The Bears’ defense is collectively still figuring out what it can be in 2017, but there’s been an underlying current of optimism flowing from Vic Fangio’s group this spring and summer.
This is a group that is confident it can be better than the injury-addled bunch that finished 24th in scoring defense and 22nd in Football Outsiders’ DVOA in 2016. Perhaps it’s because the defense looks less a rebuilding project — after all, safety Eddie Jackson was the only draft pick on that side of the ball — and more a veteran-heavy bunch that may not have any standouts, but could have the pieces to bond into a reliable unit.
“We want all the responsibility, we want to be in there with two minutes on the clock, I want you to punt the ball and let us try to stop this and end the game,” defensive end Akiem Hicks said last month. “I feel like we take a lot of responsibility on ourselves and that’s just our mindset.”
Consider the years of experience of the bigger-name free agents the Bears signed in the offseason: Nine (Quintin Demps), six (Prince Amukamara), five (John Jenkins and Jaye Howard) and four (Marcus Cooper). There are plenty of been-there-done-that guys on this defense, and while that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be successful, having a sizable group of veterans probably fed that optimism that should carry over to training camp.
Having Leonard Floyd make significant strides in Year 2 as a pro remains hugely important, as does the overall health of the defense and its ability to generate more turnovers.
“Strengths are everywhere,” linebacker Jerrell Freeman said. “The strengths are knowing and understanding what everybody is doing and then being able to play fast. The pass rush is going to help. The DBs, we’ve got some good new DBs back there. So we’re just able to fly around out there. Being able to fly around is our biggest strength. We’ve got a lot of speed out there. So we can have some fun.”