Bears’ old defense seems a step slow

Written By BY RICK MORRISSEY Sports Columnist Posted: 08/26/2014, 12:48pm
Array Seattle Seahawks' Jermaine Kearse, left, hauls in a 12-yard touchdown pass as Chicago Bears' Charles Tillman defends in the first half of a preseason NFL football game, Friday, Aug. 22, 2014, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Stephen Brashear) ORG XMIT: SEA120

I know old, having some familiarity with its unique joys. So I think I’m qualified to declare that the Bears’ defense looks old, acts old, plays old and quite likely wears comfort shoes with Velcro off the field.

Lance Briggs looked old Friday night against the Seattle Seahawks. As did Charles Tillman. As did Tim Jennings.

The defending Super Bowl champions can reduce any opponent to rubble, so if you want to cling to that security blanket, I’d understand. But the scary thing for the Bears and their fans has to be the lasting image of slow defenders unable to make plays. You can’t teach speed, and you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, so we’re talking a bad combo here.

After the game, Briggs said two things with feeling: 1) That, in so many words, the preseason doesn’t mean a lick, and 2) that this is “by far’’ the most talented Bears team he has played on “top to bottom.”

He’s right about the first part. You don’t want to put too much stock in the preseason, and a 31-0 halftime deficit in the third exhibition game will be forgotten once the regular season starts (unless the regular season is a disaster, in which case we’ll look back on the Seahawks game as the beginning of the End Times).

As for the team’s talent level, which he gushed about to Fox-32’s Lou Canellis, what team is Briggs watching?

It’s worth noting that he said something similar about the Bears two seasons ago. That squad went 10-6 and missed the playoffs. After the debacle in Seattle, I’m guessing Bears fans would take a 10-6 record in a second if it were offered today.

The offense is talented. We know what Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall can do, and we’re fairly certain that Matt Forte will be located and brought back to the huddle in time for the regular season. The defense is another story and not a good one so far. At this point, getting it to be pedestrian looks like a gigantic task.

After Friday’s game, coach Marc Trestman said the defense’s issues were fixable, but how do you fix “slow?’’ How do you fix “older than Methuselah?’’ How do you fix “my bunions are acting up?”

Briggs will turn 34 during the season. Tillman is 33, and Jeremiah Ratliff turns 33 on Friday. Jared Allen and D.J. Williams are 32. Jennings is 30.

This just in, defensive coordinator Mel Tucker says Briggs is not slow.

“I thought he played fast in the game, and I thought he competed well,” Tucker said Monday.

Back to our previously scheduled dooming and glooming: The older a player gets, the more susceptible he is to injury. We saw that last year with Briggs, who missed seven games with a fractured shoulder. We saw it with Tillman, who missed half of last season with a triceps injury. What are the odds this defense can stay healthy?

It finds itself at an advanced age because the Bears had poor drafts during the Jerry Angelo era. Too many whiffs by the former general manager, not enough depth and thus no replacements for starters well past their primes.

At the beginning of training camp, I had the Bears going 10-6. I’m standing by that prediction, but the footing is getting slippery. It comes down to this: If the defense can just hold on. If it can make the offense proud and get off the field. If it can be better than last season’s dreadful defense.

That’s not asking much, but if you watched Friday night’s game, you might feel as if you’re asking for the world. The bar had been set incredibly low for the defense — it only has to be better than the sieve that was out there last season. It stinks that after one bad exhibition game, all the doubts have come creeping back. Faith has started bleeding out.

It makes you feel silly for reacting like that to a preseason game. Nobody wants to be a windsock.

But that’s not on us. It’s on the Bears for putting us here. They lost the benefit of the doubt when they finished near the bottom of the league last season in most of the defensive categories that matter.

If the Bears are lucky, their defense will land somewhere between the public’s panic after the Seahawks game and Briggs’ best-team-ever enthusiasm. That would mean an average defense. That would mean a playoff team.


Twitter: @MorrisseyCST

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