Phil Emery will look to retool, not rebuild, broken Bears defense

Phil Emery will look to retool, not rebuild, broken Bears defense

Last season, the Chicago Bears found themselves with a new identity; a new head coach with a new philosophy, and a new regime of players looking to take the franchise to the next phase of its storied history.

The new offensive-minded Bears ended 2013 8-8, missing the playoffs by one fourth-and-eight conversion.

Looking back on Lovie Smith’s last three seasons in Chicago prior to being fired might make 2013 appear to some as a total disaster. But final record aside, I believe 2013 was a big step in the right direction. All things considered, the fact that this team even had a shot at the postseason once Week-17 came was an accomplishment.

Don’t take that the wrong way. Missing the playoffs and finishing 8-8 is not in and of itself worthy of praise. The Bears had maybe the worst defense in the league last season. Statistically, they were awful, and the game tape shows a confusion that equates to an inability to make plays against just about any look.

But, if you consider what they were able to muster as a group with the defense playing the way it did, the strides on offense after just one season are encouraging. The mistakes made on defense are also fixable this offseason via personnel changes and acquisitions, as well as a shift in coaching philosophy.

It will surely take a masterful job from Phil Emery to retool this defense to come close to its 2012 Lovie Smith-led counterpart, but as we saw on the opposite side of the ball, and as football fans know in general, things can change quickly in the NFL.

The Bears will look to sign personnel via free agency and of course try and secure high-impact players on cheaper, one-year deals. But the most important phase of the offseason will come on draft day, when Chicago chooses 14th overall in round one.

With the 14th, 46th and 78th picks in rounds one through three, the Bears could potentially secure three quality defenders to step in and contribute in just a short period of time.

The last couple of seasons, the Bears have been caught picking in the 18-22 range, which can get you a quality player in round one but might limit you from getting real solid value in the second or third. It’s not just a goal to hit on at least one defensive player in this year’s draft for Emery, it’s an absolute must for the success of his team moving forward.

In Phil Emery’s three years as general Manager, it doesn’t yet appear that he’s been able to do it. It’s also clear that he prefers the high risk, high reward guy on the board. But this time it might benefit him to take the surer thing.

Emery’s 2014 pick might wind up to be his most important as Chicago Bears general manager considering the decline on defense during his tenure. But at least the defense is where most of the holes on this roster are, and if nothing else, Emery can focus on that side of the ball with more emphasis.

It’s also important to remember that this is a defensive retooling, not a straight rebuild. The Bears still have plenty of defensive talent on the roster who, when healthy, can be difference makers week to week. And adding the extra talent needed through the draft is a must.

Take a look at the top teams around the league; they are acquiring talent through the draft and by hitting on UDFAs. The Seahawks and 49ers are prime examples of this. Yes, they’ve brought in players through free agency for glaring voids, but the bulk of their rosters have been built through the draft.

The Bears are still developing players along the defensive front and have stockpiled young talent who could one day make a difference. Do not rule out players like Jon Bostic or Khaseem Greene to become playmakers in the coming season with the right development and under the correct leadership.

The Bears were 8-8 with a historically bad run defense — maybe the worst we’ve ever seen. The offense compensated for the defensive mistakes and almost found a way into the playoffs. Imagine what this team could do with another year on offense and a defense that’s even middle of the pack instead of fighting for dead last.

The injuries suffered in 2013 undoubtedly played a huge factor in their struggles against the run, but the Bears weren’t prepared for it. Getting those players back healthy on top of new draft picks, and a free agent signing or two, and the Bears could be a real NFC threat.

But it will always sound easier on paper than it really is, and that’s where Phil Emery comes in. Win the offseason, Phil, and get this team back on track before it’s too late.

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