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Alan Williams says the ‘true stamp’ he can put on the Chicago Bears defense is finding what his players do best — and working to those strengths

Chicago Tribune logo Chicago Tribune 2/10/2022 Brad Biggs, Chicago Tribune
The board members include: George H. McCaskey, Virginia McCaskey, Ted Phillips, Brian J. McCaskey, Ed McCaskey Jr., Patrick McCaskey, Andrew McKenna and Pat Ryan. © Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune/TNS The board members include: George H. McCaskey, Virginia McCaskey, Ted Phillips, Brian J. McCaskey, Ed McCaskey Jr., Patrick McCaskey, Andrew McKenna and Pat Ryan.

Alan Williams’ NFL roots are with the 2001 Tampa Bay Buccaneers and one of the great influences on coach Matt Eberflus has been Rod Marinelli, whose career also began in the Tampa-2.

So it’s fair to assume the Chicago Bears will be returning to a version of what they had success with during the Lovie Smith era. But Williams, the new defensive coordinator, made it clear he wants to mesh what he’s doing schematically and from a play-calling sense with the skills of his personnel.

Actions will say more than words when it comes to that, but Williams in an introductory video conference call Thursday morning did not come across as a coach that is going to be rigid in his ways. What is nonnegotiable is relentless hustle that Williams believes will lead to takeaways for a defense that hasn’t gotten enough the last three seasons.

Champ Kelly spent eight seasons in the Denver Broncos scouting and personnel departments before joining the Chicago Bears in 2015 as the director of pro scouting. © John J. Kim/Chicago Tribune/TNS Champ Kelly spent eight seasons in the Denver Broncos scouting and personnel departments before joining the Chicago Bears in 2015 as the director of pro scouting.

From there?

“The true stamp is going to be to allow the players to do what they do well,” he said. “I may come in here and say I love zone coverage and our guys may be phenomenal man coverage players, so you know what? We’re going to man. And if I come in and go, ‘Hey, we’re going (with) four down (linemen),’ and an odd front (three linemen) is what we do best, or this guy two-gaps the best, we’re going to two-gap.

Josh Lucas followed Ryan Pace to the Chicago Bears after 10 seasons with the New Orleans Saints and three with the Jacksonville Jaguars before that. © John J. Kim/Chicago Tribune/TNS Josh Lucas followed Ryan Pace to the Chicago Bears after 10 seasons with the New Orleans Saints and three with the Jacksonville Jaguars before that.

“Ultimately, we’re going to play hard, we’re going to play smart, we’re going to take the ball away, but there are many different ways of doing that. There’s no real one way to skin a cat, so I would be remiss if I just said, ‘You know what, I’m bringing in my system and it’s going to be my stamp and it’s going to be mine, mine, mine.’ Nope. That’s not a good thing. It’s going to be ours.”

Eberflus said Williams, who was the secondary coach under him in Indianapolis, will be calling the defense. One thing that likely stood out to the Bears when they considered Eberflus as a head coach was how the Colts defense not only improved quickly but did so without inheriting a single foundational piece when Frank Reich’s staff was hired in 2018.

The Colts transformed the unit on the fly and the defensive coaching staff — the bulk of which came with Eberflus and Williams to Halas Hall — did a consistent job of developing young talent. Linebackers Darius Leonard and Bobby Okereke, nickel back Kenny Moore, cornerback Rock Ya-Sin, safety Julian Blackmon and even edge rusher Kwity Paye, who was a rookie this season, showed tangible growth.


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The Colts were 30th in the NFL in points allowed in 2017 before Eberflus and his defensive staff arrived. They ranked in the top 10 in that category three times over the last four seasons. Indianapolis was No. 10 against the run this season and ranked second in 2020. During the 2020 season, four different Colts players were named AFC defensive player of the week, and this season the defense was second in the league with 33 takeaways.

