Defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano is still looking for the right combination for his defensive backfield.
Speaking over Zoom Wednesday, Pagano addressed the early efforts to replace two departed starters, safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and cornerback Prince Amukamara, from last season's secondary.
The competition for the safety position opposite Eddie Jackson remains open. Deon Bush, who has spent the previous four years mostly as a reserve special teams player, drew attention Tuesday for a scuffle with tight end Jimmy Graham. Pagano appreciates the toughness, as long as it's kept within the right parameters.
"We want to be the Monsters of the Midway," said Pagano. "We want to wreak havoc. We have to impose our physicality on people, and we're going to do that. We're going to take it right to the line as close as we can, and we're not going to cross it. But football is still football. You have to whip the man's ass in front of you, down after down after down, and you have to out-physical those guys. That's our job, without crossing the line, within the framework of the rules."
Pagano has been impressed by Tashaun Gipson Sr., an offseason acquisition and Bush's main competition for the starting spot. As an eight-year veteran, Gipson's approach has stood out.
"He's all business," said Pagano. "He's got great instincts. He's got range. He can play deep. He's done a good job playing down in the box. Done a good job in one-on-one situations and man situations. He's come in here and really picked up the defense. Did a great job in the offseason over the Zoom stuff, and it's carried over to the early part of camp. Really loved his professionalism."
With cornerback Artie Burns injuring his knee Tuesday, the competition to replace Amukamara opposite Kyle Fuller may now focus on third-year player Kevin Toliver and rookie Jaylon Johnson.
Toliver, who signed with the Bears as an undrafted free agent out of Louisiana State, has started two games over the past two seasons. Toliver's size and athleticism have long been his calling cards, but Pagano was impressed by his thoroughness in meetings during this offseason.
"Some guys had better opportunities to work and facilities and things like that," said Pagano, "areas to go out and work on that stuff. Everybody was given kind of a prescription when they left in January from their position coach. 'Here are three things that you need to go really focus on.'"
Pagano cited Toliver's work on his footwork and change-of-direction as points of improvement. However, he saved his highest praise for Toliver's enthusiasm during position meetings. Toliver would often stay engaged during discussions of the safety position to understand the system in its entirety.
"I think he's grown again from a mental standpoint," said Pagano. "Physically, all the tools are there. Now he's just got to go do it. He's got to go line up, and he's got to compete, and he's got to make plays."
The same could be said for Johnson, a rookie second-round pick from Utah.
"We've gotta get him out there," said Pagano. "He's just gotta play, and he's gotta compete. Right now, unfortunately, it's not going to be in preseason games. It's going to be in situational football, practice reps. If we have live periods, whatever that is, we've gotta see him play. And then it's going to be baptism under fire for all these young guys."