With Allen, Bears expect bigger things from 'D'
He was the big prize, the sparkling centerpiece in the overhaul, except Jared Allen wasn't really interested in shining the spotlight on himself on Friday.
When it comes to the Chicago Bears and the anticipated improvement of their defense, he insisted it's about more than just him.
"It's not going to be a person," Allen said Friday. "It's going to be a collective whole. It's going to be the energy of each individual and what they bring to the table."
A five-time Pro Bowl defensive end, Allen brings quite a bit to a defense that ranked among the worst in the league and in franchise history, and his arrival is a major reason why the Bears are aiming higher this season.
The Bears believe they have the defense to back their offense thanks to an overhaul that brought in Allen and several other key players. They believe they can make the playoffs after going 8-8 a year ago and missing the postseason for the sixth time in seven years.
Yes, expectations are soaring in Chicago. And there's no bigger symbol of hope than the 6-foot-6, 270-pound Allen.
That symbol was out there on display Friday as the Bears conducted their first training camp practice.
Coach Marc Trestman said Allen "set the tone defensively" along with fellow newcomer Lamarr Houston and the returning Jeremiah Ratliff.
"You watch the way they move and run to the ball, they really made an effort to show the guy around them how to do it," Trestman said. "That was clear through his performance today. (Allen) not only started fast, (he) finished strong."
The Bears brought in Allen to provide just the sort of spark they missed last season, when a long list of injuries and poor play hurt a defense that usually ranked among the league's best under former coach Lovie Smith.
In Trestman's first season, it was a different story.
Key players such as Henry Melton, Lance Briggs, Charles Tillman and D.J. Williams got hurt, and what transpired was simply hard to envision given the franchise's history.
While the offense thrived, the defense couldn't stop anyone. Chicago ranked 30th overall and that barely tells the story.
The Bears tied Jacksonville with a league-low 31 sacks, and when they weren't getting to the quarterback, they weren't doing much to stop the run, either. They gave up 2,583 yards rushing on 5.3 yards per carry both club records. But they believe the defense will look more like the "Monsters of the Midway" than the one that was just scary bad.
The Bears have star power with Allen up front, Briggs at linebacker and Tillman and Tim Jennings at cornerback along with enough depth even if there are some concerns. Safety remains one. There are questions at linebacker, too. But there's a different look, and with that, a belief that the Bears are poised for bigger things.
"I think they understand what last year was," Allen said. "They understand the injuries and stuff like that. They know every year rests on its own. ... I think everybody's just kind of growing together. They're excited to get out there and play ball. I think everybody sees the ability and what we have on paper. But that doesn't necessarily mean anything. You've got to go out and you've got to make it happen. So we're excited for it."
Allen comes in with seven straight double-digit sack seasons and is showing few signs of slowing down. That's why he's here and Julius Peppers is now in Green Bay.
While Peppers struggled last season, Allen had 11 1/2 sacks for Minnesota. The Bears signed him to a four-year deal that guaranteed $15.5 million, replacing one star pass rusher with another.
"They do some things similar how they approach practice," defensive tackle Stephen Paea said. "That's how you know these guys are for real."
Where Peppers and Allen veer in different directions is when it comes to speaking up. Peppers is quiet; Allen is more vocal.
"I'm going to encourage a guy, I'm going to help young guys out if they want it," Allen said. "But the way I'm going to lead is I'm going to show up to work and I'm going to put my best on the field and I'm going to expect the guy next to me to be his best."
NOTES: The Bears signed OL Dylan Gandy to a one-year contract and waived DE Jamil Merrell. Gandy has appeared in 120 games and made 19 starts over eight seasons with Indianapolis (2005-07) and Detroit (2009-13). He has played guard and center and contributed on special teams. Merrell was an undrafted rookie from Rutgers.