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Emma: Bears Linebackers Bought In For Better

By Chris Emma—

LAKE FOREST, Ill. (CBS) – The narrow corridors of Halas Hall have signs plastered on the walls as the Bears walk to the practice field.

Pressed against the glass door leading to the field is a message: Lead, follow or get the heck out of the way.

Many more like it fill the walls, with each motivational placard serving as a natural reminders of effort, leadership and the kind of characteristics it takes to be successful. For members the Bears' linebacking corps, such concepts sound so simple, yet take quite the process to reach the plateau.

The Bears are striving to revitalize their defensive identity under touted coordinator Vic Fangio, and with that comes reminders of what they hope to become. Fangio wants his group can be physical, and captain Pernell McPhee prides himself with on-field violence. There are many more ideas and catchy words that describe what the Bears' linebackers want to become, but like those signs on the wall, it's not quite that easy.

"We've had signs of that," Bears linebackers coach Glenn Pires said. "Now, the consistency."

What Fangio hopes to instill in his defense is that demeanor of toughness. It matches what the Bears hoped when bringing in Fangio with coach John Fox -- to have a unit that's feared throughout the league. The Bears linebackers are the centerpiece of this 3-4 defense, meaning their ability to adapt is of vital importance.

What the Bears coaching staff can hope to see from its linebackers is the perfect match of aggression and preparation. This means flying to the ball while knowing the assignment. Pires has a mantra for his linebackers that's constantly repeated during each week of practice.

Let it flow.

"Playing fast within our schemes," Pires said, clapping his hands with each word in an intense fashion. "Do your job fast and physical -- the smart fast (and) physical."

Intensity is palpable from the Bears' defensive coaches. Words like these from Pires resonates with the linebackers.

"We got to be more aggressive in what we do," Jones said.

The Bears' linebacking group brought this rebuilding team's greatest unknown entering the 2015 season. The team entered the season with Jared Allen – now a Carolina Panthers defensive end – along with Lamarr Houston and Willie Young making the move from defensive end, attempting to become 3-4 linebackers. McPhee and Sam Acho would become mainstays on the outside, with Fangio rotating the edge rushers.

Jones and Shea McClellin became nice fits in the inside linebacker roles, with McClellin earning Fangio's trust as the quarterback of his defense. But McClellin's injury in the win over Kansas City on Oct. 11 forced Jones to take a larger role and newcomers like LaRoy Reynolds and Jonathan Anderson to step in.

With so many moving parts learning and adjusting on the fly, positional growth -- for the most important position in the Bears' defense -- has been difficult. Consistency hasn't been located without stability.

Fortunately for Fox's defensive staff, the Bears have bought in and the coaches are able to instill that identity.

"Just making sure that those guys get comfortable in the system when they can go out and play confident," Bears outside linebackers coach Clint Hurtt said. "That's the biggest thing when you're in a new position, not just learning it but being able to go out on Sundays when you feel confident playing the position. You can go play fast, be productive and help us win."

Once the Bears linebackers can match preparation and aggression on a consistent basis, they'll come closer to that defensive identity. For now, their coaches are working tirelessly to reach that point.

Success doesn't come as easy as those motivational signs on the wall.

Follow Chris on Twitter @CEmma670.

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