- Jeff Dickerson, ESPN Staff Writer
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LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- A conclusion was reached after the Chicago Bears' front office and coaching staff sifted through the wreckage of last year’s defense.
The unit, which ranked No. 30 overall and allowed a league worst 161.4 rushing yards per game, needed to toughen up.
First, the club went through the process of refortifying its defensive line with the additions of Jared Allen, Lamarr Houston, Willie Young and re-signing defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff for two years.
And to further accentuate the need to play with a greater edge in 2014, the Bears invited Hall of Famers Mike Ditka, Gayle Sayers and Mike Singletary, plus former linebacker and Super Bowl champion Otis Wilson, to speak to the team at various points in the offseason.
“We weren’t the tough team we wanted to be for a lot of different reasons,” Bears head coach Marc Trestman said on Wednesday. “We want to accentuate it this year. Playing football and being a Chicago Bear, we brought a lot of former alumni in here, and the universal language hasn’t just come from me. It has come from those people. We’re a team that wants to play -- even offensively -- with a defensive mentality. And there’s a way to play football in Chicago and that’s to be tough and physical, set a vertical edge, violent shed and run to the football. We’ve got to practice that way every day to be that team we want to be.
"We’re not there yet. We know that. We’re trying to get there because that’s the way every team plays in the National Football League. The best defenses play tough and physical. And games are won -- we talk about it every week -- there’s a lot of different ways to win, but you seldom win a game (in which) you don’t win the line of scrimmage. There’s seldom a game you win where you can’t at least somewhat run the ball effectively and stop the run. It all starts with the line of scrimmage. That has been a big point of emphasis."
One of the new faces on the defensive line, Allen, sounds thrilled to have chosen the Bears over the Seattle Seahawksin free agency. Eleven-year NFL veterans aren’t normally excited about organized team activities and minicamp, but Allen seemed to be the exception to the rule when he raved about his Chicago defensive teammates following Wednesday’s session."You get to know guys throughout the league and gain respect through playing with each other," Allen said. "Lance Briggs is an Arizona guy. I live in Arizona in the offseason. I’ve been to Pro Bowls with him and hung out with him. He’s just a guy I respect. He wants to win. Same thing with Peanut (Charles Tillman).
"I can’t remember the last time I played with two Pro Bowl cornerbacks. I had Antoine (Winfield) in Minnesota, but the last time I had two Pro Bowl corners was Patrick Surtain and Ty Law way back in Kansas City. It’s just getting that energy of that, we have a good offense, now imagine if we had a good defense. Playing defense with a lead is a blast. So this is about learning how to communicate with one another and learning how Lance is going to make the call in the huddle; it’s those little minute things that these OTAs are good at getting comfortable with."
Here are some other observations from Wednesday:
Bears special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis was unable to provide an update on the status of free agent long snapper Patrick Mannelly, who is still deciding whether or not to return for a franchise record 17th season following offseason hip surgery back in January.The Bears have two long snappers currently under contract: Brandon Hartson and Chad Rempel.
"We're going to have to keep massaging that and seeing how that's going to work out," DeCamillis said. "I’ve got all the respect in the world for him. Like I said the last time, whatever decision he makes is going to be the best for him and his family, and we have to make the same type of decision for the Bears. And the two guys that have been working here have done a great job in the offseason. We still have to see how it's all going to work out and how it's going to pan out.
"It’s really going to be a situation where Pat's comfortable and we're comfortable. People say deadlines, I don't know if there's a deadline to be honest with you. I just know we want to do what's best for Pat, and we want to do what's also best for the Bears."
DeCamillis envisions a fierce battle at punter between sixth-round pick Pat O'Donnell and Tress Way. Both have routinely hit the roof of the Walter Payton Center when the team has conducted offseason workouts indoors."Obviously that’s something that’s good, by the way," DeCamillis said. "If it hits the roof in there, that means they are hanging the ball. If they don’t hit the roof that’s usually not a good thing, because that means it’s coming right back at you in the return form. I’m glad that it’s hitting the roof, let’s just say that. But you can evaluate also there, because you can film it and see a tight-line shot of them and see exactly what their strengths and their weakness are as far as their drop, as far as their catch of the ball, everything that comes into play. So we can get a lot of work done in there, but obviously outside is better than inside for us right now.
"I think it's going to be a heck of a competition. I think when we drafted Pat, for whatever reason Tress really picked his business up. He's really punted well and it's going to be a heck of a competition."
Safety Chris Conte and defensive tackle Will Sutton were excused for a second straight day for personal reasons. Linebacker Khaseem Greene returned to the field after missing Tuesday’s practice. Right tackle Jordan Mills, right guard Kyle Long, wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, left guard Matt Slauson and cornerback Sherrick McMannis were all present but did not participate. Safety Craig Stetlz did some individual drills but no team work.
The following players are participating at Bears minicamp on a tryout basis: Greg Heban, S, Indiana; Ciante Evans, CB, Nebraska; Jamil Merrell, DE, Rutgers; Anthony Wells, DE, Northern Illinois.