With Julius Peppers on the decline and due a massive amount of money in 2014, the Chicago Bears were in desperate need of an answer at the defensive end position. The fact that their defense in 2013 was one of the worst in team history only added to the urgency, and GM Phil Emery went into the offseason looking to revamp a moribund team that had lost its identity in the first year of the post-Lovie Smith era.
There were several additions that could certainly make an impact on the team, including defensive end Lamarr Houston, defensive tackles Will Sutton and Ego Ferguson, and cornerback Kyle Fuller, but while all of those players have potential, none of them possess the game-changing abilities of Jared Allen, who the Bears brought over from the Minnesota Vikings in free agency.
The four-year, $32 million deal that Allen signed with the Bears was a slight surprise for the team, considering the salary cap woes that had hindered their ability to add much to the equation in 2013 when injuries ravaged the club. Even with that as the back drop however, adding Allen to the mix means a lot more than just guaranteeing money to a 32-year old player with 11 years in the NFL under his belt and a slew of sacks to his name: it means fundamentally altering the approach of the entire front seven that the Bears put on the field.
When Peppers first came to the Bears, he was the type of explosive pass rusher they needed, drawing double teams consistently and creating pressure on the quarterback that was such a key component to the success of the club’s Tampa-2 defense. Over the years however, his impact on things dwindled considerably, and by the time the 2013 season ended, he was routinely being beaten in one-on-one situations, and the extra pressure that put on the safeties and cornerbacks to hold their coverages longer meant that the Bears’ defense was torched consistently.
With Allen added to the mix, the Bears aren’t going to have that problem. With 128.5 career sacks and 29 forced fumbles, Allen is the kind of guy who is going to wreak havoc in the backfield, and that’s exactly what the Bears need him to do. With new safeties and a couple of younger players like Fuller and Jon Bostic that are going to need to go through a bit of an adjustment period, it’s going to help considerably to have a player that is putting pressure on an offense, and Allen certainly fits the bill.
In the early days of training camp, the Bears are already using Allen to full advantage. Not only is he giving a stern test to both Jermon Bushrod, one of the team’s biggest free agent acquisitions before the 2013 season, and Matt Slauson, who is coming off of offseason shoulder surgery, but he is also giving the team a formidable combination with Houston when the duo is lined up next to each other. In nickel packages, Allen and Houston make for an imposing matchup problem, and having Willie Young on the other side of the line only complicates that situation for an offensive line.
Adding Allen into the fold has given Mel Tucker the kind of tool that he can use as a stepping stone to build a much more dynamic defense. Tasked with resuscitating a pass rush that finished in dead last in the NFL in sacks last year definitely in the picture, Allen is going to need to pull together all of his raw skill and veteran ingenuity to help this team go, and if he does, things are definitely going to take on a familiar hue for fans who are used to seeing the Bears’ defense run roughshod over opponents.