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Bears' D looks to take one more step

Even a veteran like Charles Tillman considers his job at stake in training camp. AP Photo/Matt Ludtke

Bears defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli laments his unit was "one step away" from reaching the Super Bowl, adding that it's imperative to "make one more step" in 2011.

While expectations remain sky high after a 2010 campaign in which the club ranked top 10 in 15 defensive categories, the Bears want and plan to take their success a step further.

"Our expectations continue to go up because we were one step away," Marinelli said on Thursday. "We've just got to take one more step. Before that, we've got to get back down to the basics. These guys are going to know what to do; that's a given. But what we've got to do is make sure we do what we know. That means getting drilled back into the fundamentals."

Whether it's the defensive line, linebackers or secondary, Marinelli plans to strip down each unit and build it back with strong fundamentals -- the foundation -- and intense competition for virtually every spot.

Along the defensive line, Anthony Adams and Matt Toeaina might be penciled in as the starters right now at defensive tackle, but a battle looms for starring roles involving them, rookie Stephen Paea, Henry Melton, Amobi Okoye and Marcus Harrison, who has already fallen behind by missing practice due to conditioning issues.

At defensive end, Julius Peppers and Israel Idonije own the top spots, but there's a chance players such as newcomer Vernon Gholston could push for time in the rotation.

"Confidence comes through success. When you motivate people it's about getting better at the basic fundamentals, and then when they see it on tape, their confidence goes up," Marinelli said. "So you take these men, you see where they're at, and you just work them every day.

"Part of what I have to be able to do a good job of is to see where their strengths and weaknesses are quickly. It's a unique camp for us this year. A third of our defense has PHD's in this system, and then we've got new guys coming in just trying to learn it right now. The learning curve for the coaches is we've got to make sure our team is ready to play, and we've got to bring some men on in a short period of time."

Although not new, second-year safety Major Wright falls into that category of players who need to progress quickly in a short time to gain the staff's confidence. Expected to take over one of the starting spots vacated by Danieal Manning, Wright has played well thus far at camp, but needs to perform in the preseason to solidify his status in the pecking order at the position.

Wright isn't the only one with something to prove at Camp Competition.

"Hell, I put myself in that boat, too," said cornerback Charles Tillman. Although he's expected to start at one of the corners, Tillman, a ninth-year veteran, considers himself fighting to regain his position, saying, "that's why we're here; fighting for our jobs."

Tim Jennings, Zack Bowman and Joshua Moore will battle it out for the job opposite the one Tillman occupies.

Strong safety Chris Harris calls all the competition "exciting."

"I expect to see a lot of turnovers from our secondary," Harris said. "I definitely think we can build back there. Charles has been doing what he's been doing since he's been in the league. Tim and Zack over at the left side, they're pretty talented. At the safety position, Major [Wright], Chris Conte, Craig Steltz ... I'm excited about the secondary."

It's also apparent that everyone on the defense is hungrier.

For all the accolades achieved on in 2011, the unit gave up two touchdowns in the NFC title game that seemingly sent the thrilling ride through the postseason to a chilling standstill. The players don't discuss it much because the plan is to erase the disappointment from a year ago with yet another banner campaign this upcoming season.

"The big thing with our defense is trust," Marinelli said. "Every man's got to do his job. Every man here -- coaches and players -- have to make sure he's carrying out his responsibility."