- Michael C. Wright, ESPN Staff Writer
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LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Chicago Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker knows help isn’t on the way for his injury-stricken defense, but he remains confident the group can do its job efficiently because the deficiencies he sees on tape can be fixed.
Having been in dire situations in the past with the Jacksonville Jaguars, whether brought on by injury or a lack of talent, Tucker sees his 20th-ranked defense improving.
“What gives me confidence is I know we haven’t played as well as we can play yet with the guys we have in there. I know that,” Tucker told ESPN.com. “I know the areas where we need improvement, I see where it’s correctable, and it’s not necessarily ability [holding back the defense]. Everything that we’ve seen that we can do better on tape, we feel like we can correct it through coaching, teaching, motivation, drill work and things like that [that] we can take and practice fast and take into games. That’s what we feel about this group.”
The Bears rank 23rd against the pass, but are tied for third in the NFL with a plus-seven turnover ratio. Still, the defense hasn’t yet held an opponent to fewer than 21 points through the first six games. Through the first six games of 2012, the Bears held opponents to fewer than 21 points on four occasions.
Obviously, at this point in 2012 the Bears hadn’t lost three starters -- four if nickel cornerback Kelvin Hayden is included -- as they have this season: franchise defensive tackle Henry Melton, Nate Collins and middle linebacker D.J. Williams. To compensate for the losses up front, the Bears are rotating in players such as recent signees Landon Cohen and Christian Tupou, along with unheralded contributors such as Zach Minter and David Bass.
Although the Bears started two games in nickel defense, the club has played the first six games with five different starting lineups along the defensive line.
Nose tackle Stephen Paea admitted that all the change affects chemistry. Through the first six games of last season, the Bears had collected 21 sacks. So far this season: eight.
“Last week, we had David Bass coming in,” Paea said. “We had Zach Minter. It was those guys playing with [defensive end Julius] Peppers in there -- Peppers looking over there giving signals, like something he always does to me or Melton. Those guys don’t even know. [They’re like], ‘What is that?’ [It could be] like a signal [where Peppers is saying], ‘I’m coming in, and you’re coming out. I do this, you do that.’ So when we get that chemistry down and people have that trust, [we’ll] feel comfortable in there. It’s getting there, but we have new guys coming in. It’s like having new classmates every day.”
Still, Tucker remains confident in his ability to reach all the new pupils.
“We haven’t hit our ceiling with any of the guys we have now. We feel like we should get better day in and day out, and carry it over into the game,” Tucker said. “We feel like we have a good group. We feel like we can do what we need to do to perform and play winning football. In terms of the challenge, every day is a challenge regardless of the situation. That’s why we play this game. That’s part of it.”
1dDana Wakiji / Special to ESPN.com