Chicago Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker tried in 2013 to run the same defense as former head coach Lovie Smith, and even assimilated to teaching the same language from the scheme.
But it didn't work for several reasons, with injuries to key players and a general lack of depth chief among them. Tucker appears to now have autonomy to shape the defense how he sees fit.
"I think he's always had the autonomy to do things within parameters," Bears coach Marc Trestman said.
With most of the parameters seemingly off now, it begs the question of what Tucker actually plans to do with the defense in 2014. Trestman said, "It's wide open." But it'll be interesting to see how much Tucker and the rest of the defensive coaching staff take full advantage of what would likely turn into carte blanche, provided they're successful.
"Everything's on the table this year in terms of where we're going defensively," Trestman said. "Right now these coaches are getting in position to learn more about each other. They're meeting to learn more about their styles and the pre-existing defense and where we can go with our existing players, knowing that there's going to be a lot of change. The most important thing right now is our system of football. The language is wide open."
No knock on former Bears defensive coaches Tim Tibesar, Mike Phair and Michael Sinclair. But the reality is none of them had ever worked in the past with Tucker, who basically inherited two coaches (Tibesar and Sinclair) that worked with Trestman in Montreal, and one of two holdovers from Smith's staff in Phair.
When the Bears brought in new defensive line coach Paul Pasqualoni and linebackers coach Reggie Herring, the brass made sure to add what one NFL source called "two damned good ones" before adding "Mel loves them both." General manager Phil Emery played a major role in that because he wanted to help Tucker find a way to do his job better.
Will that translate to success on the field? It's certainly not guaranteed.
Pasqualoni and Herring come to the staff with reputations for being two of the league's better teachers, but more importantly, they're considered "tough guys," according to the source.
So it wasn't a surprise to hear general manager Phil Emery discuss that attribute last week a couple of times at the NFL combine. When the team starts acquiring players in free agency and the draft, look for toughness to be among the chief attributes of the new additions.
"We need tough, physical players," Emery said. "Mel has said it several times to me and I believe it. I know our players believe it that generally the toughness of the team shows up at corner. That's what we want: tough, physical athletes."
They don't have to be big-name players, either. Tucker generally prefers those "tough, physical athletes" that Emery mentioned, who are coachable, up-and-comers over the name players.
So if the Bears hit free agency in the coming days, and don't sign a bunch of household names on defense, it wouldn't be a surprise. In fact, I'd think in some ways it would be by design.
"We went through an evaluation process, which is never easy, of moving forward with our staff and bringing in a couple guys we felt not only had the experience to develop young players -- because we know we're going to have new players and we're going to be young -- but also work daily with the veteran element on our football team as well. We felt Mel was the guy to lead the way in that regard," Trestman said. "We hired Paul Pasqualoni and Reggie Herring. These guys have 3-4 backgrounds. We think we've put together a staff of guys who can really incorporate and be flexible with the players we're going to have going through this process. We're going start from the 4-3, but we've got to be flexible in our scheme to move people around and have the ability to get it done, and not just do it because we see other teams doing it; but doing it because we have the skill set and experience to be able to do it."