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updated: 4/2/2014 12:04 AM

With draft still ahead, Bears' defense already much improved

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  • Defensive end Jared Allen "adds experience, production and leadership" to the Bears' defense, says GM Phil Emery.

      Defensive end Jared Allen "adds experience, production and leadership" to the Bears' defense, says GM Phil Emery.
    Associated Press

 
 

Additional reinforcements are expected to arrive after next month's draft, but the general consensus is that the Bears' defense already has improved since the end of last season.

That's not saying much since the Bears finished 30th in the league in total yards allowed, tied for 30th in points allowed and a dead-last 32nd in rushing yards, average gain per rush and average gain per play allowed.

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But indications are the defensive gains could be significant. General manager Phil Emery was asked where the defense has improved.

"The obvious answer to that would be we're healthier because nobody's hurt," Emery said. "Also, we've added some guys at key points in their career.

"Jared (Allen) adds experience, production, leadership. Somebody like Lamarr (Houston) and Willie (Young) add some youth, speed and physicalness.

"(As a) collective group, we've gotten stronger, and we're headed in the right direction as far as what we want to establish as a defensive football team."

The three new defensive ends -- Allen, Houston and Young -- are the top prizes among the nine unrestricted free agents the Bears have signed.

The re-signing of tackle Jeremiah Ratliff is another key piece in a defensive line that will look radically different from the 2013 opener. Ratliff didn't come aboard until November, after the Dallas Cowboys waived him when his rehab from groin surgery seemed to be lingering.

The 32-year-old didn't play for the Bears until December but showed enough of his former Pro Bowl form to create excitement for next season. "He added so much the last few weeks in terms of leadership," Emery said. "Unbelievably mentally tough player."

Weighing the cost:

Jared Allen turns 32 on Friday, and he admits retirement has crossed his mind … but not for long.

"I accept fully what the risks are playing this game," he said. "Especially when you get into the concussion stuff now and the long-term CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) stuff. I understand I might deal with some problems later in life. I hope not; I feel fine.

"But it's never been about the money for me, it truly isn't. For me, it was a balance of right fit, right situation and right organization. Then the numbers come into play.

"Obviously you put value on chances of winnings. You put value on different things of saying OK, we can go here, there or that. At a certain point, there's a value in walking away. Not that I wanted to, but you know, that's always in your mind."

Allen can make $32 million over four years with the Bears, $15.5 million of which is guaranteed in the first two years.

"(Retirement) is something you've got to talk about with your camp," Allen said. "I wasn't just going to throw my cleats on and my pads on for a team that had no chance, at a point in your career where you're laying it on (the line) there.

"I feel like I'm still the best at what I do. If not the, one of (the best)."

Sharing the wealth:

Defensive end Jared Allen is well known for playing practically every down, and the Bears previously added UFAs Lamarr Houston and Willie Young to be starters at end. GM Phil Emery doesn't consider that a problem.

"It just adds another high-quality player," he said. "It's up to our coaches to find ways to get them all on the field at the same time or at different times or in different personnel groupings.

"I'm very confident that our coaches will find a way to get Lamarr, Willie and Jared on the field at the same time in different situations."

Emery is a huge proponent of player versatility, but Allen will be a fixture where he's always been.

"Jared's going to line up at right end," Emery said. "In terms of versatility, he can rush the passer and he can play the run."

Wheeling and dealing:

If you're keeping track at home, the Bears have signed 28 players since the final week of the 2013 season. They re-signed 16 of their own free agents, nine UFAs from other teams and three street free agents.

Glaring weaknesses on defense aren't as significant as they were a few months ago, which will give Phil Emery more flexibility in the draft.

The addition of Jared Allen reduces the urgency to draft a pass rusher.

"It's always been about getting the best players possible to continue to build our team towards winning championships," Emery said. "To do that, you have to have high-quality players and players that can make plays. We talked at the end of the season about having more playmakers on our team, and Jared fits that role."

rlegere@dailyherald.com

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