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Unlike Colts, Bears will invest in Chuck Pagano’s defense

INDIANAPOLIS — Former Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio didn’t spend the first day of last year’s NFL Draft analyzing extra college game tapes.

Fangio spent his daylight hours at The Club at Strawberry Creek in Kenosha, Wisconsin. He made a hole-in-one on the fourth hole.

“He was so fired up to give [the media] that information,” general manager Ryan Pace joked later that night.

It was all part of a memorable day for Fangio. He sank his shot with a 9-iron from 125 yards out, then was handed Roquan Smith, the best inside linebacker in the 2018 draft class.

The Bears hired former Colts head coach Chuck Pagano to replace Vic Fangio as defensive coordinator. | Darron Cummings/AP photo

Chuck Pagano, who has replaced Fangio as the Bears’ defensive coordinator, never experienced a day like that when it came to the draft and defensive players. His defenses never were among the league’s best in his six years in Indianapolis because of it.

The Bears view Pagano’s experience as a head coach as invaluable when it comes to compensating for Fangio’s departure. But the Bears still will experience a transition, even though he’s inheriting a defense with all but two starters signed for next season.

“What you’re going to see now is a people guy,” coach Matt Nagy said at the combine. “[Pagano’s] a guy the players are going to absolutely love. They’re going to respect him because of his knowledge and the players he has been around and how he does things. He has an aggressive mentality, which you know I like.”

Pagano is less than two months into his new Bears job, but working for Pace and Nagy must feel different already. Pace and Nagy over-communicate. The Colts, according to an ESPN report, hired psychologists to improve the strained relationship between Pagano and former general manager Ryan Grigson, who was fired after the 2016 season.

Pagano was the Ravens’ defensive coordinator in 2011 when they ranked third in scoring and total yards. As the Ravens’ secondary coach, he also was influential in the Hall of Fame career of safety Ed Reed.

But in Grigson’s five years with Pagano, the Colts drafted only two defensive players in the first two rounds, and both were major misses.

Defensive end Bjoern Werner (No. 24, 2013) appeared in only 38 games for the Colts and had 6½ sacks. Safety T.J. Green (No. 57, 2016) started 11 games in his first two years but was released before last season and is no longer playing.

The only pick made by Grigson who started last season for the Colts’ defense was safety Clayton Geathers. A fourth-round pick in 2015, Geathers does not have an interception in his career.

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Like the Bears with quarterback Mitch Trubisky, the Colts had quarterback Andrew Luck to invest around. But Pace also has upheld the Bears’ defensive traditions by using his resources in the draft and free agency and by trading for outside linebacker Khalil Mack. Pace will continue to do that.

If Pagano covets a certain type of player for his defense, Pace and Nagy will listen. It’s what they do.

“Chuck and our new defensive coaches spent a lot of time meeting with us and our scouts, basically going through that,” Pace said this week. “There’s really no significant changes [from Fangio], but Chuck’s done a good job of explaining some of the slight differences. I also think Chuck understands [that] these are our players, and coaches can adapt to the players at hand, too. There’s a little bit of that going on.”

Pace said there are no “drastic changes” going from Fangio to Pagano, especially with the Bears sticking with a 3-4 base defense, which affects personnel, and given that teams are often in sub packages.

But Pace still will operate with the Bears’ improved culture as a priority, too.

“From an intangible standpoint,” Pace said, “we’re still looking for the same things.”