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Thursday, August 18, 2011
Bears D focusing on fundamentals

By Michael C. Wright
ESPNChicago.com

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- Complex schematics work, but Chicago Bears defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli wants to eliminate the possibility of relying on X's and O's instead of the personnel assigned to execute the system.

To do that, Marinelli said the defense needs to sharpen its overall skill set, which undoubtedly will be the focus for the Bears on Monday night when they face the New York Giants.

"You want to build a really good foundation of fundamentals -- bone-on-bone football -- [with] how we tackle, how we force, how we break on the ball. When that's in place, I think progress will be made," Marinelli said. "Without that, then I think you become a gimmick defense. When that foundation is set, then we can take off. But when you build a house of straw -- if you're doing too much [schematically] -- you might be winning by scheme, you don't want to do that in my opinion."

From the looks of recent workouts, the Bears defense appears to be progressing at a rapid pace. The secondary, led by safeties Chris Harris and Major Wright, intercepts multiple passes on a daily basis at practice, while the linebackers, led by Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs, continue to crank out the production the coaching staff has become accustomed to.

Perhaps the most surprising element of the 2011 Bears defense is the speed and depth of the front four. Although the team continues to hold out defensive tackle Anthony Adams (calf) and defensive end Corey Wootton (knee), other members of the defensive-line rotation have given the offensive line fits.

The members of Chicago's front-four rotation aren't the quintessential run-stuffing defenders often coveted by teams. Instead, they're somewhat undersized in the interior, but demonstrate a speedy, hard-charging, relentless style in which a lack of hustle isn't tolerated -- traits specifically catered to Lovie Smith's Tampa 2 style system.

"Yeah, I see a lot of guys that can play, that fit our system," Bears defensive end Julius Peppers said. "We have explosive and quick guys, [and] that's what we try to have up front. We're not necessarily big guys, heavy guys. So I see all the guys that we have fit in our system."

Probably more so than in the past, given the additions of rookie Stephen Paea, and former first-rounders Amobi Okoye and Vernon Gholston, combined with the emergence of third-year man Henry Melton.

"It's the Chicago Bears defense, that's what it's about. It's called the Monsters of the Midway," Gholston said. "You admire the team from afar. It's a great defense, just like where I previously have been. But being here and actually going through training camp, learning the different parts of this defense, that's what's important, and that's what's going to make you a better player when you step out there on the field."

The often-criticized Marcus Harrison appears to be coming into his own, considering some of the hustle plays he made in the preseason opener, not to mention recent practice sessions in which he's shown more consistent flashes of dominance.

Paea, meanwhile, has been "solid" at the nose, according to Marinelli, who added that it's time for the rookie to "move out of 'solid' pretty soon." Okoye opened eyes with two sacks against the Bills in the preseason opener, and Gholston, according to Marinelli, produced his best practice of training camp on Wednesday.

Melton continues to validate the team's high hopes for him, contributing two tackles, including one for lost yardage against the Bills, but "he's just got to keep going," Marinelli said.

All the progress leads Peppers to believe the Bears' defensive line in 2011 "could be a great one."

"If everybody continues to work and learn like we have been doing, I think the sky's the limit for this group because we have so much depth and so many guys that can play," Peppers said.

Marinelli just wants the momentum to continue Monday against the Giants. If the front four manages to pull it off, the defensive coordinator sees even larger accomplishments on the horizon for the entire unit, which in 2010 allowed the third-fewest points per game in the NFL.

"I think we're making progress as a group," Marinelli said. "They're working extremely hard, and the competition is fierce. The biggest thing is I think they understand what we're trying to accomplish, the discipline that's needed in our system. It's kind of to create havoc and chaos under an umbrella of discipline. Your motor has got to be at full tilt, but you still have to stay disciplined in the structure of a defense. That part's coming."

Michael C. Wright covers the Bears for ESPNChicago.com and ESPN 1000.