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Bears’ defense picking up changes under Chuck Pagano.

By GENE CHAMBERLAINAugust 1, 2019

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. (AP) — Khalil Mack poured into the backfield Thursday at the Chicago Bears’ practice, stretched up and deflected Mitchell Trubisky pass before making the interception.

It sure looked like the same old defense, even if the defensive coordinator has changed.

Chuck Pagano replaced current Denver Broncos coach Vic Fangio as defensive coordinator and knows the pressure is on him considering he’s taking over a unit ranked first in numerous major defensive categories last season.

“We all know what we signed up for,” Pagano said. “Players and coaches, we understand what the expectations are. It’s really change the changeable, except the unchangeable, right? And remove whatever’s not good.

“So we’re going to work our tails off and do the best we can day in and day out.”

Bears defensive players insist any changes they’ve seen to their successful defensive scheme through a week of training camp have been easily picked up and are positives designed at making the Monsters of the Midway even more difficult to attack.

“It hasn’t been that huge of an adjustment,” second-year linebacker Roquan Smith said. “At the end of the day, ball is ball and there are only so many calls you can run.

“The defense is not too complicated, so I don’t look at it as a huge change.”

Fangio had a reputation for playing it safer with coverages and blitzes than Pagano, but this came with different personnel and a different team. While there have been changes, Pagano sees the Bears as capable of handling anything he can throw at them.

“The football I.Q. is off the charts in the (defensive) room,” Pagano said. “Obviously, coach Fangio did a great job of building that. They built one heck of a roster and again they put together a group of men and we’ve got depth at all three positions, all three levels.

“They love ball but they’re smart. And so coming in it’s been easy to implement and put the scheme together and we’ve thrown a lot at them and a lot’s stuck. So that’s a good thing.”

Pagano has a more outgoing personality than Fangio. Defensive end Akiem Hicks calls Pagano the ideal coach to replace their old coordinator.

“Vic installed some great things and allowed us to play to our strengths and I think that’s what made us special the past three years,” Hicks said. “It’s like dating, man. You can’t just rush in, you know? You got to let it grow, you got to let it mature.

“One day we’re probably going to have a beautiful relationship and we’re getting to that point. So I think at this point we’re just learning each other.”

Pagano said any success at picking up the scheme so far goes back to the players’ commitment in offseason work.

“I’ve got to earn their trust, they’ve got to earn mine,” Pagano said. “We all understand that. So that’s just over time, where if you’re willing to invest and put that time in, player, coach-to-coach, coach-to-player, then the sky is the limit.”

Mack, Hicks, safety Eddie Jackson and cornerback Kyle Fuller all earned praise from Pagano for not only their play, but helping make sure younger players understood changes.

Two players, in particular, have jumped out at Pagano.

Outside linebacker Leonard Floyd has excelled since spring work, while reserve safety Deon Bush has made certain the Bears haven’t missed safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix during a week away with a knee sprain. Clinton-Dix is practicing now on a limited basis.

“With Ha Ha being out, Deon Bush has done a phenomenal job,” Pagano said. “And we’ve all seen him come out every single day and get better and better and better.

“All he’s done is make plays. He’s around the football all the time.”

Floyd, their 2016 first-round draft pick, has seemed on the verge of breaking through three straight years but has been slowed by injuries — last year a broken hand to start the season.

“He can play the heck out of the run, but pass rush? You can see that thing starting to pop,” Pagano said. “He’s got great confidence right now.”

Considering the 12-4 record last year and the defense’s success, it would be easy to expect some regression. Pagano said coach Matt Nagy has built a team capable of handling success.

“The culture that he has built is off the charts, it’s very unique,” Pagano said. “You don’t find it very often.

“He’s got a vision for this football team. And he understands it’s a lot harder to handle success than failure, you know?”

NOTES

Tight Adam Shaheen returned to the practice field Thursday on a limited basis after missing four days with back soreness. ... Rookie cornerback Stephen Denmark missed practice with an ankle injury. ... Rookie running back Kerrith Whyte is day to day with a hamstring injury and foot sprain.

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