Bears under microscope as camp opens
AP Sports Writer
BOURBONNAIS, Ill. (AP) – He just might be their best pass-rusher since Richard Dent, so Julius Peppers understands why all eyes are on him.
He signed the big contract. He’s the source of optimism around the Chicago Bears.
One thing, though.
“Just because I’m here doesn’t really mean anything,” he said Friday, after the first training camp practice. “I’ve got to go out and perform just as well as those other guys.”
Well, it does mean the stakes are higher for the Bears after they signed him to a six-year deal worth potentially $91.5 million because not since Dent was terrorizing opponents have they had a pass rusher like this.
It means opposing quarterbacks figure to be under more pressure. And, it means the Bears are under a microscope, too.
After three straight playoff misses, patience is running thin. Coach Lovie Smith is under a win-or-else mandate from above, as is general manager Jerry Angelo, and he’s pulling out motivational tricks, drawing on the past to bring out the beast in the Bears’ defense.
Players found “Monsters of the Midway” T-shirts when they arrived at camp.
“I came in my room, my dorm, and I saw the T-shirt on the bed,” defensive end Mark Anderson said. “I saw Tommie (Harris) walking around with it. Everybody had it on. That’s our motivation.”
The irony is the Bears never resembled the old Monsters of the Midway even when the defense led the way to the playoffs in 2005 and the Super Bowl the following year. They were built on speed and finesse and were more likely to bend but not break, rather than break opponents’ bones.
They weren’t about big hits and big personalities, like the 1985 championship team. The opposition didn’t cower in their presence as it seemed to do two decades earlier.
Even so, the Bears had one of the most effective defenses not too long ago. It just hasn’t been that way the past few years.
“All I know is this year, we really aren’t in need for much,” Peppers said. “We pretty much have everything we need. I predict great things from this defense, and hopefully, we can live up to it.”
Coming off a dreadful 7-9 season that left some fans calling for Smith and Angelo to be fired, there are some big question marks on the offensive line, at receiver and in the secondary.
There is also that 6-foot-7 source of optimism.
The Bears hope Peppers can inject some life into a defense that tied for 13th with 35 sacks and ranked 17th overall last season. They see him taking pressure away from often injured Tommie Harris on a revitalized line, which in turn will help the secondary.
And with linebackers Lance Briggs and a healthy Brian Urlacher, they’re counting on the defense to show some of its old dominant form, just as they were heading into last season and the season before that.
A big difference this time is Peppers, the five-time Pro Bowl pick who had 81.0 sacks in eight seasons with Carolina and ranked third in the NFL over that span.
With one of the league’s top pass rushers, Smith sees the Bears being more physical. He also said he envisions blitzing more, although that might be difficult considering how often they did in recent years.
They should blitz more effectively, though. And even when they’re not blitzing, they figure to get to the quarterback more often.
“In an ideal situation, four guys rush, everyone sees the ball, break and make plays,” Smith said. “We’re not going to just play zone defense every time. Even though everyone assumes we play cover-two 95 percent of the time, that’s not the case. I am excited about us being able to blitz more.”
Peppers, however, said blitzing “might not be as necessary” if the line does its job. Can the Bears be modern day monsters, though?
“Just because one team did it a certain way and had great success doesn’t mean this team can’t do it another way and have success,” Peppers said. “I feel like you can accomplish the same goals different ways. I feel like I have trust in the head coach, and I think he knows what he needs to do to get the team to play well.”