The Chicago Bears were abysmal in 2016, winning three games with barely remarkable football and contribution from numerous unknowns. Chicago’s win total these last five years is 10, 8, 5, 6, 3. The quarterback carousel added Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley, to little positive effect. That said, two of the best rookies in football last year, Cody Whitehair and Jordan Howard, had a big impact. That, in itself, is telling. Chicago had two brilliant rookies…and still won just 3.
This offseason, they finally rid themselves of divisive quarterback Jay Cutler. Logic would tell you that they’d be early or midway through a rebuild – overhauling the roster, stockpiling young players. Logic would tell you there isn’t the veteran talent, and building a strong foundation for the future is vital. Logic would tell you quantity over quality would be a good draft strategy. Then you look at their offseason moves, and you wonder a little about their logic.
The Bears acquired three quarterbacks in the offseason, you might’ve heard. What was unusual about this is: one is a starter hand-picked by the head coach, one a starter hand-picked by the general manager. The third was Mark Sanchez. I’d say it’s unclear how this will work out, but unless I pixelated the word “disaster”, I’d be lying. Until Mitch Trubisky’s twitter account comes of age in the NFL, the Bears will start Mike Glennon’s neck at quarterback. Glennon isn’t necessarily a bad quarterback – he showed in flashes in Tampa arm strength, vision and precision. Unfortunately, when the pass rush comes, that’s the strength to throw the ball away, the vision to stare down the rush, and being precisely crap. Trubisky has, however, looked mighty impressive in the first two games of the pre-season and it looks likely that he will be starting sooner rather than later.
To aid QB transitions to the Midwest, Chicago have decided that a Cameron Meredith with a barely-functioning thumb is preferable as a WR1 to Alshon Jeffery. Jeffery has missed games with injury too, but topped 1,100 yards in 2014 and 1,400 in 2013. He’s playing on a one-year prove it deal in Philadelphia, and he will. Beyond Meredith, misfit retreads like Kendall Wright and Markus Wheaton will complement perennially snakebitten Kevin White.
Chicago do have Jordan Howard though, so expect a run-heavy attack in 2017. Though his durability was a concern given his high usage at Indiana and UAB, the rookie proved a tackle-breaking machine. Averaging 5.2 yards-per-carry, Howard topped 1,300 yards despite not starting until Week 4. I was surprised to see only 6 touchdowns, but that reflects more on the Bears. What reflects on Howard though, is his 14% drop rate being the highest for any player with 20 or more targets last year.
Howard has a great interior offensive line for him to run behind. If only they could do that every play without the opponent adjusting! Because, you know, the minute Howard tries to run behind right tackle Bobby Massie will be the minute he goes onto season-ending IR. And that’s a problem really. Massie and to a lesser extent left tackle Charles Leno Jr are not good. That is also where the pass rush is going to have a field day. That is why it is a good idea not to have a quarterback who turns into a panicking giraffe at the merest hint of pressure. Oh.
Vic Fangio’s 3-4 defense is, on paper, not too shabby. In Eddie Goldman and John Jenkins they have a solid rotation at nose tackle, and Akiem Hicks has flashed as a 3-4 end in the past. It’s a middling, unremarkable bunch.
The linebacker crew are exclusively the type of player whose description is prefixed with “when healthy”. Leonard Floyd, Jerrell Freeman, Lamarr Houston, Pernell McPhee, Danny Trevathan. Though in truth (and unsurprisingly for a team where the DC is also the linebacker coach), there is depth here with players like Willie Young, Sam Acho, Dan Skuta and Nick Kwiatkoski all good enough to contribute. This is a better coverage unit than pass-rushing unit. The best pass rushers are McPhee and Floyd, neither of whom you can guarantee to get on the field.
The Bears secondary was bad enough last year that Tracy Porter was their #1 corner. Now that task falls to the – as Fangio noted – increasingly nomadic Prince Amukamara. If you ask me though, their cornerback group still looks a mess. Remember when Kyle Fuller was a promising rookie? I’m still not entirely sure what a Cre’Von LeBlanc is.
Quintin Demps could be a decent addition to play alongside Adrian Amos at safety. I mean, that’s fairly good, I guess. Fangio’s scheme relies more on the front seven and attempts to scrimp and save in the secondary, which is partly why you can expect to play your receivers in fantasy when they come up against Chicago.
Players To Watch
Mike Glennon’s neck, I told you.
Jokes aside, seeing if Howard can match his 2016 power-running season to surpass 5 yards-per-carry will be fascinating. Sophomore attrition here is the last thing the Bears need.
Aspiring students of offensive line play could do worse than to gawp at what Kyle Long, Cody Whitehair and Josh Sitton do on the interior.
Elsewhere, once the first bit of attrition starts to hit Chicago, it’ll be about watching players you’re not sure are real. The current #1 for that is backup tight end MyCole Pruitt, who I think is actually an app. When another tight end, Dan Brown, scored a touchdown last year, one of my friends was like “…the author?”
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