Austin King, 40, comes aboard to work underneath new offensive line coach Chris Morgan. He spent the last two seasons with the Las Vegas Raiders as tight ends coach in 2021 and as an offensive quality control coach in 2020. The former center, who was a four-year starter at Northwestern, played 34 games in the NFL with the Atlanta Falcons from 2004-06. He began his coaching career as an assistant at Toledo, Syracuse and Dayton. The Cincinnati native was Dayton’s offensive coordinator for three seasons. © MILBERT O. BROWN/Chicago Tribune/TNS Austin King, 40, comes aboard to work underneath new offensive line coach Chris Morgan. He spent the last two seasons with the Las Vegas Raiders as tight ends coach in 2021 and as an offensive quality control coach in 2020. The former center, who was a four-year starter at Northwestern, played 34 games in the NFL with the Atlanta Falcons from 2004-06. He began his coaching career as an assistant at Toledo, Syracuse and Dayton. The Cincinnati native was Dayton’s offensive coordinator for three seasons.

Williams, 52, is inheriting some building blocks, players that are scheme-transcendent and will give the Bears a head start on rebuilding that side of the ball.

But the window for a championship-caliber defense began creaking shut in 2019 and was closed the next year. The Bears were average on defense this season, so reaching an elite level again requires time, some shrewd moves and coaching. With as many needs as the organization will have in its efforts to revamp a moribund offense, it could take more than a year to fully overhaul personnel.

Figure the Bears need a couple defensive linemen, two linebackers, two cornerbacks and a safety and that’s just when looking at a starting unit with a few key pieces for sub packages. But inheriting high-caliber edge rushers in Khalil Mack and Robert Quinn, who previously thrived in 4-3 schemes, is a real plus.

“You have no idea how exciting it is to be here and having those guys,” Williams said.

The Bears on Thursday afternoon announced the hiring of former Seattle Seahawks defensive passing game coordinator Andre Curtis as safeties coach. Meanwhile, tThe defensive staff has watched game film from the 2021 season but hasn’t dived into breakdowns of individual players yet, a process that will certainly involve the front office.

Eberflus, 51, was the Indianapolis Colts defensive coordinator the last four seasons. He finished third in 2018 in the NFL Assistant Coach of the Year voting. In 2021, Eberflus oversaw a Colts defense that led the AFC in takeaways (33) while finishing in the top 10 in the league in points allowed © Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune/TNS Eberflus, 51, was the Indianapolis Colts defensive coordinator the last four seasons. He finished third in 2018 in the NFL Assistant Coach of the Year voting. In 2021, Eberflus oversaw a Colts defense that led the AFC in takeaways (33) while finishing in the top 10 in the league in points allowed

Williams made note of the athletic ability of inside linebacker Roquan Smith and how his passion shines through on tape but otherwise didn’t have many remarks about specific players. Cornerback Jaylon Johnson will certainly be viewed as a good starting piece in the secondary.

Ryan Poles, 36, has been with the Kansas City Chiefs for 13 years, working his way up from player personnel assistant to college scouting administrator and coordinator, director of college scouting, assistant director of player personnel and now executive director of player personnel this season. He was part of the Chiefs team that won Super Bowl LIV. © Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune/TNS Ryan Poles, 36, has been with the Kansas City Chiefs for 13 years, working his way up from player personnel assistant to college scouting administrator and coordinator, director of college scouting, assistant director of player personnel and now executive director of player personnel this season. He was part of the Chiefs team that won Super Bowl LIV.

Williams has previous experience as a coordinator, holding that role from 2012-13 under Leslie Frazier with the Minnesota Vikings. The second season didn’t go well because the Vikings were porous, especially against the pass. That was a long time ago and Williams has, no doubt, evolved while continuing to work as a position coach.

“I won’t say exactly what I’d like to do over, but you learn from your mistakes,” he said. “You learn the things that you did well and you take those things and you put those things in a bucket and you say, ‘Take these things forward,’ and then ultimately you try not to dwell on the past and you move forward.”

Virginia McCaskey, the daughter of George Halas, took over as majority owner of the Chicago Bears in 1983.

Virginia McCaskey, the daughter of George Halas, took over as majority owner of the Chicago Bears in 1983.
© Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune/TNS
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