be hard to read into his stats with two subpar teams, he didn’t work wonders in Cleveland or Jacksonville. His teams ranked 26th, 23rd, 28th, 6th, and 30th in total yards allowed. They ranked 16th, 24th, 27th, 11th, and 19th in points allowed. Tucker isn’t a sure bet, even though he is up and coming. The Bears need to win now.
Many NFL coaches and media pundits have suggested Tucker was a great hire. I’m not sure he can produce an elite defense right away, and there’s no concrete evidence to suggest he can. Meanwhile, the Bears’ veterans creep toward retirement.
It would have been ideal if Marinelli had stayed.
Overall grade: B
Bears 2013 prediction: 10th in yards allowed, 11th in points allowed, 16th in sacks, 2nd in takeaways.