'Recharged' Pagano Has Bears' Early Admiration

"He's playing us to our strengths," safety Eddie Jackson says.

Chris Emma
June 18, 2019 - 12:40 pm
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LAKE FOREST, Ill. (670 The Score) -- Hours before the Bears would report to Halas Hall for their offseason program, new defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano had already begun his day.

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The 58-year-old Pagano is on his Peloton bike by 4:30 a.m. each day, which has caught the attention of coach Matt Nagy. In his first job back from a one-year hiatus, Pagano has shown the Bears that he's thrilled to be back around a football team.

"He's completely recharged," Nagy said.

The Bears hired Pagano, the Colts' head coach from 2012-'17, to replace Vic Fangio, who left to become the Broncos' head coach. In doing so, the Bears tasked Pagano with maintaining a defense that's already one of the NFL's best.

Pagano has vowed that he will provide the Bears with continuity on defense. It's something the players have recognized in their first months working with him.

They also have appreciated Pagano's football background and how it can help them.

"You look at his resume, he’s worked with some of the greatest of all time," All-Pro pass rusher Khalil Mack said. "Just learning from him and understanding football through his eyes has been very beneficial for me.”

In 2018, the Bears ranked first in scoring defense at 17.7 points per game. It was the result of the foundation that Fangio set, the arrival of a superstar in Mack and the development of players like safety Eddie Jackson, cornerback Kyle Fuller and defensive lineman Akiem Hicks into Pro Bowl players.

Though the Bears lost Fangio this offseason, they return nine of their 11 starters from last season. The re-energized Pagano is more vocal than Fangio, but there are also plenty of similarities between the two defensive minds. Pagano has made sure the basic terminology is similar enough so that the transition between coordinators is natural.

Pagano understands his job is to ensure the Bears' defense remains dominant as it was before.

"He's playing us to our strengths," Jackson said. "The same thing coach Vic has done with us. We can go back and give him feedback. If we see something or we don't like something, he'll take that into consideration and he'll change a few things around. And that right there is what you need when you come in here, especially with the type of players we got, for us to be able to trust you and vice versa."

Perhaps the most notable change in the Bears' defensive scheme will be a more aggressive blitz at times. While Fangio often trusted rushers like Mack and Hicks to get home without help, Pagano has a background in blitzing that could bode well for the Bears. Second-year inside linebacker Roquan Smith could be a player tasked with blitzing more frequently.

The Bears have already come to appreciate what the rejuvenated Pagano brings to his position.

"He's just such a positive human being," Nagy said. "He's about being optimistic, he's about being real, he's about being honest, he's about treating people the right way. When you do that and it's natural and it's not fabricated, it's not made up, it's not fake, the trust and the belief that your players have with you as a coach happens so much quicker. 

"He has a challenge. We have a challenge on defense. But there's nobody in this league that wants to attack something as aggressive as coach Chuck does."

Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for 670TheScore.com. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.