Bears defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano spoke to the media on a video call Thursday. Here are five highlights from that session:
(1) Pagano was thrilled that the Bears signed free agent Robert Quinn and is excited to pair him with Khalil Mack at outside linebacker.
Quinn has recorded 80.5 sacks in nine NFL seasons with the Rams (2011-17), Dolphins (2018) and Cowboys (2019), including a team-high 11.5 sacks in 14 games last year with Dallas.
“His résumé speaks for itself,” Pagano said. “[He’s] a really, really talented football player. Everybody just thinks he can rush the passer. But he’s relentless, he’s tough, he’s athletic, he’s physical. He’ll play really good against the run.
“There’s some things he’ll have to adapt to from a schematic standpoint. But he’s done a great job to this point with picking up the playbook stuff. Just his ability to rush the passer, come off the edge, he’s a great pro. He’s a great teammate. He’s a great person.”
When Pagano was defensive coordinator at North Carolina in 2007, he recruited Quinn to the school. Quinn enrolled the following year, but Pagano had left to become the Ravens’ defensive backs coach.
“I’ve known him for quite some time and watched him afar like everybody else,” Pagano said. “He’s a talented player, talented guy.”
(2) Pagano has seen firsthand just how motivated Mack is to help the Bears rebound from their disappointing 2019 season.
There were times during the virtual offseason program that Mack would participate in a video meeting while working out in his home.
“A lot of times he’d be on a call and be in the weight room in the basement of his house,” Pagano said. “I’ve never been to his house, but I know he’s got a workout facility there. He’d be working out a lot of the times when we’re on the calls.
“He’s determined. We want to be the best defense in the National Football League, and he wants to be one of the best players in the National Football League. But more importantly, he just wants to win. He doesn’t care about anything else. When you win, there’s enough cheese to go around. All he cares about is winning.”
Mack was voted to his fifth straight Pro Bowl last year. He led the Bears with 8.5 sacks, but it was the first time since his rookie season with the Raiders in 2014 that he did not record at least 10 sacks.
“There’s a lot of things that go into that,” Pagano said. “You can go back and say, ‘How many times was he doubled, was he tripled? Did they leave an extra protector in there? How many times did he get singled? How many of those times did he win?’
“I think it’s a byproduct of a lot of different things. But I just think you’ve got a really talented football player that’s really, really eager like the rest of them to get back on the football field and compete and win and do it at a high level.”
(3) Pagano is confident that the return of veteran defensive tackle Akiem Hicks will give the defense a huge boost, on and off the field.
After being voted to his first career Pro Bowl in 2018, Hicks played in only five games last season. He missed a Week 4 win over the Vikings with a knee injury and then sat out 10 of the final 11 games after sustaining an elbow injury in a Week 5 loss to the Raiders in London.
“You can’t replace him,” Pagano said. “Certainly, we’re different when he’s out there playing at a high level than when he’s not. In the meeting room and around our guys, he’s a wise, wise man. He’s a smart guy. He gets it. He knows what’s going on. When he speaks, people listen.
“He’s a smart guy. He’s got a ton of wisdom, and the great thing about him is that he’ll share it. There’s a lot of great players and great leaders and men who’ve played this game that won’t take the time to help young players and share their knowledge and their wisdom, but Akiem’s different that way. He’s just a phenomenal human being, and again, he just gets it and understands it.
“He’s really, really hungry. And really eager to get back on the field and be with his brothers out there competing and playing. He’s a great man. Nothing but great love and respect for him.”
(4) Pagano has high expectations for safety Eddie Jackson, a 2017 fourth-round pick who has played in each of the last two Pro Bowls.
“I think he’s ready to take another step from a leadership standpoint,” Pagano said. “Back there, he runs the show and he’s a really, really bright guy, and he’s a smart guy and he studies the game.
“He can tell you this too, he can take it to another level. And then just from a technique standpoint, fundamental standpoint, we can always get better at pad level and staying square, reading your keys.”
Jackson recorded 60 tackles and two interceptions in 2019, with both picks coming late in games to seal wins over the Lions and Vikings. But he didn’t make as many impact plays as he did in 2018 when he set career highs with six interceptions and three defensive touchdowns.
Pagano vowed to put Jackson in more positions to succeed this season, the same sentiment he shared when discussing Mack.
“First and foremost,” Pagano said, “I’ve got to do a better job of making sure that, like Khalil, like the rest of the guys on defense—it goes for everybody—we put them in positions that accentuate their strengths and minimize anything else and give them a chance to be successful.”
(5) Pagano is excited to begin working with veteran safety Tashaun Gipson, who signed with the Bears as a free agent in March.
Gipson has appeared in 112 games with 104 starts over eight seasons with the Browns (2012-15), Jaguars (2016-18) and Texans (2019). He has recorded 446 tackles, 23 interceptions—three of which he returned for touchdowns—47 pass breakups and 13 tackles-for-loss.
“He’s a talented guy, he’s a smart guy, he’s a great pro,” Pagano said. “He’s played a lot and he’s got a ton of experience. He’s an athletic guy, he can play in deep parts of the field and he’s got good coverage skills and he can play down in the box, so from a versatility standpoint it’s going to be great to have him.”
Gipson is expected to compete for a starting position with Deon Bush, DeAndre Houston-Carson and Sherrick McManis, among others.
“[Gipson] knows he’s going to have to come in and compete,” Pagano said. “One thing I’m really excited about is just the competition at that spot and at a lot of spots on defense. But he’s a smart guy. He’s played a lot of football, so I’m really excited to actually get to see him up front and close and in person.”