BOURBONNAIS – The changes swirling in and around the Bears have affected every member of team and many within the organization. Few, however, have had a seat squarely at Ground Zero.
Lance Briggs has.
The seven-time Pro Bowl linebacker was rocked this offseason by the firing of coach Lovie Smith in January. It was Smith who took over from Dick Jauron in 2004 and moved a young Briggs from the strong-side linebacker to the weak side. A year later Briggs was voted to the first of those seven Pro Bowls.
Then came the hiring of Marc Trestman, a head coach rooted in the other side of the ball after Briggs having spent his entire 10-year career under a defensive head coach and philosophy.
Shortly after that, Rod Marinelli abruptly chose not to accept the offer to remain as defensive coordinator on the new staff.
And in April came the abrupt, acrimonious finale to the Brian Urlacher era, with a contract impasse spilling into a declaration by the team that it was turning away from the player with whom Briggs had played most closely for his entire career.
When the offseason work began, it was Briggs who was put in charge of the defensive huddle under new coordinator Mel Tucker.
“It’s like Robin taking over for Batman,” defensive tackle Henry Melton said. “It’s going to be different but I think he can do it.”
Briggs, himself signed through the 2014 season, talked on Friday about the changes, of absent friends and mentors. But while the past is with him, he is not living in that past.
“The thing about it is this: It’s a new year,” Briggs said. “We have an opportunity to win a championship. Coach Trestman is our coach so he’s the man who’s going to lead us.
“The values and things Lovie instilled in us will always be with us. We will carry that over. Lovie will live through us. Brian Urlacher, Israel Idonije, Mike Brown, all those guys will continue to live through us.”
Growing in the job
This is not the first time Briggs has taken on huge duties in his position. Some years ago, Lovie Smith stopped removing Briggs in “dime” defensive packages, reasoning that Briggs, a linebacker, in coverage was better than a third safety or fourth cornerback.
The defense never faltered.
This offseason it was Briggs who approached the coaches and said he would take on the duties of defensive co-captain (with Julius Peppers), a role he filled when Urlacher was out for the season. The staff was all in.
“Obviously he’s been a very good player, a very productive player, he’s been a Pro Bowl player,” Tucker said. “So, it’s all in the details. How do you get better from there, and he works on that each and every day. It’s not just one thing, specifically, but every day we’re out here we need to find ways to improve, sharpen our soul, and hone our skill. He’s in that boat, as we all are.”
That move to run the huddle and defense on the field involved stepping into a role that usually belongs to a middle linebacker, not an outside one. D.J. Williams was signed from Denver and the Bears used a No. 2 pick on Jon Bostic from Florida, the heir apparent in the middle.
But for now, Briggs, second-most senior member of the defense to Charles Tillman (the latter was drafted a round before Briggs in 2003), is in charge.
“I was real comfortable in my role before,” Briggs said. “Very comfortable. Now I’m getting comfortable with being uncomfortable.”
Ironically, the early talk of this training camp centered around the organization’s decision to hold in abeyance all contract negotiations and extensions. “Ironically” because at times in the past, it was Briggs at the center of occasional contract taffy-pulls.
Now, he necessarily sees beyond that.
“The business stuff we have to talk about after the season’s over,” Briggs said. “We’ll have a great year and we have some special things to do this year and I don’t want to take anything away by thinking about after the year, the future.
“’Right now’ is more precious than ‘tomorrow.’”