The worst defense in Bears history cost two assistant coaches their jobs, but the leader of the unit will be back in 2014.
Linebackers coach Tim Tibesar and defensive line coach Mike Phair were fired, and defensive coordinator Mel Tucker will return.
“We thank Mike and Tim for their effort and dedication. They are men of high character and integrity,” Bears coach Marc Trestman said in a statement Sunday. “These are not easy decisions and we do not attribute our lack of success on defense to two individuals.”
Both Tibesar and Phair’s units were marred by injuries. Thrust into the lineup, rookies Jon Bostic and Khaseem Greene did not show the improvement the team wanted to see, especially down the stretch. The Bears were last in the league in run defense.
“I saw Khaseem do it right and Jon do it right, and I saw them both do it wrong,” Trestman said in his Jan. 2 news conference. “I did not see a consistency in their play.”
On the defensive line, Henry Melton and Nate Collins both tore their ACLs, while Julius Peppers and Shea McClellin did not produce up to expectations off the edges.
Someone was going to take the fall for a defense that allowed 6,313 net yards in 2013, and it went to the position coaches of the front seven, which made the same mistakes week after week: problems fitting the run, missed tackles and an inabilitly to pressure the quarterback, among other struggles.
Tucker should be able to help with the new hires to coach the linebackers and defensive line, as he gets a chance to put more of a mark on this defense.
“We believe Mel is the right person to lead our defensive unit,” Trestman said. “He fully understands where we need to improve, has the skill set and leadership to oversee the changes that need to be made and to execute our plan to get the results we know are necessary.”
Trestman and general manager Phil Emery were firm in their stance that, when healthy in the first three games, the defense played at a high level. That showed the faith they have in Tucker as a coordinator, and he could be working with completely different personnel next season.
Tim Jennings, Stephen Paea and Lance Briggs are the only regulars who should be back at their positions in 2014. Major Wright, Corey Wootton, Melton, James Anderson, Williams, Charles Tillman, Jeremiah Ratliff and Collins all are free agents.
The futures of Chris Conte and Peppers are in question, and McClellin and Bostic could be at different positions.
With Tucker getting another year to prove himself, expect to see a more aggressive defense.
“We want a physical, fast, playmaking defense, a defense that causes disruption,” Emery said.
One game that sticks out as a potential blueprint of the Bears’ 2014 defensive style is the win in Pittsburgh in Week 3.
According to Pro Football Focus, Ben Roethlisberger was under pressure on 20 plays, six more than any other Bears opposing quarterback. They blitzed Big Ben 19 times, tied for the most all season. After halftime, Roethlisberger started finding success under pressure, but the aggressive defense was too much. The Bears forced five turnovers in that 40-23 win.
As bad as the defense was, the Bears were a play away from winning the NFC North, which made the meltdown on that side of the ball all the more frustrating. Tucker gets another chance, and even though the coordinator is the same, expect the Bears’ defense to look much different next season.