Usually a straight shooter, veteran coordinator Vic Fangio admitted that he doesn’t how much better the Bears defense became in the offseason.
“Well, that remains to be seen,” Fangio said at the Bears' rookie minicamp. “We’ve got to go through all these OTAs, go through training camp and see what happens in the games. I’m not one to predict that it’s going to be this or that. We’ve got to see.”
In a break from tradition, there wasn’t a lot of focus on defense when the rookies descended upon Halas Hall last week.
The Bears front office made a flurry of moves on Fangio’s side of the ball in free agency, but used only one draft pick on defense -- Alabama safety Eddie Jackson in the fourth round. Instead of grabbing a plug-and-play defender in the top three -- Stanford’s Solomon Thomas or LSU’s Jamal Adams -- the Bears attempted to solve their quarterback dilemma by choosing North Carolina’s Mitchell Trubisky, who is likely to sit behind veteran Mike Glennon this year.
“I mean, there isn't a position coach in the league that wouldn't like to have a first- or second-round pick to add to their position,” Fangio said. “Likewise, there isn’t any coordinator that wouldn't like to have a first- or second-round pick to add to the squad, but that's just the way it goes. There's no big deal there.”
The decision to aggressively pursue Trubisky could bode well for the future -- if the quarterback pans out, the Bears will be sitting pretty -- but he doesn’t help much short-term, especially for a defense in need of reinforcements.
In 2016, the Bears ranked 24th in points allowed (24.9), giving up 30 or more points in each of their final three games. The defense also intercepted only eight passes, tied for the second-fewest in the league, a shameful number considering the front seven generated a better-than-average pass rush.
To try to remedy the situation, the Bears actively shopped in free agency, agreeing to deals with cornerbacks Prince Amukamara and Marcus Cooper (four interceptions), safety Quintin Demps (six interceptions), defensive linemen Jaye Howard and John Jenkins and linebacker Dan Skuta.
Still, more than two months removed from the initial wave of free agency, Fangio is still sorting through all the pieces, particularly in the revamped secondary.
Fangio simply said “we’ll see” to several questions about the supposedly better defensive backfield.
In fairness, the key on defense lies not in free agency, but the development of last year’s draft class. The Bears went heavy on defense in 2016 and used six of their eight picks on defensive prospects: Leonard Floyd, Jonathan Bullard, Nick Kwiatkoski, Deon Bush, Deiondre' Hall and DeAndre Houston-Carson.
But outside of Floyd (seven sacks) and Kwiatkoski, the group as a whole underwhelmed.
Even Floyd -- the ninth overall choice in the draft -- has clear room for improvement after an injury-shortened rookie season.
“He’s got a foundation of a year behind him, and he was only available about half the time last year,” Fangio said. “He had a bunch of those little injuries that interrupted his progress throughout the season. Hopefully with the year under his belt, getting in better shape, better condition, and take off. If he stays healthy, I feel good about him.”
A big second season out of Floyd could go a long way toward Fangio feeling good about the entire defense, too.