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John Fox walks around as his players stretch at rookie minicamp. (Phil Velasquez / Chicago Tribune)
John Fox walks around as his players stretch at rookie minicamp. (Phil Velasquez / Chicago Tribune)

After nearly four months of silence, the Bears’ three new coordinators were made available to the media over the weekend at the team’s rookie minicamp. Offensive coordinator Adam Gase, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio and special teams coordinator Jeff Rodgers all took turns speaking to reporters and all three provided some much needed insight to offseason questions.

Here’s what you need to know from an interesting weekend at Halas Hall:

1. The defensive line is “the heart and soul” of Vic Fangio’s 3-4 defense. This is no different from the 4-3 defense Bears fans are used to — there’s just one less defensive lineman. In either scheme, the guys up front have to play well for the entire unit to be able to function properly.

“If (the three down-linemen are) getting pushed around, it doesn’t matter what you’re in, we’re in trouble,” Fangio said.

At a minimum, the linemen need to hold their ground and not get pushed backwards. This is especially important when they play with two-gap responsibility, keeping blockers off of the linebackers so they can run free and make tackles.

For much of the offseason, the defensive line looked like a big weakness for the Bears, but that might be changing. And when you hear Fangio talk about the importance of the defensive line, you start to understand why he pushed so hard for the Bears to sign Ray McDonald. You may not like the signing, but from a purely football-standpoint, he’ll be a constant at the left defensive end position if he’s healthy.

That said, rookie defensive tackle Eddie Goldman and second-year defensive tackle Ego Ferguson might be the key to the entire defense this season. If one of those two players can emerge as a reliable nose tackle in Fangio’s scheme, then Jeremiah Ratliff will be able to play as the right end, kicking inside to a three-technique on passing downs, a familiar spot for him.

If one of the two young tackles takes hold of the inside, suddenly the defensive line doesn’t look so bad.

2. Shea McClellin isn’t going anywhere — at least for now. The new coaching staff seems to like his potential as an inside linebacker and they badly need to be right.

After the defensive line, Fangio mentioned the inside linebackers as the next area of importance in his scheme.

“We’ve got to have some inside linebackers that can play behind those guys, play with good instincts and find the ball,” he said.

To me, this is the biggest area of concern on the defense. Former undrafted free agent Christian Jones appears to be the best of the bunch — both from a talent and scheme-fit standpoint — and he’s far from a sure thing. Jon Bostic is still dealing with back issues and his first two seasons were underwhelming. Mason Foster provides from veteran stability, but he’s no Patrick Willis, who Fangio had in San Francisco.

That leaves Shea McClellin and names like DeDe Lattimore, Jonathan Brown, Jonathan Anderson, John Timu and Kyle Woestmann. Of that group, you’d have to think McClellin has the best chance to make it as the fourth inside linebacker, especially because he’d cost $1.89 million in dead money even if they cut him.

“I think he’s got a chance to be a good inside linebacker,” Fangio said. “We’re going to give him a full opportunity and full chance to learn the position so we can evaluate him and see if that’s a good spot for him.”

Fangio believes McCllelin has been “hindered” by moving around, which might be a nice way of saying he was drafted into the wrong scheme.

“When he came out of college he was a versatile guy, he played a lot of different positions and maybe now it’s time to lock him down into hopefully an inside linebacker spot,” Fangio said. “But if it doesn’t work out, maybe we move him back out, but I want to see him at inside linebacker for awhile.”

The Bears need McClellin to work out as an inside linebacker and he needs it too, because the numbers at outside linebacker would not be in his favor…

3. You can start to see why the Bears aren’t concerned about not drafting an edge rusher. Right now they have six pretty decent options at outside linebacker and typically a 3-4 defense will only keep four or five on their 53-man roster.

The wild cards here are Willie Young and Lamarr Houston, who are recovering from a torn Achilles and a torn ACL, respectively. I’d expect Houston to be ready for the season, but Young is a big question mark.

Otherwise, Pernell McPhee is probably a lock as a starter and Sam Acho and Jared Allen figure to play significant roles. So even if Young isn’t ready to start the season, David Bass would seem likely to be the fifth outside linebacker because of his special teams ability. He’s shown flashes of potential the last two seasons and a 3-4 might actually suit him better.

So, two points here: 1) Not drafting an edge rusher is probably OK, and 2) McClellin better work out as an inside linebacker because I don’t see a roster spot for him elsewhere.

4. Jared Allen’s position switch is not as drastic as it seems, but he’s probably going to have to adjust to a dip in playing time. 

This quote from Fangio Saturday was particularly interesting:

“Like I told him, I said he can have a rebirth to his career here playing a little bit of a new position. But in the NFL today, you play more nickel than you actually play base. For some teams it’s 65-75 percent of the time and he’ll be playing his normal position then so it’s not as drastic of a change as you might think.”

You’ll likely see a couple different nickel packages from Fangio, but in either case, at least one of the linebackers will typically come down to the line of scrimmage and rush the passer. Commonly, the “Jack” linebacker comes off the field on nickel downs, creating 3-3-5 personnel, but the alignment will look more like a 4-2-5, which isn’t really any different than the 4-3 defenses seen in Chicago in the past. In this case, you might see the nose tackle shade to a 1-technique instead of lining up right over the center, then Ratliff will slide down a 3-technique, McDonald will play a 5-tech on the right tackle and Jared Allen will lineup in a familiar 7-tech or 9-tech in his normal right defensive end position.

Another common nickel package for a 3-4 defense is 2-4-5 personnel, which just drops a defensive lineman instead of the “Jack” linebacker. But in this case, typically two linebackers will come up to the line of scrimmage, with at least one of them rushing the passer like a 4-3 defensive end would. Again, this would be Allen’s normal assignment at the position he’s played his whole career.

