The first time Lamarr Houston faced the Chicago media, the pricey free-agent defensive end was asked about replacing the now-departed Julius Peppers, of course.
But Houston’s answer was telling a bigger truth about himself and what passes for a Bears defense:
“No big shoes. Just do my job.’’
Anyone who watched the Bears defense last season would be in favor of anyone who knew what the job was and actually did it.
Lance Briggs did it until he came back from injury fat and bad. Charles Tillman knew how until he went down for half the season. Tim Jennings did it, and now that Tillman and Jennings have been re-signed, the Bears have two starting cornerbacks who are used to playing without safety help.
And that was about it last season.
Julius Peppers knew his job, but didn’t do it. He gave the Bears about four games last season, failing to register double-digit sacks and stealing most of his double-digit millions.
Peppers signed with the Packers over the weekend, so the Bears will know there’s at least one guy on the Green Bay defensive line they can single-block.
But back to Houston. Knowing his job and doing it would be a start because Houston represents an inflection point for Emery.
Houston is the most expensive and, I guess, the best new example that Bears general manager Phil Emery knows something about defensive personnel. Maybe the only example, which is scary.
The Bears tied for the fewest sacks in the league and delivered such a historically bad run defense that no team was even second. Emery stood up after the season and admitted he did a lousy job of drafting defensive talent and signing depth. Nobody argued.
After the Bears forfeited the safety spot last season, Emery signed Ryan Mundy and M.D. Jennings. Stealing a guy like Jennings from the division champion should feel like a victory. But, like the Bears with Peppers, I believe the Packers offered to pay Jennings’ moving costs.
Mundy fancies himself as a big hitter, but he’s also coming off an injury, which continues an aggravating Bears tradition. Playing behind Troy Polamalu early in his career doesn’t make him Troy Polamalu. Mundy has the advantage of not being Major Wright or Chris Conte, but that went for Craig Steltz and Anthony Walters, and how did that work out for everybody?
Maybe we’ll be surprised by Willie Young, and it would be a surprise when you’re talking about a guy with fewer sacks than Shea McClellin.
That’s the biggest reason to doubt Emery and remain skeptical about the new defensive ends. McClellin, remember, was Emery’s first-ever draft pick, and McClellin failed so badly that he is being moved to linebacker where he’s no guarantee to start there, either, by the way.
And now we’re back to Houston again, a defensive end who’s more fit to play defensive tackle, and here’s the thing about that: Defensive tackle is the position Emery should’ve started free agency with. Sorry, but it doesn’t count when he re-signs aging Jeremiah Ratliff and injured Nate Collins while hoping for even more injured Henry Melton.
So, Emery signed a defensive tackle who can stop the run but is calling him a defensive end. For a general manager who takes such pains to be clear -- for a guy who seems to get paid by the word -- this still looks muddy.
Emery’s roster looks different. Fine. It needed to look different. But I’m not sure it’s better, and I’m not sure it will be until Houston is planted as a defensive tackle and someone who knows defense drafts the best defensive end on Emery’s behalf.