The Commercial-News, Danville, IL

July 31, 2013

No Lovie, Urlacher as Bears defense returns

The Associated Press
The Commercial-News

---- — BOURBONNAIS — Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman admit change can be difficult, even when it’s necessary.

Like all the Bears in coach Marc Trestman’s first camp, Briggs and Tillman are finding they have to adapt. The two most senior Bears on defense in terms of time spent in Chicago are trying to help convert the Bears’ cover-2 system that served them so well under former coach Lovie Smith into an equally effective and similar scheme under Trestman and defensive coordinator Mel Tucker.

”I am buying in,” Briggs said. “We’re all buying in. I’m all in, all in to the program.”

If that doesn’t happen, there are a handful of players who could be gone next season. The list of those in the final years of their deals include Tillman, cornerback Tim Jennings, defensive tackle Henry Melton, defensive end Corey Wootton and safety Major Wright.

”No one is safe,” Tillman said. “I am just here playing football. I’ve got one year. Do my year and be done. If they want to bring me back, they’ll bring me back. If not, go somewhere else. That is kind of the reality of it.”

The scheme can make the difference. Tucker kept all the terminology the same, and the team continues to emphasize turnovers.

”It’s the same philosophy,” Tillman said. “You just don’t want to use last year’s success, if that makes any sense.”

Tillman meant the Tucker version of the cover-2 can’t simply count on being as productive as when they gave up 277 points, third best in the league last year, or came within one defensive score of tying the NFL single-season record of 10. They’ll have to earn it on the field.

”Last year was a hell of a year,” Tillman said. “One of the things, we have to create a new identity once again.”

It’s an identity without Urlacher, the eight-time Pro Bowl pick who retired after he couldn’t reach a deal with the Bears. D.J. Williams is in the middle and James Anderson has replaced Nick Roach on the strong side.

”It’s tough,” Briggs said. “But we’re all grown men. We have to continue to move on.”

It’s an even greater burden on Briggs because he has volunteered to take on the signal calling responsibilities held by Urlacher. It’s a critical role in any defense, and one usually reserved for a middle linebacker or free safety and not the weak side linebacker. It’s the first time he’s done it since college.

”I accept it,” he said. “I was real comfortable in my role before. Very comfortable. Now I’m getting comfortable with being uncomfortable.”

Briggs called getting teammates properly aligned the most taxing aspect of the assignment. And then there is Trestman’s practice system. Plays come off every 16 or 17 seconds, so the defense feels like it’s almost always in a two-minute drill.

”It’s different,” Briggs said. “You’ve been in a system for a long time. You’re now told to change and do things a different way. It just takes time.”

The defense has more than held its own in early scrimmages against the new-look offense, but was dealt a blow Monday when backup defensive end Turk McBride was ruled out for the season with a torn Achilles tendon.

The Bears are already without defensive end Israel Idonije, who is now with Detroit, and free agent acquisition Sedrick Ellis, who decided to retire at age 28.

Tucker, the former Cleveland and Jacksonville defensive coordinator, expects veterans like Briggs, Tillman and Julius Peppers to lead the way through injuries and whatever other changes are dictated by the new regime

”We want to build on the foundation that’s been laid and what’s been done,” he said.

Notes: Left tackle Jermon Bushrod missed Monday’s practice with a right calf strain that actually occurred in the warm-up period before practice. He’s been called day to day by Trestman. Jonathan Scott replaced Bushrod at left tackle. ... Wide receiver Brandon Marshall was given Monday’s practice off and the entire team will be off on Tuesday. The idea is to give Marshall extra rest as he is coming off off-season hip surgery. ... Defensive end Cheta Ozougwu suffered a slight hamstring pull and is day to day.

New Texan Reed hopes to play in opener

HOUSTON — Safety Ed Reed isn’t making any promises that he’ll be ready to go Sept. 9 against San Diego.

Houston’s biggest offseason acquisition spoke publicly Tuesday for the first time since he started training camp on the physically unable to perform list after surgery to repair a partly torn labrum on April 30.

”I can tell you that it is close, but I can’t say that it is the first game because I don’t know,” Reed said.

Texans receiver Andre Johnson said last week that Reed told him he planned to play in Week 1. Reed joked a bit when asked about those comments on Tuesday,

”I guess I’ve got to do it,” he said with a laugh. “This is his team.”

The 34-year-old Reed spent his entire 11-year career with the Ravens before joining the Texans in March. He said he still feels “tightness and soreness” constantly in his hip and that he’ll know more about when he can play once he progresses past those problems.

”Once I get that out, I can kind of push it more,” he said. “I’m not to the point where I can run 100 percent.”

However, he is doing a lot of work as part of his rehabilitation including, pulling a sled, backpedaling and working on starting and stopping.

”I’m opening the hip up and stuff like that, but at some point it kind of grabs,” he said. “So I’ve just got to get that scar tissue out and that edema out and everything. Once that that subsides, I can have a better timeline.”

With a career that many believe will culminate in the Hall of Fame, coach Gary Kubiak and the Texans aren’t worried about Reed sitting out the entire preseason. They know that he’ll be prepared to step in and contribute as soon as he’s healthy.

”I’m impressed with where he’s at,” Kubiak said. “We’re going to listen to him. He’s been through this before. I’m not concerned about him being ready for a preseason game. Right now, we’re trying to get him ready for our season, so we’re going to listen to him.”

While he’s unable to practice, Reed has assumed the role of an extra coach for Houston’s secondary. Many of the players idolized Reed growing up and are eager to soak in everything he has to say.

Rookie second-round pick D.J. Swearinger has watched video of Reed before each of his games since he was in high school. Swearinger, who could fill in for Reed if he isn’t ready for the opener, raved about all the veteran has taught him so far.

”Just being a pro about everything, on the field and off the field,” Swearinger said. “Learning the full defense, it will help you a lot as safety because we are the quarterbacks on the defense. Off the field, you have to handle yourself as a pro no matter what — all eyes on you.”

Reed’s enjoyed providing tips his younger teammates and helping them improve. However, he feels a little strange about it because he’s not able to be on the field to work with them.

”You can’t be out there with your teammates moving around, communicating and it’s a little tougher,” he said. “Just talking in the meeting rooms and learning it just from a book standpoint and not physically doing it, it’s always tougher. But I’m doing as much as I can to learn it mentally and watch the guys move around and communicate in meeting rooms. It’s coming along well.”