Bears evoke 'Monsters of Midway'

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- I arrived at Olivet Nazarene University carrying a long list of questions about the Chicago Bears. Most of them revolved around their new offense, from offensive coordinator Mike Martz to quarterback Jay Cutler to the backfield tandem of Matt Forte and Chester Taylor. But as it turns out, the Bears have defense on their mind.

Players arrived in their dorms to find T-shirts with a "Monsters of the Midway," and coach Lovie Smith apparently showed some classic video clips from the franchise's defensive heyday. (Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune thought more quickly than me and snapped this shot of safety Danieal Manning modeling the T-shirt.)

"We've got to take it back to the old school," said cornerback Charles Tillman. "You can learn a lot from your past, and back in the day when they had the Monsters of the Midway, they were a force to be reckoned with. That's what we're trying to do. Trying to bring that back."

T-shirts and slogans are typically a part of training camp, but it's interesting that Smith has ensured the public relevancy of his defense at a time when most of the national discussion about his team has revolved around the offense. We've discussed the Bears' need to improve their mid-range pass defense and the role of their personnel changes in that goal, but it's clear that Smith is looking beyond X's and O's to elevate their performance.

"I just came into my room and I saw that T-shirt on my bed," defensive end Mark Anderson said. "I guess that that's the thing for this camp. ... And I know we are still the main focus here on defense. We all know defense wins championships."

Added Tillman: "I think we're back."

I appreciate the optimism, but it's way, way too early to draw that conclusion. The first practice of training camp starts at 4 p.m. ET, and we'll start making observations there. I'll be looking for any and all signs of improvement, and one area I'll probably focus on is a secondary that will have new players manning at least three of the four positions.

Among them are the position swap between Tillman and Zack Bowman, leaving Bowman on the left side and Tillman on the right. Typically, a team's top cornerback plays on the left side in a Cover 2 defense, and Tillman sounded as if he's working hard to embrace a move he wouldn't have chosen if it were up to him.

"Adjusting," he said. "Adjusting to it. Embracing it with open arms."

Tillman said he has "no clue" why he was moved and referred the question to Smith. "He's the bossman on that," Tillman said.

The adjustment, he said, is not insignificant.

"You're doing everything in the opposite," he said. "So if you're used to eating with your right hand, now you've got to eat with your left hand. Everything changes."

More in a bit.