As good as the Bears' defense was last year, Mel Tucker wants to make it better.
That chore might not be as daunting as it might appear. The Bears' defense ranked fifth in the NFL in total yards (316 per game) and second in touchdowns allowed (25). With the nine touchdowns on interception and fumble returns, the Bears' defense had a net of 16 touchdowns allowed in 16 games. That's one per game.
But there is room for improvement. While the Bears were good overall, they really piled on the weaker teams on their schedule. The nine defensive touchdowns came against teams with a composite record of 35-60-1 -- none of whom made the playoffs.
In the second half of the season, the Bears allowed 459 yards against the Seahawks, 391 against the Packers and 353 against the 49ers (249 in the first half of a 32-7 blowout).
New head coach Marc Trestman was firm in stating that the Bears' defense won't change much under Tucker, who was hired as defensive coordinator after spending the last four seasons as defensive coordinator of the Jacksonville Jaguars.
''I think we're going to be very similar to what we have been here,'' Trestman said. ''Mel will add his spin on it because of his input, creating new ideas and new ways of doing things. But essentially the style of play and the type of football we're going to play defensively will not change much.''
Tucker did not want to get into specifics during Thursday's introductory media availability at the Walter Payton Center. He is sticking with the 4-3 defense with the Bears, because that's what their personnel is equipped to run.
''I'm not going to get into the details and the strategy, but our base will be a 4-3,'' Tucker said. ''We'll base out of a 4-3 "over" defense. It will be an attacking, up-the-field, penetrating defense. We don't have any plans to switch [to a 3-4] at this point.''
Trestman made continuity a priority when he hired his staff of assistants. The defensive staff has the only two holdovers from Smith's regime -- defensive backs coach Jon Hoke and defensive line coach Mike Phair. He also added recently retired Chris Harris -- who played five seasons in Smith's defense --
as a defensive quality control coach.
With four Pro Bowl players returning -- defensive end Julius Peppers, defensive tackle Henry Melton and cornerbacks Tim Jennings and Charles Tillman -- plus eight-time Pro Bowl linebacker Lance Briggs, Tucker doesn't want to changes things too much.
''We want to hit the ground running,'' Tucker said. ''This time of year, just like every other team in the NFL, you're trying to find a way to get better. That's what we're doing right now. We're just moving forward.''
''It's a good thing [to have so many veteran players]. Veteran leadership. Guys that know the system. Guys know what it's all about. They've been through the wars.''
Still, it appears Tucker has some definite ideas about making the Bears a more attacking style of defense than they were in the Cover-2. The trick is to tweak a veteran defense without trying to do too much.
''Every year, it's a challenge to try to get better because the margins are very, very slim in the NFL,'' Tucker said. ''Everyone in the league is trying to do the same thing -- trying to figure out how you can get an advantage. But we'll do what our players can do. We'll figure out a way to get people stopped and we'll move forward. I'm excited about it.''