Bears Defense Will Be Tested Early In Season................
Bears' defense will be put to the test early in season
Marinelli's crew has task of containing stellar group of QBs, receiver
By Brad Biggs, Chicago Tribune reporter 5:27 p.m. CDT, September 4, 2011
The Falcons paid a huge ransom to move up 21 spots in the draft to select wide receiver Julio Jones in an effort to make their offense more dynamic.
Atlanta forked over two first-round picks, one second and two fourths to the Browns to pull off the deal, and the only thing that will be more stunning than the trade itself is if Jones, the former Alabama star, doesn't make an immediate impact playing across from All-Pro Roddy White with quarterback Matt Ryan.
The Bears get to find out first in Sunday's season opener at Soldier Field, and it's just the beginning for their secondary that will be challenged by some of the NFL's best receivers (and quarterbacks) in the first five weeks.
The schedule takes them to New Orleans in Week 2 and then the Bears return home to play the Packers. They'll see familiar Lions receiver Calvin Johnson in Week 5. Counting White, the Saints' Marques Colston and Packers' Greg Jennings, that's four 1,000-yard receivers in five weeks.
"Tough," cornerback Tim Jennings said when the early-season scheduled was read off. "Those couple teams are a real big test. If we get off to a fast start, we'll be in pretty good shape."
Six wide receivers and one tight end had 100-yard games against the defense last season. Four of them came in the first six games as the unit was settling in.
The Bears have tinkered with their secondary, agreeing to terms with safety Brandon Meriweather on a one-year contract. It will be difficult for him to take over a job right away, and right now Chris Harris is slated to be the strong safety with Major Wright, a third-round pick last season, replacing Danieal Manning in the lineup.
Jennings and Charles Tillman remain entrenched as the cornerback starters, with D.J. Moore ready to build off his first season as the nickel back when he had four interceptions and one sack.
"Big challenge for the defense," secondary coach Jon Hoke said. "We don't ever put anything on one person. We play team defense. That's the way we're built. That's why not everyone can play this defense. We always look at it as a challenge for the defense, not just one group."
Of course, the pass rush goes hand-in-hand with coverage. The Bears were somewhat inconsistent in the preseason and it becomes a matter of who can win one-on-one matchups while Julius Peppers is double-teamed and chipped whatever side he is on.
Depending on how these potent passing offenses use their personnel, the Bears could lean more on the nickel package with Moore, who played 49.3 percent of the snaps last season. They've been toying with moving Peppers inside in some nickel situations, and that's all about getting a mismatch.
"I'm probably a little more confident," Moore said. "I am a little more comfortable coming into the season because I haven't been fighting for the position. I know it a little better than I did before too."
Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said the Bears have expanded their nickel package. What specific wrinkles are new remains to be seen, but it could mean more shifting of the linemen. Like Hoke, he didn't pin limiting the big receivers on the secondary. He preached tackling to limit the big play, and the defense surrendered only seven completions longer than 30 yards last season.
"For us it's our system and our front, and it's got to drive it for us," Marinelli said. "We've just got to be on the details."
It's going to be a chore every week.
"There ain't too many teams that have sorry quarterbacks and receivers anymore," Moore said.
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