LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) — Finally, the Chicago Bears’ rebuilt defense gets a chance to show what it can do.
The Bears open the season at home against the Buffalo Bills on Sunday in what they hope is the start of a run to the playoffs after coming up short six of the past seven seasons.
A big reason for that optimism is an overhaul that added five-time Pro Bowl player Jared Allen and fellow end Lamarr Houston among others.
The defense didn’t show much during the preseason, with the starters seeing limited time and not exactly dominating when they did play. Injuries were a factor, too.
But the Bears insist there’s no reason to worry about their defense.
“I don’t feel that trepidation,” coach Marc Trestman said. “The whole defense wasn’t together at one time during it. We’re going to have to come together. It’s going to be a process working together, getting to know each other, how each other works. But the talent level’s there.”
The Bears are counting on improved play from an overhauled defense after that group ranked among the worst in the league and in franchise history a year ago. They strengthened the line and added depth. But they didn’t show much during the preseason, and that has at least some fans antsy.
The starters had trouble stopping rollout plays in the second preseason game against Jacksonville and wasn’t particularly effective against the run. A week later, Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks had their way with the Bears in a 34-6 pounding that sent some chills through Chicago.
The Bears gave up more yards per game in the preseason than all but three teams and were third worst in scoring defense.
Then again, Allen missed the first preseason game because his wife had a baby, and sat out against Seattle because of a bruised shoulder.
Safety Chris Conte missed the start of training camp while recovering from shoulder surgery and sat out the first two preseason games. Then he suffered a concussion against Seattle and did not play the following week against Cleveland.
Rookie cornerback Kyle Fuller hurt his ankle during the Jacksonville game and sat out the remaining two preseason matches.
The Bears also changed defensive schemes after sticking with the cover-2 last season, Mel Tucker’s first as defensive coordinator. They’re still running a 4-3 set. The language and responsibilities are different, and they weren’t about to tip their hands with the play calls in the preseason.
That changes now.
“We’re hungry,” cornerback Tim Jennings said. “We’ve got attitude from last year. The coaches feel the same way as well as the players do. The attitude we have is setting the tone. We have to go out there and get into a fast start. We’ve still got the same mentality: The more takeaways we get, give our offense back the ball, we can put more points on the board. So we still have that mentality, but we really still have a bad taste in our mouth from last season.”
The Bears ranked 30th overall and last against the run while tying Jacksonville with a league-low 31 sacks. They gave up 2,583 yards rushing and 5.3 per carry — both club records — so it would be hard for them not to improve.
Still, there are concerns.
It’s not clear who the starting safeties will be with Conte, Danny McCray and Ryan Mundy in the mix for two spots. “I think we’re going to still wait and see,” Trestman said.
There is also that curiosity: How will this defense look?
“All the additions that we brought to this defense, I’m excited about it and I just can’t wait to get us all together and get us come Sunday, and see where we’re at,” Jennings said.
NOTES: LB Lance Briggs had an excused absence from practice. Trestman would not reveal the reason. Briggs was scheduled to appear Monday at the opening of a restaurant he partly owns near Sacramento, California. ... The Bears signed LS Jeremy Cain. ... RT Jordan Mills said he’s “very ready” to start the season. He suffered a broken foot in last year’s finale against Green Bay and did not play in the preseason.
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