By GENE CHAMBERLAIN
BOURBONNAIS, Ill. — On the hottest, most humid day of Chicago Bears training camp, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio wore a sweatshirt.
“I don’t sweat that much,” he said. “I’m not a sweater.”
In another sense, Fangio did have to sweat through a first year in Chicago with an inconsistent defense that improved, and looks to make greater strides in head coach John Fox’s second season because of offseason changes.
Before Fangio becomes more convinced of improvement, though, he’ll need to see the type of impact additions such as linebackers Danny Trevathan, Jerrell Freeman and first-round draft pick Leonard Floyd will have for a defense that rose in rankings last season from 30th to 14th.
“I think we have a chance to be a better defense than we were last year, but the proof will be in the pudding,” Fangio said Thursday at training camp. “Practice is the quiz, the games are the final exam.”
The biggest change came in the front seven, with the addition of 336-pound free agent defensive end Akiem Hicks, backed by free agent inside linebacker acquisitions Freeman and Trevathan.
The potential exists to stop the run more effectively than last season, when Chicago ranked 22nd.
It could take a while.
“You know we’ve got veteran guys, but they’re not veteran in our system yet,” Fangio said.
Hicks put his talents on display Thursday when he helped the first-team defense make a goal-line stand in scrimmage.
“For a big guy he’s got a lot of energy,” Fangio said. “We’ve just got to get him honed up a little bit better in his techniques.”
Hicks, whose career started with New Orleans and New England, said he feels comfortable in the Bears’ defensive scheme. Teammates are noticing.
“I like to have a big D-lineman in front of me, a hungry guy who’s just a mauler,” Trevathan said about Hicks. “The man’s a mountain who is hard to move.”
Trevathan, who came over from the Super Bowl champion Broncos in free agency, also raved about Fangio’s defensive system.
“He’s a mastermind,” Trevathan said. “He likes to put you in the right situations to make plays.
“He has some experience with that with other linebackers and other teams. But here he’s just doing a good job of feeling his players and knowing what they’re good at and putting you in certain situations to make plays.”
Despite overall statistical improvement last season, the Bears defense set a franchise record for fewest interceptions (eight) and allowed the second-most touchdown passes (31) in their history.
For secondary coverage to improve, Fangio said the pass rush pressure must also increase. Not having outside linebacker Pernell McPhee, who is on the preseason PUP list after knee surgery, is slowing progress.
“It’s a concern for sure, but until I see him out on the field I’m really not thinking about it as much,” Fangio said.
The more pressing concern is getting Floyd, an undersized, speedy pass rush linebacker, to a level where he contributes sacks.
On draft day, Floyd drew comparisons to former 49ers linebacker Aldon Smith, who flourished under Fangio as a pass rusher.
“He’s not like Aldon at all,” Fangio said. “The only thing that he’s similar to Aldon is they’re both tall. They’re both kind of long.
“But they’re two different body types. Aldon was 25-30 pounds heavier and Aldon wasn’t the athlete that this guy is in open space. They’re similar in height, but they’re very different in style.”
The only change Fangio has dealt with in the secondary is Harold Jones-Quartey as a starting safety alongside safety Adrian Amos. Jones-Quartey started three games last season after being claimed off waivers.
By GENE CHAMBERLAIN