Matt Eberflus doesn’t have everything, but he has enough to make Bears’ defense good

Eberflus has at least three stars on defense: Roquan Smith, Jaylon Johnson and Robert Quinn. It’s on him to broaden that core by turning Eddie Jackson around and making the most of his two rookie defensive backs.

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Chicago Bears head coach Matt Eberflus takes questions at a recent press conference at Halas Hall.

Bears coach Matt Eberflus has gotten a reasonable amount of talent to build a good defense.

AP Photos

The Bears were a reclamation project when Matt Eberflus stepped in as coach — even on the defensive side, which was their supposed strength. That defense plunged from being one of the best in recent NFL history to one that struggled to stop anybody and got lit up left and right in the secondary.

But general manager Ryan Poles has given Eberflus a chance at making the defense good. That’s not a long-term goal. It’s possible this season.

Eberflus inherited a core of linebacker Roquan Smith, cornerback Jaylon Johnson and defensive end Robert Quinn. If he can flip Eddie Jackson back to the ball-hawking safety he was at his peak, that gives him four stars.

Poles supplied him with two second-round picks in cornerback Kyler Gordon (No. 39 overall) and safety Jaquan Brisker (No. 48). Now it’s on Eberflus, who weighed in on those selections, to develop them into legitimate NFL starters.

He has had input on everyone the Bears have added in free agency — namely potential starters in linebacker Nick Morrow, defensive end Al-Quadin Muhammad and defensive tackle Justin Jones — and the draft. At this point, the defensive personnel should largely be to his liking.

“It’s starting to line up — we’re getting closer,” Eberflus said. “We’ll figure out more pieces to the puzzle: where guys line up and what their skill sets are once we get going there. It’s going to be a process all the way through training camp, but this was a great step in the right direction, for sure.”

It’ll likely take multiple seasons for the defense to fully grow into Eberflus’ design — as Poles said, it’s impossible to fix every problem Ryan Pace left behind in one year — but this season isn’t a freebie. Even as the Bears prioritize 2023 and beyond, Eberflus now has sufficient resources to begin enacting his plan.

He will be held to a standard this season. The Bears don’t have to be overwhelming like they were in 2018, but they need to be respectable.

Eberflus and Poles have some runway as they embark on the rebuild. Everyone knows Pace and coach Matt Nagy steered the Bears into a ditch, and those two still bear some responsibility for issues that could linger into this season. Eberflus won’t face the full force of accountability until 2023.

But in the meantime, he must prove he at least knows what he’s doing. If he’s the expert he was billed to be during his impressive run as Colts defensive coordinator, it’s reasonable to insist that he turn Jackson around and get the most out of Gordon and Brisker. That’s a fair bar to set for this season.

Eberflus was enthusiastic when he considered those rookies’ potential based on what he’d seen in his pre-draft study.

“They bring playmaking ability into your secondary, and that’s huge,” he said. “Big, long players create takeaways, and they do a great job of playing the ball. And that’s what we’re excited about. Those guys will fit right in.”

Poles included Eberflus’ opinion in his calculations with scouts as he prepped for the draft. He has talked about erasing the lines between the personnel and coaching departments. So while these picks — especially Gordon and Brisker — go on Poles’ record, Eberflus is also attached to them.

“Sometimes we’d go to different positions and say, ‘This guy vs. that guy,’ ’’ Poles explained when asked how he incorporated Eberflus into his decisions. “We just would work through that over and over again.”

The Bears don’t have everything, but there’s enough on the table for Eberflus to assemble a quality defense. What happens from here is his responsibility. He doesn’t have to have a finished product in ’22, but he needs to show this is headed the right way.

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