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By GENE CHAMBERLAIN
LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) - The Chicago Bears defensive players believe Lions vice chairman Bill Ford Jr. might be off base after he referred to them as ``a bunch of thugs'' this week.
``We're far from it,'' cornerback Tim Jennings said Wednesday. ``I wish we were.''
The Bears defense is actually searching for some toughness after giving up 159 yards rushing in a 40-32 loss to the Lions last week, one week after allowing the Pittsburgh Steelers 379 passing yards in a win. Facing the New Orleans Saints and the league's fourth-ranked offense Sunday at Soldier Field hardly seems the ideal situation for regaining their edge.
It's not quite an identity crisis because the Bears have forced a league-high 14 turnovers, much like it always did under former coach Lovie Smith. However, the big chunks of yardage yielded in different ways has them turning to basic football to combat the problem.
``Last week I didn't feel like we did as good a job of tackling, and it showed,'' defensive end Corey Wootton said. ``The biggest thing we've got to do is rally to the football because in any team people are going to miss tackles. So the biggest thing is getting those population tackles, getting people to the ball because when one guy misses then the next guy will be there.''
Coach Marc Trestman finds the tackling problems nothing unusual at this time of the season.
``It's a (repetition) thing, and we're not the only team going through this,'' Trestman said. ``This is something that is really universal throughout the league early in the season, and teams do get better as we move along. I think we've tackled well, but we still want to get better at it.''
Part of the problem stems from different personnel. With defensive tackle Henry Melton out for the season, the Bears have had to shift the defensive line.
Last week, Wootton moved inside at times to defensive tackle, or nose tackle Stephen Paea played there, in addition to defensive tackle Nate Collins - who also played some nose tackle along with new acquisition Landon Cohen.
``Definitely, I feel like as a unit, especially up front, we haven't gelled and clicked together as much as we'd like to,'' Wootton said. ``The biggest thing we've got to do is just go out there and practice every day and become more comfortable with each other - we've got different guys in there.''
Stopping New Orleans will be almost a 180-degree swing for the Bears defense from the problems they had Sunday. Saints quarterback Drew Brees ranks second in passing yards and fourth in completion percentage. The Saints covert 45.3 percent of their third-down plays, sixth in the league; the Bears defense is tied for 21st stopping third down conversions (39.6 percent).
``First of all we have to find a way to stop the run and eliminate the explosive passes and eliminate the yards after the catch,'' defensive coordinator Mel Tucker said. ``They do a great job with the throw and catch and then the run after the catch. Then we have to do a great job of getting off the field on third down. So that's the key.''
Linebacker Lance Briggs put the Bears' defensive frustration at a high level.
``To me ,it's kind of disgusting to see 40 points up on the scoreboard regardless of what went on and how it went up there,'' he said. ``Defensively, we haven't prevented a team from scoring more than 20 points this year yet. And that's not like us.''
Notes: Six punters auditioned Tuesday after Adam Podlesh struggled against Detroit and dropped to 28th in punting average (43.5 ypp). ``I kind of understood after what I put out there on the field in Detroit that, I basically said to myself, `I wouldn't be surprised if they were going to look at what was out on the market,''' Podlesh said. ... Wide receiver Brandon Marshall (foot), defensive tackle Stephen Paea (toe), cornerback Charles Tillman (groin strain) and safety Anthony Walters (hamstring) missed practice. Defensive end Julius Peppers (chest), tight end Martellus Bennett (shoulder) and defensive back Sherrick McManis (quad) participated on a limited basis.