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Hub Arkush: The defense is certainly different

But is it definitely better

Published: Saturday, July 26, 2014 7:01 p.m. CDT • Updated: Saturday, July 26, 2014 11:05 p.m. CDT
Caption
(H. Rick Bamman – hbamman@shawmedia.com)
The Bears' Michael Ford (left) and Shea McClellin (middle) return to the line after running a play during training camp Friday at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais.

BOURBONNAIS – A reported crowd of 8,000-plus showed up Saturday for the Bears second practice of the preseason camp at Olivet Nazarene and talk of playoffs and Super Bowls filled the air. Is any of it justified? It’s just too soon to tell.

This much we do know. Fans and some media who keep suggesting if the defense can just be a little better, maybe just average, that it makes the Bears a contender are nuts.

Average defenses don’t win Super Bowls, or even get the chance to lose one.

That is why the Bears brought in five new defensive linemen via free agency and drafted two more in the first three rounds, signed four free-agent safeties and drafted a cornerback in the first round, re-signed D.J. Williams and moved Shea McClellin to linebacker.

Again, it is way too early to say for sure how all that will work out, but the linebacker situation is troubling.

The Bears began rebuilding the linebacking unit by replacing 2013 linebackers coach Tim Tibesar with Reggie Herring. Phil Emery thinks it’s a great start.

“Reggie Herring, I’ve heard people call him a throwback,” Emery said. “He is. He’s as entertaining as he is a great coach. Players love being around him. I love being around him. You want to go play for him.” We’ll see. The fact is if Lance Briggs and Williams are healthy, which neither were last year, they can play for anybody. Well into their 30s, can they stay on the field this year?

James Anderson was the Bears’ best linebacker last year and he wasn’t even invited back because the Bears refuse to quit on Emery’s first, first-round draft choice, McClellin, and they believe last year’s No. 2, Jon Bostic can play as well.

There no longer is any denying McClellin can’t play with a hand on the ground in the NFL, so he’s been given the starting strongside linebacker spot. Allegedly, there’s a competition for the spot with Bostic, but it’s clear it’s McClellin’s to lose.

Trestman said he’s warming up to the task.

“I’ve seen it all through the offseason,” he said. “I think he’s been encouraged by Reggie. We have a lot of confidence. We’re excited about seeing where this can go with Shea.”

At Saturday’s practice, McClellin looked uncomfortable and awkward. The reality might be that while he did have exceptional athletic skills for the defensive end spot – he just didn’t have the strength, power or instincts – at linebacker his athleticism is just average if that.

Bostic has been given the starting nickel linebacker spot and does appear a lot more comfortable and instinctive than last year.

The best linebacker on the field Saturday was actually 2013 fourth-round pick, Khaseem Greene. Like Bostic, he appears much more fluid and instinctive this year and parlayed that into an interception of Jordan Palmer that he returned for a touchdown.

Greene acknowledges Year 2 is like a different world for him.

“Definitely, I mean I know what to expect, I’ve got a better grasp of the playbook and I’m just going out there and trying to have fun and make plays,” he said.

At the end of the day, here’s the concern. If McClellin can play linebacker at all, he is probably best suited for the Mike/middle, or the outside rush spot in a 3-4 defense, which the Bears don’t play.

Bostic and Greene both are natural Will/weakside backers and that will be Briggs’ spot until at least the end of this season when his contract expires.

It’s possible the only natural Sam/strongside linebacker on the team is undrafted rookie free-agent Christian Jones and although he’s intriguing, he’s got a ton to learn.

As exciting as Day 2 might have been for all those fans, it’s a good thing we’ve got five weeks of training camp and exhibition season left to sort all this out.

Chicago Football editor Hub Arkush can be reached at harkush@chicagofootball.com or on Twitter @Hub_Arkush.

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