INDIANAPOLIS – Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio worked wonders last season, fielding a respectable unit that featured new starters and rookies after the two worst defensive seasons in franchise history.
Now, it’s time for general manager Ryan Pace to give Fangio more to work with for the 2016 season. The Bears could potentially be looking at having seven new defensive starters with outside linebacker Pernell McPhee, defensive tackle Eddie Goldman, safety Adrian Amos and cornerback Kyle Fuller as the only players cemented in their current spots.
What does the defense need?
“Team speed [and] explosion,” coach John Fox said at the NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. “Those characteristics help make those plays. So it’s just still getting the right kind of guys there and the right kind of guys to represent out city and our organization, but with a highlight on some athleticism and explosion, which will help to make plays.”
Free agency will present intriguing options. But Pace isn’t going to buy Fangio a new defense. Pace has money to spend, but he won’t grossly overspend. The base of the team still will be formed through the draft.
“You’ve got to be selective and cautious with [free agency],” Pace said. “We have a lot of needs right now. Our goal – and I think a lot of successful franchises – [is] if you’re drafting well, you don’t have to tread in this dangerous water as much as you would have to early on.”
Since the end of season, Pace has talked plenty about adding more playmakers, and although he tries to stick to the best-player-available approach for the draft, it’s apparent the defense needs them more than the offense at this point.
As solid as the Bears’ defense was in 2015, it still finished 22nd in sacks with 35 and tied for 30th in interceptions with eight and forced fumbles with six.
Having the No. 11 overall pick and the eighth selection in the second round puts Pace in a great position to find the defensive difference-makers he’s seeking. A defensive solid defensive-line prospect may also be had in the third round, considering how touted that position is in this year’s draft.
Oregon’s DeForest Buckner, Ole Miss’s Robert Nkemdiche, Florida’s Jonathan Bullard and Alabama’s Jarran Reed and A’Shawn Robinson top most defensive-line rankings.
“The Cliffs note is: Yes, it’s a pretty strong defensive tackle draft,” Panthers GM Dave Gettleman said. “You’ve got to see how it all flushes out. But it’s strong.”
A season spent with Fangio gives Pace a better idea of what to target up front. There’s uncertainty whether Ego Ferguson and Will Sutton, two holdovers from former GM Phil Emery’s draft classes, fit with Fangio.
“When we’re looking at these 3-4 defensive linemen,” Pace said, “we’re looking at guys who can take on blocks with their hands and they have length to separate and shed, and they’re stout.”
But adding to the defensive front only is part of Pace’s puzzle.
“You’re looking for guys that are making critical game-changing plays at critical moments,” Pace said. “There’s certain players that step up at those moments, and we need more of those type of players.”
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