Bears' defense improving with age

Lance Briggs and Julius Peppers may be in their 30s, but they're leading an elite unit. Ron Jenkins/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/Getty Images

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Seemingly every year when Chicago’s defense performs at a high level, the players find themselves dismissing the notion they’re getting older.

So it wasn’t a surprise Thursday to see linebackers Lance Briggs and Brian Urlacher defending the age of the defense.

“I don’t really have a reaction to it, I just play football,” Briggs said. “I don’t give credit for what anyone has to say about us whether it’s positive or negative. It’s not going to make us play better or worse. We’re going to play how we play because we’re the star football players we are. I love to play the game at a high level, and I want to play this game at a high level as long as we can play it.”

Despite the perception that Chicago’s defense is a rapidly aging unit, the reality is just five of the group’s starting 11 are older than 30, including four of the team’s biggest stars in Briggs (31), Urlacher (34), Julius Peppers (32) and Charles Tillman (31).

So at some point, the Bears will need to start searching for their eventual replacements. Perhaps they’re already on the roster considering the youth the Bears have added in recent years at defensive end (Shea McClellin and Corey Wootton) and linebacker (Geno Hayes, J.T. Thomas and Blake Costanzo). At cornerback, Tillman is the only player at the position in his 30s, but he continues to play at a high level.

“If you didn’t know how old we were and who we were, you wouldn’t know how old we were if you watched our film,” Urlacher said. “Does that make sense?”

Absolutely, it does. Based on the way the unit has performed (third in rushing defense, 11th in total defense, 5th in points allowed, 3rd in sacks, 2nd in third-down conversions and No. 1 in takeaways) it doesn’t appear age is an issue.

Bears coach Lovie Smith joked earlier in the week that the media considers his defense “the over-the-hill gang,” but they’ve proven to be anything but through the first four games.

“Hopefully you would think we’re younger than we really are; some of us at least,” Urlacher said. “Age is just a number. We play well together, we know where to fit. We’ve been in the system for a long time. We know where to go, where our teammates are going to be, and it allows us to play faster.”