While things have changed (hopefully for the better) on the offensive side of the ball, the only difference on defense this season as opposed to the prior years under John Fox is that Vic Fangio is the lead voice on defense.
So with first-year head coach Matt Nagy focusing on getting the offense up to speed, Fangio has full authority on the defensive side of the ball. And while I expect things to look similar to last season, it’s easy to imagine Fangio having a more authoritative voice in 2018.
On Wednesday, Fangio talked about his defense to the assembled media at Halas Hall. You can watch Fangio’s full press conference embedded at the bottom of this post. But first, some highlights and thoughts of my own.
Some Experienced Returning Players Have Caught Fangio’s Eye:
I’ll admit I’m as guilty as anyone when it comes to being easily distracted by the shiny new thing. New head coach, offensive coordinator, game plan, and players are easy to gravitate to … especially after the last three years under Fox. And while there is a ton of attention to be paid to a rookie like Roquan Smith, Fangio made it a point of emphasis to highlight returning players – specifically inside linebacker Danny Trevathan and safety Deon Bush – who were making an impact.
“I know you guys are all interested in the rookies, and understandably so. But I think some of the veterans have gotten better in this time, too. Guys like Trevathan, and you mask why, well, last year he didn’t do any of this stuff. He didn’t do any OTAs, he hardly did any training camp, didn’t play in any preseason games, and to me that set him back last year. This is the first time he’s had a nice chunk of work, and I see improvement with him. I see improvement with (Deon) Bush, a couple of the other DBs, too. Those guys still have a long ways to go and there’s more we can get out of these guys.
One of the biggest surprises of the 2017 season was Trevathan’s rapid return to the lineup. After suffering a devastating season-ending leg injury in 2016 and sitting out the entire preseason, Trevathan was in the lineup and in on 71.2 percent of the team’s defensive snaps. His playing time ramped up quickly as Trevathan played on at least 80 percent of the defense’s plays in 11 of the 12 games he played in last season.
Bush is an interesting player for Fangio to note. The Bears drafted Bush in the fourth round in 2016 and has appeared in 24 games in his first two seasons. He hasn’t made much of an impact, starting six games and logging just 17 tackles and one pass defended. Chicago seems pretty set at safety with Eddie Jackson and Adrian Amos entrenched in starting roles. But if Bush is raising eyebrows in a good way right now, that can only mean good things for the state of the depth at the position.
But Seriously, Let’s Talk About the Rookies – Specifically, Roquan Smith:
It’s understandable that Fangio wants to deflect attention elsewhere, as there’s no reason to put too much pressure on the rookie linebacker from Georgia. It’s just that he is so intriguing and it’s so easy to dream on a player with a high floor and high ceiling. Clearly, Fangio likes what he sees already – even if he is still early on in the learning curve.
“He’s just trying to learn everything and he’s doing well at that, working hard at it. Right now, he’s got to earn his stripes. You know he had good enough college career both on and off the field to get drafted where he was drafted, now he’s got to prove his worth here.”
Fangio complimented Smith on his speed, smarts, and instincts, hoping that once it all clicks he’ll be able to have an immediate impact on the defense.
“I think the sooner he becomes efficient and proficient at doing his own job, then that will come. You can’t be a so-called leader or intangible breeding type of guy if you’re not doing your own job as good as expected. So the sooner he gets to that, the intangibles can happen.”
Some Love for the Outside Linebackers:
The Bears’ group of edge defenders/outside linebackers/pass rushers will be viewed under a fine microscope this summer. It’s a group with a world of potential, but also one where things could go south rather quickly. It all starts with Leonard Floyd, who just started practicing this week. Fangio said Floyd will start with 7-on-7 drills and expects him to be at full speed when training camp rolls around. From there, we already know the sky is the limit when it comes to Floyd’s potential.
“We think Leonard, when he’s been healthy has proven to be proficient enough. (Aaron) Lynch, he’s had a checkered career to say the least, but there has been some display of talent throughout his career at times. Hopefully, we can get that to be more consistent. Sam Acho made some improvements last year in that area, and we’ll see how Isaiah and these young guys come along.”
It Could Be Isaiah Irving’s Time to Shine:
Chicago scooped up Irving as an undrafted free agent last spring. Irving started the year on the Bears’ practice squad, was activated when Willie Young hit injured reserve, cut his teeth on special teams, and played on some defensive snaps before suffering a season-ending injury of his own. Irving was slow to adapt to the NFL game, but he opened some eyes late in training camp and in the Bears’ final preseason game. Fangio was open and honest in what he saw out of Irving, but believes he is in a better position now than he was then.
“At this time last year and most of training camp, he was lost. You really couldn’t tell how good he was because he really didn’t know what to do because he was struggling. And then the light came on one day and a lot of it started making sense to him and he’s better off now than he was last year at this point. He’s still got to do it in game situations. He got spotted action last year when we were down guys, but that wasn’t a good indication.”
Continuity, At Last:
Even though this is Fangio’s fourth year in Chicago, this is the first in which he said he feels that the benefits of continuity will show.
“There’s less changes this year, so I do feel more continuity and that’s helpful. But ultimately, we still have to gout and play good, but I do believe there is more of a carryover foundation than there has been last year and obviously the year before that.”
There had been waves of changes earlier in Fangio’s tenure as the Bears’ defensive coordinator, and he coached through it as he had his hand in rebuilding a defense that was left in shambles upon Mel Tucker’s departure. So if the Bears could cook up a top-10 defense without much continuity, imagine what they could do this year.
OTAs are the New, Old-Fashioned Way of Practicing:
Fangio opened a window into his world on Wednesday when he shared what he had told his players about the importance of OTAs with reporters at Halas Hall. Chicago’s defensive coordinator took a trip back in time and discussed the good ol’ days. And since I feel like that’s enough of a set up, I’ll just step aside and let Fangio’s words take it from here.
“I told the guys the analogy the other day, I gave them the history of training camp in the NFL where there was no such thing as OTAs years ago, but years ago there was six preseason games, and two-a-days for all that time. Then it went it down to four preseason games and two-a-days – and when I say two-a-days, I say they were two-a-days several days in a row. Now, we’re down to one-a-days with some legislated days off in there. These practices are those practices that we’re missing that teams from the past have gotten. And we view them as very, very important and our guys have had good focus, so we’re working on the same stuff we always have, but to me, I try to tell them it’s not an OTA practice, this is training camp for the guys of yesteryear without pads on.”
Fangio’s full press conference: