Lance Briggs saw teammates stepping up and showing their potential in the offseason so he's not exactly stunned by what the Chicago Bears are doing at the moment.
They bring a two-game winning streak into Sunday's game against Green Bay despite a growing list of injuries that is testing their depth.
Unlike last year, the Bears are getting a passing grade.
"I was encouraged in the offseason watching guys fly around, and the potential," Briggs said. "I'm sure our coaches were, too. Now that the pads are on and we're getting real tests, guys are showing that it's not just potential. A lot of these guys are impact players for the Bears."
The Bears gave their defense a big makeover after it got shredded by injuries and ranked among the worst in franchise history. They signed five-time Pro Bowl defensive end Jared Allen from Minnesota to bolster their pass rush and run defense.
They also brought in Lamarr Houston and Willie Young, but it wasn't just the veterans they added. It was the young players, too, and the depth they're showing on defense has helped the Bears bounce back from a season-opening loss to Buffalo at home with victories on both coasts.
They beat the New York Jets 27-19 on Monday night after taking out Colin Kaepernick and the San Francisco 49ers the previous week, when many were just about ready to write off the Bears this season.
Now, here come the Packers and Aaron Rodgers.
He will scramble. He will test their discipline. The Bears know what they're in for, that they're facing another challenge. But they're also showing some depth on defense. That at least bodes well for them.
Young already has a career-high four sacks.
They've leaned on rookies like Kyle Fuller and defensive tackles Ego Ferguson and Will Sutton because of injuries.
Fuller was supposed to be the nickel back, but he got thrust into a bigger role when Charles Tillman suffered a season-ending arm injury. He picked off two passes against San Francisco and had another interception against the Jets while jarring loose two fumbles.
Ferguson and Sutton, filling in for Jeremiah Ratliff, helped the Bears hold the Jets, who were ranked No. 1 in rushing, to 114 yards on the ground.
"When we were in OTAs and stuff like that, he was a guy who was putting himself in position," Briggs said. "The ball was in the air and he was in a position to compete. So when you see stuff like that, or getting interceptions there, you know this guy has the potential to do that once the season comes in. And now that the season's in he's made some big plays in big games. Those are impact plays."
The Bears will probably need a few of those if they're going to get past the Packers. Rodgers has tortured them over the years, with a 9-3 record and a 68.4 completion percentage. That doesn't include Green Bay's win in the NFC championship game four years ago.
Even though the Bears are winning despite their injuries, the defense still ranks 23rd overall and 26th against the run. That's not quite what they envisioned.
Allen does not have a sack, the first time he's failed to register one in the first three games, but defensive coordinator Mel Tucker insisted he's making an impact even if he's not taking down the quarterback.
"He does a lot for us on the field," Tucker said. "First and foremost, he's committed to being a run defender. He sets the tone for those guys up front. He talks about it and he also backs it up with his actions the way he practices, the way he plays, in terms of the run game. He provides great leadership for us and plays with a very, very high motor. He has a relentless mentality. He's always applying pressure by the way he plays, and I think that helps the other guys."
NOTES: LB Shea McClellin will miss his second straight game because of a hand injury. Coach Marc Trestman called McClellin "week to week" and said he will not play Sunday. He is "not optimistic" about C Roberto Garza and LG Matt Slauson returning from their ankle injuries this week. ... Had the Bears practiced Wednesday, WR Brandon Marshall (ankle), Allen (illness), FB Tony Fiammetta (hamstring), CB Sherrick McManis (quadriceps) and Ratliff (concussion) would not have participated. Safeties Chris Conte and Ryan Mundy would have been limited because of shoulder injuries.
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