Bears' pass rush making all the difference

Combination of experience and youth, speed and depth complements back 7 perfectly

The popular joke when the Bears traded for Jay Cutler in 2009 was that they fleeced the Broncos by including two first-round draft picks because such selections were worthless in Chicago. The trade simply spared the Bears the indignity of making even more bad picks.

Indeed, while the Bears may have eight former first-round picks on the roster, only four of them originally were Bears and only two were selected in the Jerry Angelo era — Chris Williams and Gabe Carimi. Williams was a healthy scratch Monday night and doesn't figure to have much of a future with the franchise.

There is no sense defending some of those drafts, especially with Devin Hester the only player on their roster from the 2004-2007 selections. That's a 1-for-31 batting average. Think White Sox with runners in scoring position during a pennant race.

Regardless, there are still players from some of those classes making a good living in the NFL. Danieal Manning, Mark Anderson, Greg Olsen, Corey Graham, Kyle Orton and even Cedric Benson make enough money to be classified as tax adverse or fiscal conservatives. In other words, it wasn't just the drafts that were bad, so was the player development.

Countless guys were played out of position, pushed onto the field too quickly or not quickly enough, or simply stockpiled until they proved incapable. Manning bounced around the secondary, while Anderson was pushed too fast. Olsen didn't fit a new scheme that subsequently was scuttled.

You couldn't help but wonder if there was an actual plan with a player or if everything was just being made up as things went along.

When Chairman George McCaskey declared the 30-plus-year-olds on defense weren't getting older, they were getting better, it sounded more like a prayer or a hope than an actual football truth. Those guys were still around because there was nothing in the pipeline. Great teams always strive to improve, constantly upgrade and rid themselves of the big contracts of veteran players.

Roster turnover is a fact of life in the NFL, where injuries ruin careers without notice and salary-cap management is crucial. Depending on your transportation preference, the Bears seemed to be drifting rudderless or staggering aimlessly.

No more. The Bears defense enjoyed as good of a night in Dallas as any since 1985. A 34-18 rout of the Cowboys highlighted a 3-1 start to the season, not only raising the possibility of immediate glory this year, but also hope for long-term success beyond the Brian Urlacher era. While battle-scarred veterans Charles Tillman and Lance Briggs scored the Bears' two defensive touchdowns in that game and Julius Peppers may remain the best player on the team, the roster suddenly seems loaded with ascending players.

Coach Lovie Smith's scheme no longer looks outdated and found out. The coach is having a revival led by assistants like Rod Marinelli and Jon Hoke.

Marinelli holds the titles of assistant head coach and defensive coordinator, but his gift is producing defensive linemen, and the Bears suddenly have a room filled with them. You wouldn't want to see how it works without Peppers' contribution, but the Bears have gotten consistent performances across the board, especially from defensive tackle Henry Melton.

The Bears run a ton of twists and stunts on their line, and the speed of guys like Melton, rookie Shea McClellin and Amobi Okoye has been evident in every game. Israel Idonije, Stephen Paea and even forgotten man Corey Wooten have made strong contributions.

When you can rush with your front four and create consistent pressure without having to blitz, any defensive scheme will work. It's essential for the Bears.

Maybe it should be noted that the Bears have played against some pretty awful offensive lines thus far, including that of the Cowboys.

But offensive line play has been awful throughout the league this year, with experts pinpointing things like flex offenses in the college game and the emergence of the tight end among the reasons top athletes have been hard to find for some teams. Throw in less practice time and more player movement because of free agency and there is little continuity around the league. Offensive line play requires great choreography and that has been virtually impossible for teams to create.

Hoke's work in the secondary also deserves high praise.

It's one thing to get a player like Tim Jennings to emerge — his love affair with the Jugs machine and improved hands and footwork has been well-documented. But the safety combination of Major Wright and Chris Conte also has been excellent. Minor injuries have dogged both guys, but in the 10 games they have started together, the Bears have a total of 19 interceptions.

Special contributor Mike Mulligan co-hosts "The Mully and Hanley Show" weekdays from 5 to 9 a.m. on WSCR-AM 670.

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