Defensively speaking

In the first of a two part series Lovie Smith discusses his defense and why a more aggressive attack should help his linebackers be playmakers.

The benefactors of an attacking defense should be Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs, who will move from strongside linebacker to the weakside.

With 153 solo tackles, Urlacher led the team in tackles for a fourth straight season, but that doesn't necessarily impress Smith.

"A linebacker is supposed to make tackles," Smith said. "To me, a 200-tackle season for a linebacker, or 180-plus, that's what you're supposed to have.

Smith made a point to clarify he isn't criticizing Urlacher.

"I want to go on record as saying I don't think Brian Urlacher had a bad year last year," Smith said. "He was in the Pro Bowl, voted in by his peers. There are reasons for that."

Still Smith thinks the former college safety still has room to improve his game.

"He's a baby at the position as I see it right now," Smith said. "He has a lot of untapped potential, ability that we think we can get to — right now."

The emphasis will be on game changing plays from the middle linebacker. Urlacher was not involved in a single turnover last season. Smith envisions him being utilized in more blitzes as he had a career-low 2.5 sacks last season.

"His position will have a chance to get some sacks," Smith said. "We talked to Brian about the '55 club.' You know — five sacks, five interceptions. To me, that's a high standard for a linebacker, but one that can be achieved."

Briggs started 13 games during his rookie campaign and showed a knack for getting to the ball. Smith sees Briggs lining up over the tight end, which is called the strongside linebacker in most systems, but it's the weakside in Smith's.

"I know that's a little confusing," Smith said.

Basically Smith is trying to give Briggs the freedom to create confusion. Under Smith the Rams defense forced 46 turnovers last year, which is something he's trying to bring with him to Chicago.

"We think Lance is a playmaker and we'll try to put him in the best position to make plays," Smith said.

The strongside linebacker is not as clear-cut. The two-man battle between Joe Odom and Bryan Knight will begin in mini-camp and continue until a winner emerges, which likely won't be until training camp.

There is a similar competition at strong safety between Mike Green and Bobby Gray. Green will not participate in the first mini-camp because he's still recovering from a groin injury that forced him to miss 6 games last season.

The strong safety responsibilities will change dramatically in Smith's "Cover 2" scheme.

"He needs to be able to drop down in the box; he needs to be a fourth linebacker a lot of times, have that mentality," Smith said. "We're looking more at what he can do in underneath coverage and supporting the run, playing the run."

The description seems to fit Gray perfectly. At 6-foot, 212 pounds, Gray's frame is similar to that of physical safeties Smith has worked with in the past, while Green is more suited for cornerback at 6-foot, 195.

"John Lynch was a 215-pound guy, Archuleta was a 215-pound guy," Smith said. "Both of them had a linebacker mentality, had that background in their career."

Smith reiterated that he wants his ends lighter and quicker, meaning both Alex Brown and Michael Haynes will be expected to shed at least 10 pounds. Smith also said that he believes a three-man rotation is necessary at end and tackle because the physical nature of the line of scrimmage lends itself to fatigue and he expects his d-linemen to play at a high pace. Leaving the Bears looking to add depth on the defensive line early in the draft.

Tomorrow Lovie Smith discusses the future of Rex Grossman and the offensive side of the ball.

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