Even in the base package, Fangio’s defenses often play with 1-gap responsibilities in “over” or “under” fronts, which would allow Allen to rush from his normal position. This often makes a 3-4 look like a 5-2, with the two outside linebackers in two-point stances at the line of scrimmage. But in these fronts, the defense is trying to disguise who is rushing, which means Allen can’t just be a one-trick pony. For him to be used in the base package, he’s going to have to prove he can do unfamiliar things like drop back into coverage. His playing time will depend on it.

5. Another year, another offensive coordinator trying to make it work with Jay Cutler. But this time around, the organization is more committed to the coordinator than the quarterback. Adam Gase is Cutler’s fifth offensive coordinator in seven years with the Bears. Even Cutler admitted at rookie minicamp “that can’t be good.”

Friday was a familiar scene at Halas Hall with a new coordinator reflecting back on when he first met Cutler and fell in love with the talent. In Gase’s case, he was an assistant in Detroit under offensive coordinator Mike Martz, who infamously didn’t mix well with Cutler in Chicago later on. This was 2006 when Cutler was coming out of Vanderbilt and it was Gase’s job to pick Cutler up at the airport for his official visit to the Lions.

“I’ve known him for a long time,” Gase said. “We actually spent a lot of time together when he was coming out of college. He always brings up how I picked him up in his visit to Detroit. We had a lot of conversations there and we thought about taking him.”

A few years later, the two almost ended up working together in Denver, as Gase was hired as the wide receivers coach in 2009. But just a few months later, Cutler was traded to the Bears. The following year, Gase almost took a job with the Bears on Lovie Smith’s staff when Martz was hired as the offensive coordinator in Chicago.

Five years later, Gase and Cutler will work together and, frankly, it will be surprising to see the pairing last more than one season. If it works, Gase will almost assuredly get a head coaching job elsewhere. If it doesn’t, there’s a good chance the Bears have a new quarterback in 2016.

6. Matt Forte’s load will be interesting to watch this season. John Fox isn’t used to having one featured back, as he usually rotates guys in and out.

“We’ve always been believers in kind of a 1-2 punch and rolling guys through there (like) the d-line — a wave of those guys to stay fresh,” Fox said Sunday. “I’ve always had the same approach with running backs.”

There’s little question Forte is the best running back on the roster, but the team also signed Jacquizz Rodgers, who had a prominent third-down role in Atlanta, and drafted Jeremy Langford. It sure seems like they are setting up to use a rotation.

Meanwhile, Forte is entering the final year of his contract and was denied an extension earlier this offseason. Then he missed voluntary minicamp and the Piccolo Award reception, but has since returned to Halas Hall and is expected to participate in Phase 2 of the offseason program, which began Monday.

“I tell guys, they pick the team—how they perform—and it will be no different at running back, who that guy is and how dependable he is and if he earns that number of reps to get in,” Fox said.

7. Martellus Bennett remains the team’s lone holdout. Fox had no update when asked about the situation Sunday, but Bennett, who still has two years left on a four-year contract his signed in 2013, continues to train at Brandon Marshall’s gym in Northbrook instead of Halas Hall. In a surprise visit Friday, Marshall — now with the Jets — told ESPN 1000 that Bennett could be traded. “There’s some things going on,” he said.

8. Rookie center Hroniss Grasu is immediately working on adding weight. He played around 295 at Oregon (a much faster paced offense) and will look to add 10-15 pounds, playing at 300-305 with the Bears. If he shows to training camp in shape and plays well with the added weight, don’t be surprised if he beats out Will Montgomery as the team’s starting center Week 1 against the Packers.

9. Ryan Pace continues to shake up the front office. After firing Kevin Turks as the team’s director of pro personnel back in January, Pace did not renew the contract of Marty Barrett, the team’s director of college scouting. This was not surprising, as it seemed likely Pace would want to bring in his own guy.

But more shakeup occurred last week when associate director of pro personnel Dwayne Joseph left the organization, according to the Chicago Tribune. The Tribune also reported Joseph was offered a promotion to take over as director of pro personnel, but turned it down.

That means Pace is currently looking for both a college scouting director and pro personnel director. Keep in mind he hired Josh Lucas back in January to serve as director of player personnel, which oversees both the pro and college sides. That position did not exist at Halas Hall before Pace arrived, but it’s the same title he held in New Orleans as part of a three-headed braintrust that also included head coach Sean Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis.

Pace is trying to create that same kind of structure in Chicago alongside Lucas and head coach John Fox, with the college scouting director and pro personnel directors supplementing them. It will be interesting to see who ends up filling those two roles.

10. The Bears’ roster is at the 90-player max after they claimed former Boston College tight end Chris Pantale off of waivers from the Jets. The Bears also signed quarterback Pat Devlin, linebacker Kyle Woestmann and nose tackle Terry Williams Monday after they worked out with the team over the weekend at rookie minicamp. You may remember Devlin as the one-time Penn State quarterback who transferred to Delaware after Joe Paterno went with Darryl Clark at quarterback in 2008. Yes, 2008. Devlin is still a 27-year-old rookie. He was also featured on Hard Knocks when he was in camp with the Dolphins in 2012.

To make room for the three signings, the Bears waived 2013 fourth round pick Khaseem Greene and defensive end Austen Lane. Both faced long odds to make the team this year.

Adam Hoge covers the Chicago Bears for WGN Radio and He also co-hosts The Beat, weekends on 720 WGN. Follow him on Twitter at @AdamHoge.