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Changing Bears going young on defense

The SportsXchange

INDIANAPOLIS -- With 25 players entering some form of free agency next month, second-year head coach Marc Trestman is prepared for another offseason of change.

Trestman said defensive end Julius Peppers, who if released would leave the Bears with $8 million in so-called dead money, "like a lot of us had 8-8 seasons." His return might require a restructured contract. Salary cap money could be tight with veteran cornerback Charles Tillman and defensive tackle Henry Melton on the road to unrestricted free agency while rehabbing from season-ending injuries.

"He had very, very good moments and moments where he didn't play as well as he would have liked," Trestman said of Peppers.

The Bears will be primarily a 4-3 defense and retained coordinator Mel Tucker after briefly considering a 3-4 scheme.

"What we're doing is looking at the existing scheme and in the process of putting together a scheme that suits the players we will have," Trestman said. "We're not going to know who those players are going to be for quite some time."

Trestman said the Bears will be younger on defense, and general manager Phil Emery has bluntly pointed to investing draft picks to rebuild on that side of the ball.

One area of need is the secondary. Safety Major Wright is a free agent and arguably the most high-profile free agent, Tillman, said Tuesday he wants to return and the Bears want him back, but finances must be worked out.

"We know we're going to get younger," Trestman said. "For the most part, it's going to be a defensive-oriented draft in terms of where we're going."

Trestman said he talks to Melton on a daily basis. Emery raised questions about his dedication to football but the staff has largely praised the unique skill set. Along with Melton and Tillman, versatile defensive lineman Corey Wootton is a free agent. He could be coveted because, in Emery's words, he "transcends scheme" but is coming off of hip surgery.

Tucker was retained despite a dismal statistical season. The Bears were 32nd against the run and yards per play and 30th in total defense. Trestman pointed to injuries to weak-side linebacker Lance Briggs and Tillman not only for their on-field ability but also the toll losing locker-room leaders had a green defense.

In lockstep with Emery, Trestman reviewed the season game-by-game to quantify the root of the areas of concern, A through Z, and the decision was made to retain Tucker. Trestman said most of the same qualities that stood out in their initial interview rose to the forefront.

"His ability to communicate, his understanding of the defense at all three levels and his understanding of adapting and assimilating the defense, and his ability to lead men," Trestman said. "At the end of the season that did not change."

Change will now be embraced.

From the time Trestman spoke at the Scouting Combine in 2013, the Bears added 10 players to their offense and worked them into a scheme that evolved throughout the season.
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