The cliché about rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic may be tossed around right about now, but the simple reality is that the Bears will be looking primarily within for changes to save a suddenly sinking 2013 season.
A handful of job competitions are in the offing, with performance upgrades needed whether Jay Cutler or Lance Briggs were playing or not. This is beyond the basic next-man-up mindset, which is what every roster situation for every team is anyway when a starter goes down for whatever reason.
The Bears simply were proving themselves not good enough even before Sunday’s injuries and that has to change before a team that has lost three of its last four, all in the NFC, goes to Green Bay on Nov. 4
“We have to grow our own players,” said coach Marc Trestman, “and right now the players that we see on our squad are better than the players that we can bring in in terms of either street free agency, other practice squad and/or trades that don't make sense for the Bears.”
The issues are almost exclusively on defense, a unit that ranks in the top 10 of only one of the top 11 statistical categories — interceptions per pass play.
“Mel [Tucker, defensive coordinator] was very clear to them about what we have to do with the players we have to go in each week and give our football team a chance to win,” Trestman said. “When we come back on Monday that’s where we’re going to start.”
Every player is theoretically competing for their job. But three defensive position areas are suddenly very much in an active competition:
Competition No. 1 Defensive end: David Bass vs. Shea McClellin
Indications are that this competition is already in progress. McClellin’s participation has been declining, from 94 percent of the snaps vs. New Orleans to 84 percent vs. New York and 74 percent in Washington.
Bass’ has gone from 21 percent against the Saints to 53 percent (29 snaps) against the Giants. He played 30 snaps in Washington but had a lower percentage of participation with tackles Stephen Paea and Zach Minter both being activated.
At one point of the Washington game, in a crucial down-and-distance situation, Bass was on the field and McClellin on the sideline. McClellin did run onto the field at the last moment before Washington huddled but Bass had one of the better single defensive plays of the game, with an 11-yard tackle for loss.
General manager Phil Emery is insistent that McClellin is improving despite a seeming lack of impact plays generally.
“I’ve seen improvement in Shea, particularly in his strength against the run,” Emery said. “In our defense, the most important thing is gap discipline, is doing your job first. I’ve seen drastic differences between him from a year ago in being able to maintain that leverage on that gap, to be able to drop his hips, extend his arms and hold his ground so that the ball is turned into another gap. So in terms of playing team defense, Shea is doing a great job at that.”
Next: CSNChicago.com looks at the linebacker competition to fill Lance Briggs’ job while the veteran recovers from a fractured shoulder.