For the past several years an annual mantra has been that the Bears defense would buckle as one star after another reached and passed 30 years of age: Brian Urlacher, then Julius Peppers, followed by Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman, with the occasional Roberto Garza added to the discussion.
Eventually that prediction may be accurate. It wasn’t in 2010 (fourth in scoring, ninth in yardage). In 2011 the doomsayers looked vindicated with the defense 14th in scoring and 17th in yardage.
Then 2012 made the predictions laughable again, with the defense fifth in yardage allowed, third in points given up, and eight touchdowns scored to go with a No. 1 spot in the Aikman ratings, the standard for measuring defensive performance.
While Briggs, Peppers, Tillman and others have defied calendars, they have gotten help in the form of impact plays by the youth on the defensive side of the football.
Rookie linebacker Jonathan Bostic scored the first Chicago preseason touchdown on an interception return against Carolina. That was in keeping with the three linebacker touchdown returns (two by Briggs, one by Urlacher) in 2012.
Also against Carolina, cornerback Sherrick McManis forced and recovered a fumble, the Tillman specialty. Against San Diego, Shea McClellin forced a fumble with a sack and safety Major Wright recovered it.
The Bears were credited with five passes deflected against San Diego, six against Carolina. All but two have been by the “kids,” including cornerback Zackary Bowman (three) and linebacker Jon Bostic (two). The Bears have intercepted three preseason passes: by Bostic, Bowman and Chris Conte.
Consider it a sort of passing the torch.
“It was the young guys making plays, but the same positions,” said nose tackle Stephen Paea. “Lance does it, and [vs. Carolina] it was a linebacker – Jon.
“Peanut [Tillman, cornerback] is always punching [the ball]; [against the Panthers] it was a corner [McManus]. Lance is always picking it and taking it to the house; then it was a rookie [Bostic] picking it and taking it to the house.”
The other Bear to force a fumble through two preseason games was Shea McClellin, on a sack of Philip Rivers vs. San Diego. He did not beat anything close to an elite left tackle with his speed rush around the edge, but he has worked less on power than on speed moves through training camp, finding his own way rather than trying to replicate what has worked for a savvy veteran.
“I’m definitely more confident,” McClellin said. “I’m going to do what works for me. I’m not going to do a Julius Peppers move. I’m going to do what works for me and a spin move works for me.
“Last year I was trying to find my groove and find what worked for me. It was a lot of finding out. Things that worked in college don’t work here so it’s a matter of finding different things that do work.”