If the Bears spend their first 2019 draft pick on defense, new defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano will immediately have as many new top-90 pupils as he received in his first three years combined as the Indianapolis Colts’ head coach.
Over his first five seasons in Indianapolis, Pagano was given by then-general manager Ryan Grigson only four defensive players drafted in the top 100. The three that hailed from the first 65 picks already are out of football.
No, we don’t mention this as a reminder that Pagano hasn’t worked for the better part of the past decade with a defense as talented as the top-rated group he’s inheriting.
But suffice to say, if the 58-year-old, like his predecessor and the Broncos’ new head coach Vic Fangio, has designs on vaulting from Chicago to the head-coaching ranks again, a better synergy with his new general manager Ryan Pace wouldn’t hurt.
Of course, the beauty of the Bears replacing Fangio with Pagano is the vast carryover schematically and the fact that the Bears’ defense is a ready-made Super Bowl contender.
“There’s really no significant changes, but I think Chuck’s done a good job of explaining some of the slight differences,” Pace said of his scouting department’s extensive personnel meetings with Pagano and his staff and whether there’s a new profile for acquiring defenders. “I also think Chuck understands these are our players and coaches can adapt to the players at hand, so there’s a little bit of that going on.”
Indeed, Pagano has wisely said, “We’re not gonna try to jam square pegs into round holes. They’ve built one heck of a roster.” And it’s up to him to mix his preferred man-coverage principles with zone coverages, which helped the NFL’s best secondary flourish last season.
Like Fangio did with cornerback Kyle Fuller, the previous regime’s final first-rounder whom he inherited, Pagano’s charge includes leading the continued development of not only linebacker Roquan Smith, safety Eddie Jackson and the rest of the Bears’ young, star-laden defensive nucleus, but also young backups such as linebackers Joel Iyiegbuniwe and Isaiah Irving.
Still, much of the success Pace and Fangio enjoyed together stemmed from their shared understanding of the scheme and prospect preferences and the ability to identify the best fits. Eddie Goldman, Adrian Amos, Bilal Nichols, to name a few, are living testaments.
Sure, Buster Skrine likely appealed to Pagano because of his feistiness, press prowess and blitzing ability, but Pace’s affinity for the new Bears corner preceded even Matt Nagy’s arrival in Chicago. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, frankly, fell into the Bears’ lap as one of free agency’s best bargains. The draft, then, marks our most telling glimpse to date of the building rapport between Pace and Pagano via the type of prospects they pick.
There will be plenty of talk this offseason about the defense learning Pagano’s verbiage. We’ve already heard him utter popular Nagy refrains, including on aggressiveness: “Be smart but calculated about it.”
One of the more interesting behind-the-scenes storylines to come from draft weekend is how fluently Pagano and Pace are speaking the same language.