Barack Obama was president, new center James Daniels was a teenager, and the Bears were a flaming disaster when Vic Fangio took over as defensive coordinator.
Fangio even admitted the former regime wasn’t built for anything when he arrived, let alone a successful defense.
Somehow, three years into his tenure with the Bears leading the NFL in injuries twice, Fangio fielded a top-10 unit and here we find ourselves in Year 4. Not much has changed on his side of the ball and for once, that may be a good thing.
What can this defense really be next season?
The point that Fangio has had to make lemonade out of oranges can be argued amongst some, but for others, it’s not even debatable. A quick look at the turnover in the last three years easily writes a narrative that conveys the fact that the Bears simply weren’t satisfied with who they had.
This upcoming season will be the first time that the entire secondary has remained intact since Ryan Pace became the general manager. Safeties Eddie Jackson and Adrian Amos showed promise last season and will be starting Week 1. Both boundary cornerbacks Kyle Fuller and Prince Amukamara received large paydays from Bears brass, and the two longest-tenured nickel cornerbacks Bryce Callahan and Cre’Von LeBlanc will be returning as well.
The amount of Bears defenders who are no longer on the team since Fangio took over? 23. In case you aren’t aware, that’s enough for a starting lineup and quality depth. Teams usually can’t win with that level of turnover on any side of the ball unless your name is Bill Belichick.
Fangio gets some demerits from a few people for the defense’s performance on third down, lack of creativity, amount of takeaways, and stubbornness with schematic adjustments.
I don’t believe all of it is fair.
Coaches don’t wear jerseys and I don’t think this defense has fielded a single blue-chip player until defensive end Akiem Hicks came into his own. In San Francisco, Fangio fielded a defense that featured six All-Pro players. What’s encouraging, is most of those players did not reach that status until Fangio took the job as defensive coordinator.
The Bears simply haven’t had any, and Fangio’s lemonade tastes a little better with higher-quality ingredients.
The secondary shows me the most promise.
Fuller proved he can be an elite level talent and had he held on to just three more interceptions (he dropped more than that) he would’ve been considered one of the best in the NFL last season. Callahan is a sticky nickel corner who has played exceptionally well when healthy.
In a league where teams are in sub packages 40% of the time, having good nickel corners make a huge difference. Jackson is the quiet weapon of the secondary. With phenomenal ball skills coming out of college, good speed and length, he’s exactly what you want at free safety. I think it’s only a matter of time before he becomes elite. No longer a rookie, comfort in the system is going to aid Jackson tremendously.
The front seven has potential as well.
New linebacker Roquan Smith was widely seen as the safest pick of the draft. He’s already a few analysts’ pick for Defensive Rookie of the Year. Honestly, I don’t blame them. Instead, I agree wholeheartedly. The kid is that good. He just needs to see the field.
Defensive tackle Eddie Goldman is a guy most fans won’t pay attention to. Nose tackles do a lot of things they don’t have stats for, but his defensive coordinator praised him publicly in a recent press conference.
“As he stacks up with nose tackles, he’s up there,” Fangio said.
Edge rusher Leonard Floyd is a bit of a question mark for me. When healthy and in rhythm, Floyd is a monster; he’s also great in coverage and gets to the quarterback weekly. The problem is he’s unable to stay healthy and still needs a little more strength in order to do his job consistently. Should he be able to do so, Floyd is high on the list of premium lemons to add to this mix.
Fangio has said multiple times that the Bears can get more out of the guys that are already on the team. He has his “quarterback” of the defense whether it be Danny Trevathan or Smith, and now it just needs to step forward.
This defense can be a top five unit next season.
Yes, you read that correctly.
Schematic continuity, a more balanced amount of time off the field, and health alone should improve this unit. The team still has some uncertainties, specifically at pass rusher.
However, if Fangio can coach some of these guys into their potential, the lemonade he serves will be that much sweeter.