Showing Their Age?

Will the Bears' defense, which is 3rd oldest in NFL, show its age this season?

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IN A GOOD WAY
ONLY IF 'O' FAILS

Defense will show its savvy

By Michael C. Wright
ESPNChicago.com
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If by age we're talking experience; veteran savvy; and flat-out smart, tough football then yes, the Chicago Bears in 2013 will definitely show their age on defense. That's a good thing.

But to look at age as a concern for the defense would seem to be somewhat of a miscalculation.

Of the starters, just four -- cornerback Charles Tillman, 32, defensive end Julius Peppers, 33, and linebackers Lance Briggs, 32, and D.J. Williams, 31 -- are over the age of 30, yet still playing at a high level. Besides that, the group represents a small portion of the lineup. After all, there are only 11 players on the field at one time on defense, right?

Williams might be the lone question mark of that group just because last season off-the-field issues limited him to seven games with only one start. Before that, however, Williams had posted triple-digit tackle totals in four out of the past five seasons. There's no reason he won't produce similar numbers patrolling the middle for the Bears.

Nickel corner Kelvin Hayden is currently 30 as well, and coming off a resurgent season when it seemed he finally put behind him all the issues with injuries.

Outside of the 30-somethings, the club has two starters -- cornerback Tim Jennings and strongside linebacker James Anderson -- who are 29 years old, meaning they're still in their primes. Jennings showed as much in 2012, when he put together his first Pro Bowl season by leading the NFL with a career-high nine interceptions. In three seasons with the Bears, Jennings has picked off 12 passes, in addition to forcing two fumbles, scooping up two more and contributing seven tackles for lost yardage.

Anderson, meanwhile, struggled with a back injury in 2012. But before missing the last four games, he was averaging six tackles per game.

The rest of the roster on defense features youth everywhere, from the two young defensive tackles in Henry Melton and Stephen Paea, all the way back to safeties Chris Conte and Major Wright, who are 24 and 25, respectively.

No signs of slowing down

Dickerson By Jeff Dickerson
ESPNChicago.com
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The Bears' defense will show its age this season only if the team's offense flops under first-year head coach Marc Trestman and therefore forces the veteran group of defenders to stay on the field for too long during games.

The hope is that doesn't happen, unlike last year, when the defense began to wear down late in the season after carrying the mediocre offense to a 7-1 start.

All good things must eventually come to an end, but the Bears' veteran defensive core of Lance Briggs, Charles Tillman and Julius Peppers has shown no signs of slowing down.

In fact, all three were on the top of their game in 2012, even though Briggs failed to be voted to the Pro Bowl despite posting a team-high 128 tackles and nine tackles for loss.

What part of Tillman's 10 forced fumbles last year made him look "old"?

Did Peppers look "old" when he registered a team-best 11.5 sacks?

Didn't Briggs outrun the entire Dallas Cowboys defense on a 74-yard interception return for a touchdown last year? And then have a pick-six in Jacksonville the following week?

To refer to the Bears' defense as "old" might be unfair.

Four projected starters/significant contributors are under 25 years old: Chris Conte (24), Corey Wootton (25), Shea McClellin (23) and Stephen Paea (25).

Pro Bowl cornerback Tim Jennings is 29 years old.

So is strongside linebacker James Anderson, although he turns 30 in September.

And if D.J. Williams is forced to miss real time because of a calf injury, then rookie Jon Bostic (22) is expected to get the nod at middle linebacker.

A better way to describe the Bears' defense is to say they have a nice blend of youth and experience. And barring a massive onslaught of injuries, this group should rank somewhere in the top 10 this year in the NFL, regardless of the age of its most well-known members.

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