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Bears counting on bigger, stronger, faster run defense

Bears defensive linemen Andrew Billings and Justin Jones
Bears defensive linemen Andrew Billings and Justin Jones

You've probably heard by now that the Packers will arrive in Chicago for Sunday's season opener at Soldier Field with a new starting quarterback.

After spending three seasons backing up Aaron Rodgers, Jordan Love has replaced the four-time NFL MVP, who was traded to the Jets after 18 seasons in Green Bay.

The Packers will cross the state line, however, with virtually the same potent running game that compiled 378 yards on 70 carries in two wins over the Bears last season. The rushing attack is led by backs Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon, who combined to run for 1,891 yards and nine touchdowns on 399 attempts in 2022.

"They are a good running team," said Bears defensive coordinator Alan Williams. "I'm sure they will be a good running team this year. If you go with slash and thunder or whatever you want to call it, you have a guy in [Jones] who can get on the edge. He can run between the tackles. Then they have a big back (Dillon) that's good at downhill and pounding between the tackles."

Improvement from the run defense will be key for the Bears Sunday, and Williams is confident that the unit will be better after being bolstered during the offseason. The Bears signed tackle Andrew Billings, end DeMarcus Walker and linebackers Tremaine Edmunds and T.J. Edwards in free agency; and selected tackles Gervon Dexter Sr. and Zacch Pickens on Day 2 of the draft.

"We're a little bit bigger, stronger, faster up front and in the middle," Williams said. "We have more experience and guys that have one year under their belt, so they are setting the edge better. They are getting off the ball better.

"We need to control the line of scrimmage better. We need to play on their side of the line of scrimmage, and it's not just our front four. Our 'backers need to play a little bit more downhill, read our keys. If you add all those things up, I think that means stopping the run better."

Life after Rodgers

After Rodgers was traded April 24, Williams wasted little time beginning to prepare for what a Love-led Packers offense might look like.

"As soon as [Rodgers] goes, we smile and we say, 'Hey, good luck in New York. Hope you enjoy Broadway, enjoy all the stuff that they have out there,'" Williams said with a smile. "And then we go, 'Hey, let's move on, new chapter.' Then you start looking, you start planning, 'Hey, what could they do?' But sometimes 'what could they do' takes you down a rabbit hole that you can't get out of.

"So you refocus, you resettle, you set and then you go one more time, 'It's still about us. It's still about all those fundamentals.' We're going to be a fundamentally sound team that's going to run and hit, play smart football, take the ball away, and when we do those things, the results are good. When we do something else, the results are something else."

The Bears hit the practice fields at Halas Hall Wednesday afternoon to continue their preparation for Sunday's season opener against the Green Bay Packers at Soldier Field.

Comfortable with quarterback

Expectations are high this season for receiver DJ Moore, who excelled throughout training camp and in the two preseason games he played. The veteran receiver, who was acquired from the Panthers in a blockbuster offseason trade, has already developed a rapport with quarterback Justin Fields.

"I think the biggest thing with DJ, there's a comfort level with the quarterback," said offensive coordinator Luke Getsy. "When you have that, it gives you a little bit of freedom for creativity/comfort plays that you can lean on whenever you need to. It just gives confidence to the group. Whether you're in the huddle or in the receiver room, I think he has helped boost that room and that entire group."

A leader by example with a strong work ethic, Moore has been voted a team captain this season for the first time in his six-year NFL career.

"That guy is a competitive animal," Getsy said. "He's quiet, but he plays hard, and he practices hard and he's a great teammate. He holds himself accountable. When he makes a mistake, he's the first person to go into that huddle and say, 'that's my bad. I was wrong.' I think all that stuff, it stands out for the kind of man that he is."

Injury update

After being limited in practice Wednesday, Walker (calf) and safeties Eddie Jackson (ankle) and Jaquan Brisker (groin) all worked out without limitations Thursday.

Right guard Nate Davis missed practice due to personal reasons, while tight end Marcedes Lewis was given a veteran's day off.

Linebacker Dylan Cole (hamstring) sat out practice for the second straight day.