Experienced Bears defense has jump on the offense

Depth of Trestman's playbook will take time to perfect

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BOURBONNAIS — If you are keeping score at home, give the Bears defense the win on Sunday as Marc Trestman's team put on full pads for the first time in training camp.

Surprised? Don't be. In fact, you should expect a defense that is led by Lance Briggs, Charles Tillman, Julius Peppers and a veteran core of talent to shine early in camp when matched up against a rebuilt offensive line and a quarterback running yet another new system.

Jay Cutler had to manage a muddy pocket throughout the morning session during blitz periods against this Bears defense that looked, well, comfortable — and experienced — on the practice field.

"I thought the defense had the jump start on us today," Trestman said after practice. "There were defensive players who had edges, and we have to clean up some of the things inside, and we'll do that."

Watching the Bears offense on Sunday, I kept thinking about the depth of Trestman's playbook. Picture multiple formations, a variety of personnel groupings and players aligned all over the field.

Give different looks every snap, spread the ball around to multiple targets and go to work between the numbers in the passing game.

Maybe it's running back Matt Forte and tight end Martellus Bennett removed from the core of the formation or receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery bumped down inside to slot alignments. The Bears were in empty, bunch, stack, 2 x 2 spread, 3 x 1 and more.

That is going to lead to some busts early in camp, but it will also produce some great teaching tape in the film room.

First-round pick Kyle Long got his feet wet during one-on-one pass-rush drills, showcased his raw strength and power, but also displayed footwork and technique that needs to be coached up.

How does that happen? With reps and correction periods. Remember, Long, like linebackers Jon Bostic and Khaseem Greene, is just a rookie. And first-year players don't take over the league versus veterans in late July.

Nor do new offensive systems look playoff-ready on the first day of full gear.

This is a process, one that will progress throughout camp and the preseason matchups with some bumps along the way. And it could get really bumpy before this unit catches up to the defense on the practice field.

The contact? The hitting you would expect at an NFL camp? I thought it was scaled back under Trestman on Sunday. Linebackers and defensive backs were coached up to get into a tackling position (knees bent, square up the ballcarrier) and "tag off" at the second level or in the open field.

That's much different than the live contact "Oklahoma" drill the Bengals run under Marvin Lewis in their camp or the old-school coaches that led with hitting and full-scale tackling during two-a-day practices.

You had to buckle your chin strap tight in those practices and get ready to set your pads in any competitive situation. And the first thing you looked for after practice was the cold tub to recover for the afternoon session.

The Bears didn't run through a 9-on-7 session (inside run drill), and once linebackers disengaged blocks, they simply tagged off on the running back and allowed him to finish the drill.

Talking with Bostic after practice, he called the lack of hitting an adjustment from the physical camp he experienced at Florida in the SEC. But Trestman reiterated this is the way the Bears will run their camp in pads.

Some would call that a "pro practice" where technique, alignment and discipline overrides the use of your headgear to beat up your own teammates.

Was the practice fast? And did it match what we have discussed all offseason under Trestman? Of course. The Bears are going to practice at an increased speed.

Whether it is the transition from blitz period to special teams, the tempo of the offense at the line of scrimmage or the overall pace of the practice script, Trestman will demand his players work at a speed that matches his style as the head coach.

And that tempo will aid this offense as it goes through its own trail-and-error process of finding a balance between personnel and scheme to match the intensity — and production — the defense showed Sunday.

There is plenty of work to be done. But that's why you practice.

Special contributor Matt Bowen, who played at Glenbard West and Iowa, spent seven seasons in the NFL as a strong safety.

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