Chicago Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio is working hands on with the outside linebackers this season, which is a shift from his typical practice routine, something that could pay dividends for the team’s pass rush.

During the past two seasons, Chicago Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio spent practice time working almost exclusively with the inside linebackers during positional drills. 

The ILB is the centerpiece of the defense, so it made sense for Fangio, the brains of the defense, to work alongside the players he’ll be communicating with on game days. 

Yet this season, Fangio will shift his attention during practice to the outside linebacker unit. 

“[New OLB coach] Brandon [Staley] and I both will do it,” Fangio said during rookie minicamp. “I’ll be focusing a lot of my attention there, both in the meeting rooms and on the field, and these guys will get double-teamed.”

The Bears struggled to get off the field last season on third down, finishing 22nd in the league in opposing third-down conversion percentage (40.1). They were even worse on fourth down, allowing conversions 71.4 percent of the time (27th in the NFL). 

A struggling secondary played a factor in those third- and fourth-down issues, but a lack of consistent pass rush was also a culprit. The Bears still have a lot of questions in the secondary, so one way to combat that is through increased production from the pass rushers. 

The Bears lost OLB coach Clint Hurtt this off-season to the Seahawks and replaced him with Staley, who has never before coached at the NFL level. In his rookie season as an NFL coach, Staley will get daily support from Fangio. 

“It’ll be interesting to see how it all pans out. This will be our first year working hands on with Coach Vic,” Willie Young said. “From his past obviously he’s worked with some Hall Of Fame, All Pros, Pro Bowl guys. So we obviously coming into it know that he has the experience and the knowledge to get us where we want to be and where he wants us to be also.”

With Fangio helping mold this unit, which features a diverse collection of skill sets, the Bears should see improved production on passing downs. The great news for Bears fans is that this unit isn’t far off from becoming a Top 10 pass-rush group. 

The Bears finished with the 12th most sacks in the NFL last year (37) and, according to Football Outsiders, the team’s 26.5 percent pressure rate was 13th best in the league. When you consider Pernell McPhee missed seven games, and clearly wasn’t 100 percent when on the field, as well as the injury issues of Leonard Floyd in his rookie season, that’s fairly impressive. 

Fast forward to this year, McPhee is now 100 percent, while Floyd added 15 pounds of weight and has a year of experience under his belt. If Lamarr Houston can return to form, along with the consistent production of Young off the edge, there’s no reason the Bears can’t quickly become of the most dangerous pass -rush teams in the league. 

That’s easily attainable, particularly with Akiam Hicks (7.0 sacks last season) and Jaye Howard pushing the pocket in the face of opposing quarterbacks. 

Fangio has been coaching NFL defenses since the Ronald Reagan era and had one of the most successful four-year runs of any defensive coordinator in NFL history with 49ers from 2011-2014. There he helped pass rushers like Justin Smith, Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks reach their potential.

If he can do the same with McPhee, Floyd, Young and Houston, then Chicago’s pass rush could be a team strength this season, which would go a long way toward getting off the field on third down. 

“If you know Vic, his personality is real calm and laid back, but he’s a great playcaller, a great coach, a great teacher and also a great leader,” McPhee said. “He gives us all the fundamentals towards the game that we need. He puts all his players in the right position, because he knows our limitations as being with him three years, of course, me and some of the other guys. He knows how to put us in the right position to make plays.”

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