Arkush: Infused with a new energy, will Bears defense return to its dominant ways?

The last time the Bears were really good, 2018, and for the most part every time they've been good dating back to the middle of the 20th century has been primarily because of the defense.

There is a sense among the natives that something may be brewing on that side of the ball again.

The obvious is four veterans - Khalil Mack, Robert Quinn, Roquan Smith and Eddie Jackson - have been All-Pros. Three more - Akiem Hicks, Desmond Trufant and Tashaun Gipson - have been to Pro Bowls. And youngsters Bilal Nichols and Jaylon Johnson have that kind of talent.

There is concern over the fact that Hicks, Mack, Quinn, Gipson, Trufant and Danny Trevathan are all on the wrong side of 30.

And there is this question: where have they been the last two seasons when they've been good, but not dominant as they were in 2018 and able to win games all by themselves?

Let's save that last autopsy for another day. In addition to having a new young defensive coordinator in Sean Desai, head coach Matt Nagy has been talking for weeks now about a new energy he hasn't felt in a couple years. He also thinks a lot of it is due to Desai.

"They know who he is, so that makes it a little bit easier for the guys that have been here," Nagy said. "'This guy knows what he's talking about. He's gonna put us in great spots to make plays.' I think what's neat about Sean and what he believes in is defensively, it's not about one person that has to wreck a game.

"He talks about playing with 11 guys, right? You have to have all 11 guys and you have to play within the system, and if you do that, you'll get your plays. I love that about where he's at."

No team in the NFL boasts the legacy at middle/inside linebacker the Bears do, and most believe Smith will be the linchpin for a resurgence this year.

Smith says he feels the energy, too.

"I would just say, man, we're playing with passion out there," Smith said. "Guys are going out like we have nothing to lose. Going out, doing what we need to do to get the job done and just finding ways to get better each and every day and holding each other accountable and just pushing each other to the limits.

"And I think when you do that, something special can happen."

Nichols may have been the most improved player on the defense the second half of last season. Here's what he's thinking about these days:

"I want to win a championship, I want to win a Super Bowl," Nichols said. "I want to be a top caliber player in this league. I want to be the guy."

That the talent is here for a special defense is undeniable, but can all those 30-somethings still make it happen?

Desai says they can.

"I think when you talk about the age thing, my experience has been very, very diverse in this league with that, and it's really up to the individual player and how they prepare their bodies and their minds," Desai said. "I mean the expectation is still the expectation, we're not changing the expectation because somebody's younger or old.

"I think you manage that for everybody on an individual basis regardless of age. Age is one factor only, but it's not the only or the deciding factor."

Other than those older vets most eyes will be focused on Jackson, the catalyst for much of their 2018 success but coming off a disappointing season.

He says the mojo is back, too.

"I'll say the energy, especially the energy we bring on defense right now. I say there's a difference," Jackson said. "Two years, 2018, that's what we keep hearing as a defense and that's all they keep showing us, so it's like, we tired of that. Now it's time to get back to how we know how to play. If you're out there watching, you should be able to feel the energy on both sides of the ball."

I do see them all feeling it on the practice field every day. The big question now is will we all feel it three weeks from Sunday?


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