Road to Bourbonnais: How good can D be?

New defensive coordinator Mel Tucker inherits some veteran Pro Bowl talent. David Banks/USA TODAY Sports

As long as the Chicago Bears' veteran defensive core stays healthy, this figures to be an above-average unit, even after the departure of head coach Lovie Smith and defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli.

But to ask the Bears' defense to duplicate what it did last year could be a stretch.

Just look at the numbers. The Bears' best offense at times last year was its defense, which seemed to score a defensive touchdown almost every week. The defense returned eight interceptions for touchdowns and also recovered a fumble in the end zone.

Can the Bears' defense even come close to nine scores in 2013?

That's not meant to be an indictment of the Bears, but it's extremely difficult to score touchdowns on defense. The fact that the Bears were able to do it with such ease last year is a testament to the greatness of the defense, which also had 44 takeaways.

Charles Tillman had 10 forced fumbles. Tim Jennings picked off nine passes. These numbers are crazy.

What's likely to happen this year is that the defense slides a little but can still rank in the NFL's top 10.

Tillman, Jennings, Lance Briggs, Julius Peppers and Henry Melton gives the Bears five Pro Bowl-caliber players. The loss of Brian Urlacher will probably hurt more than Bears fans realize, but the organization did a nice job in the offseason stocking the defense with enough linebackers to ease the sting of not having Urlacher and former starting strongside linebacker Nick Roach.

Starting safeties Chris Conte and Major Wright are coming off solid years and fourth-year defensive end Corey Wootton had a breakout 2012 when he recorded 7.0 sacks.

Are there still questions about the defense? Sure. But if the veteran leaders can find a way to keep themselves on the field and if the Bears can locate a consistent pass rush up front to complement Peppers, then new defensive coordinator Mel Tucker should be able to keep the Bears' defense among the NFL's elite.