Bears safety Ryan Mundy said the Cover 2 defense was frustrating last season. (AP)

Freed from outdated Tampa 2, Bears get aggressive

SHARE Freed from outdated Tampa 2, Bears get aggressive
SHARE Freed from outdated Tampa 2, Bears get aggressive

BOURBONNAIS — The Bears’ once-beloved defense is dead, replaced at training camp by a more modern scheme that promises aggressive pass rushes and coverage.

Few Bears players sound as if they’ll miss the Tampa 2, which Lovie Smith parlayed into a Super Bowl berth and Mel Tucker tried, with little success, to replicate.

They paint the scheme — Cover 2 defense with a middle linebacker dropping deep on pass plays —as a relic, hurdling toward extinction.

“For a long time, it was very effective here,” safety Ryan Mundy said. “I think if you get the right guys and the right coaches all on the same page, it can be effective.

“Or at least, it WAS effective. I don’t know how effective it was in today’s NFL.”

Quarterbacks, he said, are getting “so much smarter,” making it easier to pick apart a defense whose goal is to drop back and seek out the ball.

Just ask Tom Brady, who completed 30-of-35 passes — and had four dropped — against the Bears last season. Or the leader of the Bears’ biggest rival.

‘Trying to spot-drop and break on the ball with Aaron Rodgers back there,” Mundy said, “is not always the easiest task.”

Mundy wanted last year’s staff to make more adjustments when the team struggled, but admitted wholesale midseason changes would have been detrimental, too. Either way, the optics, he admits, were ugly: a team getting picked apart while dropping back, not blitzing or playing exotic coverage.

“It looks bad,” Mundy said. “From the outside looking in, you’re like, ‘Why aren’t these guys playing tougher?’ or ‘Why aren’t they playing more aggressive?’

“It can be very frustrating when you see simple route concepts like a slant go for 20 yards: ‘What the hell is going on?’”

• • •

The Bears have printed up the facts and distributed them to their defensive players this summer.

The past two years, their unit has been, by some measures, one of the two worst in the NFL. In terms of points allowed, they’ve been the two worst units in franchise history.

Vic Fangio’s job is to fix it.

The Bears’ new defensive coordinator has installed the same 3-4 defense that vaulted the 49ers into the league’s top five in each of Fangio’s previous four seasons.

“Strategy, man,” cornerback Tim Jennings said. “I think he puts guys in position to make plays. We’re looking forward to him putting us in the right position. He’s a very smart coach. So the team that we play is going to be different every week. And he’s going to be able to strategize.”

The coordinator is notorious for a creative pass rush —“Most important thing on the defense, easy,” safety Antrel Rolle said — while his defensive backs try to throw off receivers’ timing.

Unlike last year, the Bears will match opponents’ route concepts, Mundy said.

“Nobody’s running free down the sideline or over the middle,” he said. “Everyone has a responsibility. If someone’s running wide open, then that’s probably a breakdown.”

• • •

With a glint is his eye, Jennings raves about playing “mano-e-mano.”

“I think it’ll work in guys’ favor,” he said. “Fangio is a smart coach as far as putting guys in position to take away some of the offense’s strengths, and things like that.”

Coach John Fox said his “familiarity is more a little bit tighter coverage, more on them.”

Even the Bears’ zone schemes will look tighter, inside linebacker Jon Bostic said.

“Even when we play our zone, we’re matching a lot more stuff so it looks like man-to-man,” Bostic said. “That’s what I’ve been interested in. … I like that aggressive mindset.”

Entering his 11th season, Rolle knows playing man coverage keeps defensive backs mentally engaged.

“It allows you to stay in the game a lot more,” he said. “You have something going on each and every play as opposed to getting bored on an island.

“It keeps you in the flow of the game. It lets you go out there and contest a little bit.”

The Bears have build their roster to be able to play that way.

Cornerback Alan Ball, who stands at 6-1, 176 pounds, is bulky enough to battle with receivers at the line opposite Kyle Fuller. That could allow Jennings, at 5-8, 186 pounds, to move inside and play the slot.

“The scenario we want to be in, is, make a situation where we can get our hands on the ball and our front can get a rush,” said Ball, who’s played in a 3-4 most of his career.

“If that’s holding up receivers, interfering with timing, getting underneath routes, all of that. Just confusing the quarterback.”

“We can create that situation for our front to pin their ears back and still get to the quarterback, but also getting some balls in the air where he might want to throw, or getting some errant balls.

“I think it all works hand-in-hand.”

The Bears have a new scheme, and confidence in those who are teaching it.

“If you look at their coaching history and their coaching pedigree and the guys that they’ve coached,” Mundy said, “Given the success they’ve had on the field and the type of guys they’ve had from a physical standpoint. Then you see, ‘O.K., these guys know what they’re doing and they know how to get guys to play at a high level.’

“I think that’s something that we’re all really excited about. I look out there at our group and I see a lot of playmakers.”

Follow me on Twitter @patrickfinley

Email: pfinley@suntimes.com

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