Much of the talk surrounding the Chicago Bears heading into training camp has been centered around their newly revamped offense.
How effective will the new offensive line be?
Will Jay Cutler improve under new head coach Marc Trestman?
Which receivers will step up to help complement Brandon Marshall?
However, with all of the talk about the brand new offense everyone seems to have forgotten about the good old defense.
Yeah, remember them?
They have only been the strength of the franchise since...well, forever.
And last season was no different.
They are coming off a 2012 campaign where they finished in the top five in the league in both yards per game (315.6) and points per game (17.3).
They also finished eighth in the league in sacks (41), second in passes defensed (115), forced fumbles (29) and fumbles recovered (20), as well as first in interceptions (24), turnovers (44) and touchdowns (9).
Pretty solid season I would say.
So why would Bears fans worry about this defense in 2013?
Well they may not have to, but there are definitely some things to think about.
They are currently in a state of transition after losing All-Pro linebacker and face of the franchise Brian Urlacher to retirement, as well as replacing former defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli with Mel Tucker.
The effect that the loss of Urlacher will have on this defense has been a highly debated topic among critics.
After all, not only was he an eight-time Pro-Bowler, he was also the leader of the defense.
That title will now more than likely transfer to Lance Briggs, and though he is obviously a capable leader and a seven-time Pro Bowler himself, he isn't a middle linebacker—or Brian Urlacher for that matter.
How much of a difference Urlacher's absence will make remains to be seen.
The only other starter that the Bears lose from last season is strong side linebacker Nick Roach, who left to play for Oakland.
Roach was a solid player, but definitely replaceable.
However, this means that two-thirds of the Bears starting linebacker group will be new this year.
So will newly acquired linebackers DJ Williams and James Anderson be able to fill in the gaps at middle and strong side linebacker?
Or will draft picks Jon Bostic and Khaseem Greene have to play larger roles?
The good news is that either way the Bears will get younger, and hopefully faster, at middle linebacker and shouldn't lose much, if anything, at the other spot.
670 The Score's Adam Hoge breaks down the linebacker position and addresses the loss of Urlacher this way.
The Bears will certainly miss Urlacher’s leadership, pre-snap reads and uncanny instincts, but it was obvious last year that he couldn’t always react to those reads and instincts as quickly as he once could. There’s little doubt D.J. Williams will bring more speed and athleticism to the middle than the Bears had a year ago, but will he be able to make the same reads that Urlacher did? The answer is probably no, but with Lance Briggs still on the weak side and taking over the play calling, Williams’ physical ability might be good enough. Meanwhile, Anderson takes over on the strong side and could be a slight upgrade over Nick Roach.
Yes, there's no doubt the Bears will surely miss the leadership that Urlacher brought to the table, but it's not like there aren't other leaders on this defense.
In addition to Briggs, Julius Peppers anchors a solid defensive line that includes Pro-Bowler Henry Melton, Stephen Paea and Corey Wootton, along with second-year man Shea McClellin.
Then you have a secondary that is led by Charles Tillman, who seems to be getting better with age.
He has been a Pro-Bowl selection the last two seasons—which were the first in his career—and is a turnover machine, forcing a career high 10 fumbles last season to go along with three interceptions that were all returned for touchdowns.
On the other side, Tim Jennings returns after a career year in 2012 where he collected nine interceptions and was also a Pro Bowl selection.
Although you can't expect another season like that, Jennings should be solid once again.
Lastly, you have a pair of young safeties in Major Wright and Chris Conte who seem to have finally stabilized the position.
If the duo can continue their strong play this season, the defense should be in good shape.
Now to some bad news.
Those leaders of the defense that I spoke about earlier—Briggs, Peppers and Tillman—will all be at least 32 years old when this season begins, which means that the window is closing on their careers.
The hope is that they each have a couple good years left in them and can help bring along the younger players.
Mel Tucker takes over for Rod Marinelli as defensive coordinator and more than likely won't change that much in terms of defensive scheme.
The Bears will still employ their usual 4-3 defense with a cover 2 that they were accustomed to under Lovie Smith and Marinelli.
This can be both good and bad.
Good because the Bears personnel is suited for this defense and won't have to make any adjustments to a new style.
Bad because it is highly predicated upon getting turnovers—which they got last year—but if they don't get them, it could be tough sledding.
The bottom line is that even though all of the talk is about the new offense, the Bears defense still needs to be there for them to win.
With a new offense, things can take a while to gel, and if the defense isn't there while the offense gets things figured out the wins won't be there either.
It should be interesting to watch as the Bears transition into a new era under a new regime.
The time is here Bears fans, so Bear down.
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