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Emma: Bears Defense Is Drastically Improving

By Chris Emma--

LAKE FOREST, Ill. (CBS) -- Years and years down the road, perhaps the events of Nov. 9, 2014 will be remembered in a light-hearted tone, with time and change healing those wounds.

On that Sunday night, the Bears were pummeled by the rival Packers, allowing 42 points in the first half and losing 55-14. That famed Chicago defensive identity hit rock bottom in historic fashion. Plenty has changed since then.

Since then, the Bears fired coach Marc Trestman and defensive coordinator Mel Tucker among many more, bringing in John Fox and the heralded Vic Fangio to oversee a revival of that defensive prowess. The Bears have just one full-time starter on defense from 2014, third-year cornerback Kyle Fuller.

In fact, the Bears' defense has almost entirely changed, just as Fangio so desired.

Emma: Vic Fangio holds strong belief in Leonard Floyd

"We have some better pieces to work with, for sure," Fangio said Saturday.

Fangio inherited a poor personnel group that mostly didn't fit his 3-4 base defense. Following a miserable 2014 season, much couldn't be expected of the defense in Fox's first year as coach. Still, Fangio managed to guide the defense to 14th-place showing in yards allowed, a large jump from their 30th position a year prior.

Ever the mastermind, Fangio maximized a mismatched defense to competence. The Bears will be much better defensively in 2016 thanks to major upgrades in talent.

The Bears' defensive potential starts up front, where rookie defensive end Jonathan Bullard joins Eddie Goldman and Akiem Hicks for a physical, versatile front line. Bears general manager Ryan Pace values the ability to disrupt in the backfield, with Hicks serving as a prime example of how to create havoc.

"He has a chance to be a very good D-lineman for us and give us some disruption up front," Fangio said of Hicks.

Backing that defensive line is a linebacking group of Danny Trevathan and Jerrell Freeman in the inside and Pernell McPhee and Leonard Floyd on the edge. Fox pointed to the longer, healthier offseasons for Lamarr Houston and Willie Young as important, too.

Selected with the No. 9 pick in this year's draft, Floyd will have to beat out Houston and Young, but Fangio likes the linebacker's potential, even with his slender frame.

Back in 2014, the Bears' linebackers were among the worst in football. Now, the unit can be considered among the best. Trevathan is a leader for the linebackers and this defense, bringing a championship edge to the unit.

"That attitude is going to spread like wildfire," Trevathan said in March. "It's going to be contagious."

Added Bullard: "We got talent. It's just up to us now."

Questions remain in the secondary, where Fuller and Tracy Porter weren't consistent at cornerback. Adrian Amos has locked down one safety spot, but the Bears have to determine who lines up alongside him.

The Bears could look to rookies Deon Bush or DeAndre Houston-Carson to fill roles at safety or go back to Harold Jones-Quartey. Meanwhile, rookie Deiondre' Hall will begin work toward his potential at cornerback, which many have likened to Charles Tillman.

While there are still jobs to be won in the secondary, the Bears can at least say they are younger and more athletic.

"We're starting from square one," said Fox of his defense. "Everybody is 0-0. We tried to improve our talent level. We'll see what it brings us."

Moving forward, Fangio will have his chance to mold the Bears' young defense into his vision, looking to replicate his success with the 49ers and at other stops in the past. Fangio's widely viewed as one of the best defensive minds in the game, with his coaching bringing the best of the players.

The Bears' defense has been rebuilt from the core, creating a nasty, physical identity that Fangio will oversee. Chicago now has a disruptive defensive line, a versatile group of linebackers and some promise in the secondary.

Let's see what Fangio can do with the Bears' defense in 2016, though there's reason to believe in what's ahead. The Bears have sure come a long way.

Chris Emma covers the Chicago sports scene and more for Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670 and like his Facebook page.

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