Super plans: What Bears can learn from Panthers, Broncos

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SAN FRANCISCO — Cam Newton, at 6-foot-5, 255 pounds, is the same size as Hall of Fame defensive end Charles Haley in his prime. Give or take a half-inch, the Panthers quarterback has the exact dimensions of his teammate, future Hall of Famer Jared Allen.

“He’s changing the way the quarterback position is played,” cornerback Charles Tillman said.

Were the Bears looking to replicate the success of the Panthers and Broncos — participants in Sunday’s Super Bowl — they can’t simply order up another specimen like Newton. That combination of size, athleticism and arm strength just doesn’t exist in most other humans.

There is a blueprint to follow, though. Here are three keys that helped propel the Panthers and Broncos to Super Bowl 50 on Sunday:

• Build up the defense. Bears coach John Fox knows this part already. No defense in the NFL has allowed fewer yards than the Broncos. Of their 11 starters, all but one — free safety Darien Stewart — played for Fox in Denver.

Broncos nose tackle Sylvester Williams credited GM John Elway for taking a team who had the league’s best offense two years ago, and centering it around defense.

“He had a blueprint that he wanted and he wanted it to be built on defense,” he said. “So he brought all of the guys, he bought in and built this defense. He built the running game and brought a great quarterback in. And then the last straw was to go get us a good leader in Coach (Kubiak).”

Both team’s defenses rank in the top four in rushing yards allowed per game. The Panthers led the league with 15 forced fumbles and 39 regular-season takeaways; the Broncos were ranked fourth and seventh, respectively.

• Teach. Panthers GM Dave Gettleman helped unearth talent by coming to a realization: “The average college player just isn’t fundamentally sound.”

Once he accepted that, drafting was easier. The success of defensive tackles Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short, receiver Kelvin Benjamin, defensive end Kony Ealy and others — all whom he drafted — is evidence.

“You have to look at it differently,” he said. “You take a linebacker. So the scout watches him and he says, ‘Well he doesn’t know how to use his hands.’ So he knocks his grade down a little bit. Well did anyone ever teach him? We don’t know.”

At the NFL Scouting Combine last year, 53 defensive backs did a backpedal-and-turn drill. Panthers scouts told him 12 of them did the drill correctly.

“I said, ‘So are we going to take the other 41 and throw them away?”” he said. “How many of the other guys have the athletic ability to back pedal and turn?’”

• Character counts. Allen said juxtaposing two teams is foolish.

“You can’t compare the way (the Panthers’ Jonathan Stewart) runs the ball to the way (the Bears’ Matt) Forte runs the ball, or the way Cam plays quarterback to the way Jay (Cutler) does,” he said.

Other factors do translate, though.

“Every good team I’ve been on, I think the consistency has been the types of players in the locker room, the character in the locker room …” he said.

“I don’t think you can copy one team, because every team is special. Every guy is different. The biggest thing is, you try to build a culture in the locker room of a tight brotherhood. I think that’s probably consistent.”

Fox has that part down, said Allen, who the Bears traded in Week 4. But the Panthers have the best locker room he’s ever been in.

“Here,” he said, “is what I think everybody strives to be.”

Follow me on Twitter @patrickfinley


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