Not all that long ago, no less than Ron Rivera was out of the running for several coaching jobs because he was from a background consisting of almost exclusively 4-3 defenses, very successful ones in fact. He played in one (1985 Bears) and coached in one (2006 Bears).
But after leaving the Bears following that latter season, Rivera was an early out in the interview process for jobs with teams that were staffed to run 3-4 defensive schemes.
Suddenly, at least in the Bears’ current situation, roots in a different system are being recognized as an asset, not a liability.
Indeed, a reasonable assumption may be that Paul Pasqualoni was hired this week as the Bears’ defensive-line coach, and Reggie Herring as linebackers coach, not in spite of their recent work in a 3-4, but rather because of it. Those two position groups obviously are the most critical to any substantive overall change.
A second assumption is that the Bears are committed in more than just lip service to a hybrid defensive system. They will remain a base 4-3 team but after that, more than just Shea McClellin’s assignments are likely to be changing.
The Bears' commitment to a 4-3 did not send Mel Tucker and Marc Trestman into the coach pool looking for 4-3 coaches. They specifically went for veterans with significant 3-4 experience as well as time mentoring 4-3’s. Like Tucker.
If you’re going to think outside the 4-3 box, the premium then is on coaches who have lived inside it and outside. Irony: Rivera lost out to Wade Phillips for the Dallas head-coaching job in 2007 in part because he was not vetted in the 3-4 that Cowboys chief Jerry Jones decreed would be remain the Dallas way.
Pasqualoni was the Dallas linebackers coach that Rivera would have inherited. Herring took over the Cowboys linebackers in 2008 and was part of the scheme in which DeMarcus Ware produced 20 sacks.
Now all the Bears need is general manager Phil Emery to find Ware in this draft. Or for Tucker, Herring and Pasqualoni to turn McClellin into their “Ware.”
Juryrigging anything can end up worse than the original, and incorporating different scheme elements does not mean the result works. The whole can be less than the sum of the parts just as easily as more than the sum.
But hybrids or “what the heck is THAT?” defenses can more than work. Indeed, Chicago in particular should be all in here. No way a defense that stacked linebackers side by side up on the line, dropped a defensive end in over center and used a strong safety as a linebacker could work, not until Buddy Ryan and the “46” somehow did, and well.
And that was from a 4-3 base defense. A two-gap 4-3 in fact.
All of this is obviously contingent upon Emery and staff procuring personnel via free agency, the draft and targeted re-signings of 2013 Bears. Without playmakers, no scheme works. Period.