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Chuck Pagano: 'No doubt' I have to prove myself

Any angst in Chicago surrounding da Bears this offseason usually falls into two categories: Will the kicking situation ever be solved? And is Mitch Trubisky going to improve in Year 2 under Matt Nagy?

One question rarely fretted over is whether there will be a downgrade at defensive coordinator from Vic Fangio, who left to take the helm in Denver, to Chuck Pagano.

After a year away from coaching, Pagano knows replacing Fangio won't be easy, and he has to prove himself to the players who composed one of the best defenses in the NFL in 2018.

"No doubt about it," Pagano told NBC Sports Chicago's John Mullin. "There's going to be high expectations for anybody coming into this. But absolutely. And I have great respect for coach Fangio. I've known Vic for a long time and he's done a phenomenal job for a long time, calling defenses, building this defense, working with coach (Matt) Nagy.

"But anytime you come in, you've got to look at, 'Here's what the expectations are and I've gotta prove myself.' I think it's a challenge we all face and address and embrace. It's not the thing that keeps you up at night, but I understand what the expectations are.

"And we've got a bunch of really good football players and assistant coaches, and if we keep working like we've been working, get lucky and stay healthy, things'll work out."

The key to the Bears not missing a beat on D is the dynamic players. Led by pass-rush demon Khalil Mack, rising star safety Eddie Jackson and second-year linebacker Roquan Smith, the Bears boast dominant playmakers at every level. Chicago is replacing just one starter (safety Adrian Amos with Ha Ha Clinton-Dix) and nickel corner Bryce Callahan.

Pagano showed during his one season as DC in Baltimore that when he had playmakers, his defenses could be stingy. Unfortunately, as a head coach in Indianapolis, Pagano's D was never stocked well. And it showed.

Stepping into a loaded defensive room in Chicago, Pagano sees similarities to the players he groomed and coached in Baltimore but knows he must prove it when the games matter.

"Going into that situation with coach [John] Harbaugh back in 2008, I did know Ed from coaching him in college, plus Samari Rolle, Chris McAlister," Pagano said. "They had a bunch of great players on that entire defense on the back end.

"Coming into that situation, I did have to earn the trust and respect of that unit, just like I do now. It's what you do day in and day out. Talk is cheap unless you walk the walk, unless you earn their respect and trust, build relationships. They're looking to see, 'OK, can this guy help me? Help me get to that next contract, get to a championship level?' whatever the question may be.

"It's definitely a process. I had to do it in Baltimore at the highest level and it's no different here. You've gotta earn their respect, earn their trust."

The Bears have insisted all offseason that the transition from Fangio to Pagano has been smooth. The new DC isn't planning to upset the apple cart, or trade the Ferrari he was given in for a Porsche just for the sake of change.

Given the playmakers the Bears boast, Pagano's success will be obvious if he's mostly an afterthought this season. If Chicago's defense regresses a lot (coming back to the pack in terms of takeaways is expected after an insane 2018 season) questions about the coordinator with be asked loudly in the Windy City. To keep that from happening, Pagano knows he simply needs to let his playmakers play.

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