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Bears mantra: 'The start of the defense is the defense'

The SportsXchange

"The star of the defense is the defense."

Bears players have been saying that all season, and with each passing week it becomes more and more relevant.

Linebackers Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs and defensive end Julius Peppers have 22 Pro Bowls among them, but praise for the No. 2 scoring defense in the NFL can be spread among more than a dozen players.

No Bear has more than five sacks, yet four have at least four - Peppers (5), Henry Melton (5), Corey Wootton (4) and Israel Idonije (4).

Cornerback Tim Jennings leads the NFL with six interceptions, but four other Bears - safety Major Wright (3), Briggs, cornerback Charles Tillman and nickel corner D.J. Moore -- have at least two.

Five players have scored defensive touchdowns on interception returns, including two each by Briggs and Tillman, who went to the Pro Bowl last season and is an early candidate for defensive player of the year.

But no one, it seems, is all that concerned about their own numbers or individual accomplishments, which is what players mean when they recite their motto: "The star of the defense is the defense."

According to team stats, Urlacher and Briggs are tied for the lead with 58 tackles, but safety Chris Conte (53), Tillman (48), Jennings (46) and Wright (42) aren't far behind.

"We know if we're going to be good we all have to do our jobs," Urlacher said. "This defense doesn't work unless everyone does their one-eleventh. We understand that.

"And, if you do your job, you're going to make plays most of the time. We've seen that this season with all different guys making plays. I don't know how it is anywhere else, but I know how it is here, and we like it this way. We don't really care who makes the plays."

Besides Tillman and Briggs, Urlacher, Wright and Jennings have all scored on pick-sixes. Tillman has forced seven fumbles, and Briggs, Melton and Wootton have forced two apiece. Peppers has recovered three fumbles and Urlacher and cornerback Kelvin Hayden each have two.

Still, "The star of the defense is the defense."

"It's exactly what it says," said coach Lovie Smith who, with defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli has constructed the selfless unit. "We have a lot of stars, but they're not really into individual things. (Working) together, the entire defense, that's what makes it all work.

"You know you have something special when guys aren't really worried about what they're getting and they're excited about what their teammate is doing. Charles Tillman hasn't talked about what he's doing an awful lot because of everyone else. The guys, when they found out that Brian Urlacher was NFC defensive player of the week, nobody was more excited for Brian than the (other members of the) defense. That's just kind of how it is around here."

Urlacher, Briggs, Tillman and Idonije have been here since before Smith arrived in 2004. Other pieces have been added over the years, none more important than the 2009 hiring of Marinelli, the mastermind of the mantra and a stickler for details and repetition.

"It can get a little old doing the same thing every day, but he challenges us every single day," Urlacher said. "He doesn't let us relax. He tells us what we need to do; what we need to do to get better. He'll make you run through that wall right there if you talk to him. He makes you think you can do stuff you can't do. It's fun playing for him. Every day he elevates us and challenges us to make more plays."

Marinelli considers it his duty.

"We owe that to these men," he said. "I know how special they want to be and how good they can be. It's a coach's job to stay on every detail. Just tell them the truth and bring it to their attention as men, that 'That's not good enough,' and they will get it corrected."

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