Of all that has been good with the Bears and their 2-0 start, no star has shined brighter than Lance Briggs.
What more could a seven-time Pro Bowler entering his 11th season in the NFL have to prove? In Briggs’ case, he was told during the preseason that, in addition to again playing at a Pro Bowl level, he would be expected to take over the responsibilities of future Hall of Famer Brian Urlacher.
Those duties include getting the defensive play calls from defensive coordinator Mel Tucker, getting each player on the defense lined up, then calling out adjustments during the pre-snap count as the offense’s plans unfold.
Urlacher was so good at it, he was considered an extra coach on the field.
Briggs appears to have taken over without skipping a beat.
Without a copy of the Bears’ playbook, and the coaches sharing with me what coverage is called on every play, there’s no way I can say for sure what Briggs has or hasn’t done.
But I can say, in two games, we have seen no signs of confusion by the defense on the field. They appear positioned properly before every play, and we haven’t seen any instances of players yakking at each other after plays over who was supposed to be where.
Asked to evaluate his performance after the Vikings game, Briggs said, “There’s always room for growth. There were a couple of plays I could have changed. There was a play that I changed during the game that even when I changed it, I thought maybe we could just run it anyway, but that’s just the way games go.
“I’m comfortable with it and, as long as everybody is playing fast and everybody is OK, then I’m OK with it.”
Asked if any of his teammates have argued with him over calls, Briggs responded, “They better not or they’re going to have trouble.”
Briggs has been particularly effective on several third-down plays, even though the defense as a group needs improvement in that area. When Briggs talks about playing fast, he clearly is taking it to heart.
One of the benefits of running the defense for Briggs is that he appears to be diagnosing plays much quicker and flashing to the ball. His tackles for a loss and passes defensed are proof.
There is a perception among some that Briggs is blitzing more this season, perhaps one of the differences between the Lovie Smith defense and Mel Tucker’s.
“I’m not blitzing more. I just have opportunities to play faster,” Briggs said. “We had a blitz [in the Vikings game] that was successful and it was me, but I think we’re actually blitzing less than in the past.”
Regardless of where Briggs and the rest of the defense goes from here, the most important test already has been passed. Briggs is capable of running the entire unit on the field, and is playing as well as he has in several years, would seem to validate the decision not to bring Urlacher back.