LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) — It didn’t take long for Jared Allen to get comfortable in his new surroundings.
The five-time Pro Bowl defensive end said after the Bears’ first offseason workout Tuesday that he felt energized.
“Change is good if you allow it to be good,” he said.
Allen made a big one when he decided to leave the Minnesota Vikings and sign a four-year deal with Chicago in March. That by far was the biggest addition in an offseason in which the Bears kept busy retooling a defense that ranked among the league’s worst. They replaced one accomplished pass rusher with another, releasing Julius Peppers before signing Allen. Now, they’re eyeing the postseason after missing it for the sixth time in seven years last season.
“When I looked at the total equation, this was a place where I can be a part of something great,” said Allen, who spent the previous six years with the Bears’ NFC North rival.
He joins a defense that got hit hard by injuries and poor play in general last season, ranking 30th overall and 32nd against the run.
“You’ve got to move forward,” linebacker Lance Briggs said. “There are a lot of things that we’re going to have to correct this year as far as last year. Tackling was really bad. Everything we did was almost all atrocious. Everything we’re doing now is not just to correct that but to be better, but get ourselves back to a top-five defense.”
As bad as things were, the Bears believe that group is positioned for a sharp turnaround after an active offseason, particularly with a new star defensive end.
Allen showed no signs of slowing down last season with 11 1/2 sacks and remained effective against the run. His reward was a deal that guarantees $15.5 million and could be worth as much as $32 million.
Now, he’s joining a defense that has established stars such as Briggs and Charles Tillman but took its lumps last year.
“I think as pros we all should expect accountability from each other,” Allen said. “But I didn’t come here to take over leadership. I didn’t come here because I thought they needed a figurehead on the defense. I came here to be a part of something.”
Besides adding Allen, the Bears brought in veteran defensive ends Lamarr Houston and Willie Young, added Ryan Mundy and M.D. Jennings to the mix at safety and went heavy on defense in the draft, starting with cornerback Kyle Fuller in the first round.
He could eventually replace Tillman, who re-signed for one season. The Bears also gave cornerback Tim Jennings a four-year deal, and they’ll have a different look on defense even though they’re sticking with a 4-3 set.
Former first-round pick Shea McClellin is moving from defensive end to linebacker. The Bears intend to use Jennings at nickel when the situation calls for it, with Fuller at left cornerback and Tillman at right cornerback. Jennings was informed of the decision last week. He will continue to play cornerback in non-nickel situations.
“It should be an easy transition,” he said.
McClellin thinks he’ll be able to make a smooth transition to linebacker after struggling his first two years.
“It’s very natural,” he said. “The instincts are there and I’ve just got to work on the concepts, the routes, and it’s good to have some guys out here to go against instead of just going against air. Still got a lot to work on.”
Allen said it would be a tough switch for him, but he gave McClellin a vote of confidence.
“The cool part is that he’s athletic enough to do it,” he said.
As for his own move, Allen said it’s been smooth so far.
“When I signed, I wasn’t going to be that guy that wasn’t worth the money,” he said. “My motivation to be the best at what I do is a self-motivation, it’s probably more of a fear of failing than it is necessarily thriving to be the best. I just want guys, when I leave this league, I want them to say, `He did it the right way, he gave everything he had, and not one day was he stealing checks.'”