Tucker defensive preferences hold key to Bears’ 2014 draft

Tucker defensive preferences hold key to Bears’ 2014 draft
February 17, 2014, 12:15 pm
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Defensive coordinator Mel Tucker will not be directing the Bears’ 2014 draft, but the single biggest key to the Bears season lies in general manager Phil Emery and his staff finding the skill sets and player types that give both Tucker and those players the optimum chances to succeed.

Since the directions of someone’s future often lies in tells from their past, what the Jacksonville Jaguars did during Tucker’s tenure there (through 2012) warrants a look.

First, the Bears retained Tucker despite the defensive debacles of 2013 in some part because he operated a scheme and philosophy rooted in Lovie Smith, Lance Briggs, Julius Peppers, Charles Tillman and some others. To dictate what he does in 2014 and beyond in the form of personnel or scheme would be both unfair and a textbook setup for disaster; that’s unlikely.

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Emery is committed to a 4-3 system, but there are variations on that theme (One-gap? Two-gap? Heavy blitz? “Leo?”). If there is one prime directive going into this week’s NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, it is the right pairing of coach and players, like pairing the right wine with the right food.

When Tucker was in that post with the Jacksonville, the Jaguars invested a third-round pick in Terrance Knighton, a 335-pound defensive tackle in the Ted Washington/Keith Traylor mold — classic two-gap dominators, which Knighton was for Denver after the Broncos signed him last March. Tucker’s head coach in Jacksonville was Jack Del Rio, brought in as Denver defensive coordinator and part of why the Broncos brought in not only Knighton, but also defensive end Jeremy Mincey.

(Interestingly, sources told CSNChicago.com that the Bears did not place a call to Mincey when the Jaguars cut him last Dec. 13. They had interest in him as a free agent in 2012 before Jacksonville re-signed him to an $20-million extension; Mincey, 30, produced just five sacks and 43 tackles combined over next 24 games before his release.)

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In what might be a foreshadowing of the Bears’ plan this draft, the Jaguars used their first four picks of the 2010 draft on defensive linemen (two tackles, two ends). First-rounder Tyson Alualu is a 295-pound tackle in the Henry Melton style. Jacksonville used a No. 2 on Andre Branch, a 265-pound hybrid, who had a breakout year in 2013 when the Jaguars used him in a fashion similar to the mix-and-match “Leo” end in the Seattle scheme — a role similar to what is expected for Shea McClellin this year.

Projecting the Bears’ draft three months ahead of schedule — the first round does not start until Thursday evening, May 8 — is of limited use right now, since moves in free agency can significantly alter needs, and the Bears’ needs on defense are driving this draft for them.

But a surprise will be if the Bears take fewer than two defensive linemen in the span of their first four picks. Getting the ones that fit for Tucker becomes the real goal, or the Bears may be faced with the same problem a year from now.