BOURBONNAIS – Between the arrival of head coach Matt Nagy and his staff, a stable of new pass catchers and fans' seeming boundless enthusiasm for the new offense, one could almost be lulled into believing the Bears already had a Super Bowl defense locked and loaded waiting for the offense to catch up.
Other than some occasional concern about the pass rush after the departure of Pernell McPhee, Willie Young and Lamarr Houston — and whether or not 2016 first-round pick Leonard Floyd will ever be healthy enough to lead it — even the Bears themselves seem awfully confident in their ability to stonewall opponents.
Yes, they did draft Roquan Smith in the first round, but they opened training camp this week with Smith and third-year defensive lineman Jonathan Bullard penciled in as the only new starters on a unit that was ninth in the NFL in total defense last season and doesn’t possess a single Pro Bowler.
Many, including yours truly, believe that defensive lineman Akiem Hicks and cornerback Kyle Fuller were deserving of Pro Bowl trips last year but still, it would appear a lot of guys have to get a lot better for the defense to be good enough to carry a contending team while the offense finds itself.
Clearly a lot of the confidence in this group stems from defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, who is one of the best in the business. Nagy has made clear he has no qualms about letting him run the defensive show.
Asked about his own defensive philosophy, Nagy said, “I think that it’s important No. 1 that you just keep points off the board. That’s the biggest thing.
“So I don’t care what you do, if you blitz a lot or if you bend but don’t break and you just eliminate those touchdowns, it’s obviously huge.
“Vic has his own philosophy; it’s worked. He’s done a great job with that over the years. History has shown that. So I’m in favor of whatever Vic wants to do. I like that.”
Hicks left no doubt with his play on the field that he’s one of the leaders of Fangio’s group, and he has no qualms about leading off the field as well.
Floyd has to become special if this defense is going to be, and Hicks says he’s spent plenty of time in Floyd’s ear trying to get him ready.
“Shoot, he needs to leave it all out there man," Hicks said. “I think, just me and him talking, there have been times where in the past two years where there has been obvious points where he could improve his game. And I think that he has realized some of those moments.
“And we just spitball back and forth about pass rush sometimes. I think him growing mentally in the game, I don’t see anybody stopping him this year.”
What Nagy and Fangio must really be hoping is that Floyd can make the kind of leap this year that Fuller did last year, and Fuller says he thinks he still has another gear.
“Going into Year 5, I do feel like I’ve had a couple of these experiences under my belt," he said. “I’m going to try to use that veteran experience, help out the young guys.
“I still have that same excitement, I’m looking forward to it, that same hunger to go out there and get better.”
Much like Hicks, Fuller says he’s also ready to lead.
“For sure. Growing up and even possibly college, whatever it may be, I’m always trying to lead in my own way, however that may be, so every day, yeah, for sure," Fuller said.
There are other questions to answer. Can Aaron Lynch claim the outside linebacker job opposite Floyd and be a difference maker? Can Adrian Amos be a legit NFL difference maker and is Bullard ready for prime time?
All are concerning areas on the defensive side, where we should be focused as the first Camp Nagy/Fangio unfolds.