Only subtle changes for Bears on defense

Rod Marinelli said he and Lovie Smith will share in play-calling duties on defense. Warren Wimmer/Icon SMI

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- After the Bears finished last year ranked No. 21 in total defense, No. 23 in rushing defense and tied for No. 21 in points allowed, many assumed radical changes to the unit would follow.

They were wrong.

The prospects for any dramatic revamping of the Bears defensive system went out the window when Lovie Smith promoted Rod Marinelli to defensive coordinator on January 10. Smith and Marinelli, long considered one of the top defensive line coaches in the game, have shared the same defensive vision since the two worked together on the Buccaneers staff in the mid-to-late 1990s.

"There are subtleties in everything that you do, [but] not drastic changes schematically, but just some subtle changes," Marinelli said Thursday afternoon.

Since becoming Bears head coach in 2004, Smith has been heavily involved in the day-to-day operations of the defense, officially taking back play calling duties from former defensive coordinator Bob Babich in 2009.

According to Marinelli, he and Smith will work closely together when it comes to calling plays for the upcoming season.

"It will be a lot," Marinelli said of Smith's play calling input. "He's done a great job in this league with this system, and we've been together all those years in Tampa, too. I've got a good feel for exactly what he wants."

What every Bears player and coach wants is for the defense to force more turnovers, and for the defensive line to consistently pressure the quarterback. The addition of free-agent defensive end Julius Peppers is expected to solve many of the pass rush issues up front, but Marinelli feels Peppers brings more to the table than just sacking the quarterback.

"The thing I really admire about Peppers right now is that he has come in and worked," Marinelli said. "Every day, every snap, [he's been] a pro, from note taking, to details, to his rush. The subtle things we ask him to do at times, he's on it. What a great example for a lot of our young players up front, to see a guy be a pro like that and work each and every day. That's been special."

While Marinelli continues to spend the bulk of every practice overseeing the defensive linemen, the 14-year NFL coaching veteran has set training camp goals for all of his defensive players.

"The thing I want to continually emphasize is our tempo, our pace and how physical we have to be," Marinelli said. "It's a mind-set. All of that is a mind-set, and it's day-to-day work. You come out each day and it's got to be consistent, it can't be up one day and down one day. I'm just looking for that toughness of mind, which represents consistency."

Jeff Dickerson covers the Bears for ESPNChicago.com and ESPN 1000.