The Chicago Bears’ defense has historically been the backbone of the franchise, but during the 2013 season, their quality of play plummeted nearly as fast as the team’s chances of making the playoffs.
Whether it was a matter of poor play-calling, lackluster performances by veterans like Julius Peppers, or injuries, the team’s defense gave up more rushing yards than it ever has, and as a result the team found itself with an 8-8 record and yet another season of missing the playoffs after consecutive losses to the Philadelphia Eagles and Green Bay Packers to end the season.
One of the biggest losses for the defense came in Week 7 of the season, when linebacker Lance Briggs suffered a fractured shoulder against the Washington Redskins. That injury ended up being one of many for the team that week, as they lost the game and quarterback Jay Cutler went down with an injury as well. Briggs would go on to miss seven games with the ailment, and looked fairly ineffective in both of the season’s final two games.
Coming into training camp, Briggs is healthy and ready to go, but he’s facing a huge challenge this season. While positions like the defensive line and the safety spot were overhauled with new talent and draft picks, the linebacker corps remains virtually the same. Youngsters Jon Bostic and Khaseem Greene are both still in the fold, and veteran linebacker DJ Williams was brought back on a one-year contract.
In fact, the only real significant change is that the team has moved Shea McClellin back to linebacker after an unsuccessful sojourn at defensive end, and while he’s apparently in great shape going into training camp, there’s no telling how things will go once he lines up for snaps in Bourbonnais.
The uncertainty about who will be lining up alongside Briggs at the linebacker spot is an interesting development, and it’s what makes the 33-year old such a vital cog in the success of the team. It’s far from an ideal situation to have two of the three spots in that group up for grabs, but Briggs has the potential to be the guy that provides some continuity and guidance as those positions are fought for during camp.
Once the season begins, Briggs will have plenty of responsibilities of his own to tend to, but he will also have to be vigilant that his teammates are lining up correctly and are going to their assigned spots on plays. It’s a headache to try to balance all of that, especially against NFL offenses that are growing increasingly sophisticated and fast moving, but if anyone can handle it, it’s Briggs. He’s been around the block more than once, and after years of wanting to be the focal point of the defense, he’s finally getting his wish.
Whether or not he is ready to handle the scrutiny remains to be seen, but one thing is for certain: Briggs has never been more important to the success of the defense, and if he’s able to not only stay on the field, but also to be a leader among his teammates, then the changes that Mel Tucker is instituting will have a much better chance of succeeding.