Before Phil Emery got to work gutting the Bears' defensive line in free agency, he and Mel Tucker brought in some experienced coaching specialists.
Clint Hurtt brought 13 years of collegiate success, mostly at Miami (FL) and Louisville, while Joe Kim has been a pass-rush specialist with seven teams in between earning and coaching Black Belts in Taekwondo.
But first in the line of hires for that defensive line is Paul Pasqualoni, whose coaching career began 42 years ago.
One of the decisions the Bears had to make at one position was whether to re-sign Jeremiah Ratliff or Henry Melton. Once pros and cons were weighed, it was the older Ratliff - who'd returned the final month of last season from a year-long injury, who signed a salary cap-friendly deal (two years, $3.5 million) before reaching free agency. Melton still hadn't gotten back on the field during Dallas' recent OTA's and minicamp after his torn ACL in Week 3.
While Melton is reunited with Rod Marinelli and hopes to fatten up his contract after this season depending on his game day availability, Pasqualoni reunites with Ratliff. They were together during a portion of Ratliff's stretch of four straight Pro Bowls with the Cowboys, and has been seeing a similar player following that long layoff.
"I think he's very close," Pasqualoni said of Ratliff. "He's in very good physical condition, and his weight's about where he wants it to be when he comes back for preseason camp."
And Ratliff can be another "coach" for the interior linemen who were drafted in the second and third rounds. Ego Ferguson and Will Sutton are being looked at as long-term answers, while Ratliff seeks a return to form and Stephen Paea enters a contract year. Pasqualoni, along with Hurtt and Kim, aim to get the kids growing quickly enough to contribute something this fall.
"I'm really looking forward to them getting their pads on and seeing exactly what they have when the (offensive) line gets their pads on, going up against a real good offensive line," Pasqualoni said. "Early in preseason camp will give us a good indication of how far they've come and how much more they've got to do to go in and help us."
The first strike when free agency opened was signing the versatile LaMarr Houston, who's least experienced rushing from left end. So, Pasqualoni and his staff spent the past month getting him used to the switch.
"You can see the quickness, speed, and explosiveness he's capable of playing with," he said. "He's going to give us a pretty stout guy on first and second downs, and a guy who's capable on third down of either rushing inside or outside. He's going to give us flexibility with what he can do."
And while the offseason saw Melton, Julius Peppers, and Corey Wootton (plus Shea McClellin's move to linebacker) move out, the biggest splash came with the reason Houston's moving to left end: Jared Allen. Pasqualoni says he's discovered the former Viking's intangibles are as big a reason as his physical gifts that place him second in sacks (128.5) among the NFL's active players, trailing only Arizona's John Abraham.
"Jared has brought a lot of energy and experience to the program, to our meeting room: a guy who's just flat-out smart and a very knowledgeable football player," Pasqualoni said. "He has great vision, can see what's going on and tells you what's happening in the game, and there's no substitute for that."
The Bears hope to substitute last season's defensive performance with one the franchise and its fans have come to expect, and it all starts with a well-seasoned coach and his reconstructed line.