Now that we know about the Chicago Bears officially switching to a 3-4 base defense for the 2015 season, there’s one big question that needs to be answered. Can any of the defensive players currently on the roster -not counting free agents- fit into the scheme of new defensive coordinator Vic Fangio?
This question will not be answered any time soon. Getting this important answer will take some time. Head coach Jon Fox, general manager Ryan Pace, and the rest of the Bears coaching staff, scouts and front office are wrapping up their trip to the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.
In just a few weeks free agency will begin (with linebacker Lance Briggs, cornerback Charles Tillman and defensive tackle Stephen Paea being the most notable Bears available on the market) and that’ s when we should learn more about how the Bears will fill out their roster.
But let’s assume for a moment that the Bears are content with the talent they currently have. There are some players who could ease into the new design (defensive linemen Jeremiah Ratliff, Cornelius Washington and Lamarr Houston once healthy), but others could struggle with the adjustment. Based on that information alone, here are some key players who may or may not fit in the Bears new defensive scheme….
One player who could be adversely affected is defensive end Jared Allen. Allen has been a 4-3 defensive end for his entire 11-year career. He’s amassed 134 career sacks, 611 total career tackles and 54 career pass deflections.
Due to his overall body of work, the Bears gave the 32-year-old former Idaho State standout a four-year $32 million ($15 million guaranteed) contract last year. Unfortunately, his first year at Solider Field was more of a regression. A bout with pneumonia at the beginning of the season caused him to lose 18 pounds.
From there, other nagging minor injuries would combine to give him the worst season of his career (5 1/2 sacks, four pass deflections). He looked slow at many points during the previous season, and he definitely didn’t live up to the hype of his previous 10 years in the league.
Now as he approaches his 33rd birthday, Allen is being asked to completely change his style of play. While he does have speed and is a pass rush specialist, he may not have the speed required to play 3-4 outside linebacker. He’s also too small to be on a 3-4 defensive line, nor does he have the skills to play inside linebacker.
Plus, he’ll have to completely change his pass rushing technique, and he’ll have to acclimate himself to pass coverage. Allen will be the biggest question mark when the Bears begin their offseason program in the spring.
Another player under the microscope will be often scrutinized 2012 first round draft pick Shea McClellin. The Boise State alum was supposed to be the jewel of former general manager Phil Emery‘s first draft. Picked ahead of New England Patriots stud pass rusher Chandler Jones (22 career sacks), Bears fans were led to believe that McClellin could be just as good.
In his first two years as a 4-3 defensive end, McClellin had trouble shedding blocks and failed to bring pressure as a pass rusher. He also got flushed off the line as a run blocker. Last season, the 25-year-old was converted to outside linebacker where the hope was his speed could be put to better use.
That hope never materialized as he struggled with open field tackling and pass coverage. So far McClellin has only produced 7 1/2 career sacks and 45 career solo tackles. Before the Bears drafted him with the 19th overall pick three years ago, many scouts felt that a 3-4 scheme would suit him best.
Now the feeling is that 2015 is McClellin’s last chance to prove he belongs in the league. Perhaps playing in Fangio’s scheme could be his saving grace as an NFL player. Only time will tell…
What to do about young linebacker Jon Bostic. Entering his third NFL season, Bostic will be playing in his third defensive alignment. Even though the 23-year-old has racked over 100 career tackles already, he hasn’t always looked comfortable on the field.
He always looks like a rookie who’s still trying to adjust to NFL life. Whether it’s trouble with adjusting coverages, playing the run or trying to read opposing offenses, Bostic could definitely use a new coaches touch. Some say that Bostic could be a solid inside linebacker in the 3-4, whether or not that could happen is anyone’s guess at this point.
I’d like to think that defensive end Willie Young could transform his career the way that Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis transformed theirs. The latter two players made their careers as successful, pass rushing, 4-3 defensive ends. When they switched to 3-4 bases, both men adjusted accordingly as outside linebackers.
Young has the size (6-foot-4, 251 pounds), speed and athleticism to make the switch. Whether or not he can do it depends on his recovery from his achilles injury and his ability to adjust.
Finally, I am anxious to see what will happen with defensive tackles Will Sutton and Ego Ferguson. Both men combined for just two sacks last season as rookies, but they showed promise with fundamentals and technique. Sutton (6-foot-0, 315 pounds) and Ferguson (6-2, 309) both posses the ideal size for 3-4 defensive linemen, but there will be challenges on three fronts.
The first challenge will be with Sutton. During his college days at Arizona State, Sutton finished his career seventh on the all-time sacks list with 20 1/2. He made his bones as a pass rusher and is hoping to continue that with the Bears. He’ll have to become more of a run defender in a 3-4.
The second challenge is with Ferguson. He solidified himself as a run stopper at Louisiana State with 85 career tackles and five tackles for loss. He’ll need to turn himself into a gap control pass rusher in a 3-4. The third challenge will be teaching both men to break the habits of a 4-3 and learn new habits of a 3-4.
Bears fans should be patient with this team over the next few months, there’s still a long way to go. Follow me on Twitter @GabeSalgado82