New coach or not, Chicago Bears' defense has solid foundation for next year

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Chicago Bears' cornerback Kyle Fuller, who becomes a free agent after this season, has 22 pass breakups -- including 2 interceptions -- and is playing some of his best football over his four-year career.

    Chicago Bears' cornerback Kyle Fuller, who becomes a free agent after this season, has 22 pass breakups -- including 2 interceptions -- and is playing some of his best football over his four-year career. Mark Black | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 12/30/2017 7:37 AM

If, as expected, head coach John Fox and his staff are fired after Sunday's season finale against the Vikings in Minnesota, the next Bears coach is going to inherit an impressive defense.

Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio is on record as saying he'd enjoy continuing his work with a group that has become a top-10 unit (in total yards, points, rushing yards and passing yards allowed, and in sacks). His players feel the same way.

 

But it's likely that a new coach would want his own defensive coordinator. Whoever that is will be getting a young, talented group that should continue to improve. The Bears' defense has players at all three levels who could form a solid foundation for the future. Among the starters and top backups on the current 53-man roster, only one is older than 28.

That group includes cornerback Kyle Fuller, whose re-signing in the coming off-season should be a priority. After missing all of 2016 with a knee injury, Fuller has played the best football of his four-year career, accumulating a whopping 22 pass breakups, including 2 interceptions.

"He's come back with purpose," Fangio said. "He's been very mature the whole year with his work ethic and habits. He had a mindset to play better than he had in '15, because you can't compare it to '16, and I think he's achieved that. I just think he's in a better frame of mind; more competitive."

Fuller is just 25, and he's had the kind of season that will make him a popular target in free agency if the Bears don't re-sign him before mid-March.

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"You want to keep as many guys as you can because there's a carryover (affect)," Fangio said. "But that isn't always possible. That's between Kyle and the management."

Rookie safety Eddie Jackson, 24, has upgraded a position that has been a trouble area for the Bears for years. He's tied with Fuller and nickel corner Bryce Callahan (26) for the team lead in interceptions.

"I think he's got a bright future," Fangio said of Jackson. "He sees the game well. The game's not too big for him. He processes things really well, which is very very important for safeties and inside linebackers, (and so is) how you react to things and recognize things. Then, when he does (recognize situations), he's got ball skills to make it pay off."

Outside linebacker Leonard Floyd was showing signs this year of building off an impressive rookie season, which included 7 sacks. But a sprained knee sent him to injure reserve after 10 games and 4 sacks.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"I would have liked to have seen just a tad bit more production," Fangio said, "but he was playing good and getting better and enjoying it."

The contributions of lineman Akiem Hicks (28) have been well-documented, and rightfully so, since he leads the team with 8 sacks and 15 tackles for loss. He leads the linemen with 51 tackles.

But 23-year-old nose tackle Eddie Goldman plays a vital role in the middle of the Bears' 3-4 base scheme.

"I like Eddie," Fangio said. "Eddie is poised. He's played good all year for the most part. And I think he's going to be a good player in this league for a while."

The same can be said for several Bear defenders, which should make for a solid group going forward, regardless of who's running it.

Health update:

Starting offensive linemen Bobby Massie (knee) and Josh Sitton (ankle) did not practice all week and are doubtful. Tight end Adam Shaheen (chest) and safety DeAndre Houston-Carson (back) were limited and are questionable.

For the Vikings, starting center Pat Elflein (shoulder) and long-snapper Kevin McDermott (shoulder) did not practice and are out. Tight end Kyle Rudolph (ankle) was limited.

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