Ryan Bukowiecki covers the Bears for WARR
The Chicago Bears have been riding high off the buzz of the Khalil Mack trade, combined with another always tense Packers week that will conclude with the season opener in Green Bay. It’s safe to say that the past week has been unlike many in the franchise’s history.
Such a week would be befitting the prior several for the Bears, which began with an early training camp start, a Hall of Fame Game with an induction of an all-time Bears great, a holdout of a possible future great and a five-game preseason that barely saw any action by the team’s starters, tasked as they are with leading what could be one of the NFL’s top turnarounds this year if everything goes right.
Through it all, we at WARR have gone through the team by its key positions to give a preview for the season.
It’s hard to structure a complete roster in the NFL despite what money and resources your franchise has. All teams have their dull spots. What is amazing about the Mack trade for the Bears is how close to complete it leaves the Bears’ roster. Prior to acquiring Mack, the team’s edge rush was a definite dull spot, it isn’t any longer with the former league Defensive Player of the Year on one end and a healthy Aaron Lynch on the other.
Chicago will have issues to deal with still unless 2018 plays out as a rare year where most of the guys stay healthy. That is life in the NFL, but as of the first injury report the entire team is healthy outside of safety DeAndre Houston-Carson, who has a broken arm and tight end Daniel Brown who is being hindered by a shoulder. Since the Bears are as healthy as they will be all season, lets finish our look at the rest of the position groups and their outlook for the 2018 campaign.
The Bears’ quarterback group is a good group, even if it is unproven. All the attention will be on second-year starter Mitchell Trubisky, and for good reason, he’s a hopeful franchise QB in the making.
Trubisky has a complete team around him unlike last season with upgrades a receiver and tight end, a return of two explosive running backs and some decent tweeking of the offensive line. That is only one side of the ball, but meanwhile Mitch can see on the other side a defense that kept him in games last year while flirting with a top-10 ranking, this is all before their recent gaining of a top-five defensive player in the entire league.
Everything a quarterback could want at Trubisky’s disposal now, including a head coach and system that is working with his strengths. As a backup Chase Daniel doesn’t incite a lot of confidence but is comfortable in the system and he got a lot of reps in the preseason, his play mostly worthy of putting worries to ease. On paper this group looks solid and if Trubisky can become the guy then this team can begin to reach new heights.
This group can easily be the strength of the entire team. Jordan Howard has had a terrific career so far for the Bears even with his suspect receiving abilities, but he beasts defenses with the ball tucked in his arm.
Howard was never properly utilized under previous offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains and it’s possible we still haven’t seen Howard’s best play yet. Howard has been working hard on his receiving skills so we will see if his new coaching will make a difference but Nagy is confident in him. Then you throw the human joystick Tarik Cohen and that’s quite the thunder and lightning combo. Cohen should have a huge year finding space among overworked opposition with so much attention paid to the better wide receivers and tight ends.
Nagy will surely use Cohen all over the field, he should be an exciting weapon. Benny Cunningham is a really solid option as a third stringer, he is a guy that can start in a pinch as well as be on the field for third downs. Throw in a good fullback in Michael Burton — who just has to show he can stay healthy — and this group is solid from head to toe.
A solid group, the offensive line features not a ton of obvious talent other than perhaps Kyle Long, who could even stand himself to get back to his old form. There are no obvious weaknesses, the tackles (Charles Leno Jr. and Bobby Massie) are average to above average and even better than that at times.
The interior looks to feature (from left to right): Eric Kush, Cody Whitehair and Long with James Daniels and Bradley Sowell backing things up as swing guard and swing tackle. Along with drafting Daniels, the biggest upgrade to the group from the off-season was the hiring of Harry Hiestand at offensive line coach.
We have talked about how great Hiestand was with the Bears before as well as his continued success at other stops. Harry is a really respected coach and he will get the most out of this group. Nagy didn’t have amazing offensive lineman in Kansas City, he just about had a solid five that got the job done. Nagy should have as much or more talent here than he had in Kansas City. This group may not be the best in the NFL but they are much better than plenty of other offensive line groups in the league.
The defensive backs are basically the same group as last year after a flurry of re-signings. Kyle Fuller, Bryce Callahan and Prince Amukamara were all resigned in the off-season and will make up the starting secondary moving forward along with Eddie Jackson.
A big question mark is why the Bears kept Marcus Cooper over Cre’von LeBlanc after cut day. Cooper has been very inconsistent as a Bear, and didn’t look better than his rocky first season to the preseason this year. To Cooper’s credit he does feature terrific measurables compared to LeBlanc and is more suited to play on the outside if the team has an injury. Kevin Toliver II also made the roster, somewhat unexpectedly. Like Cooper, he has the size and speed to play on the outside.
The safety group is full of draft picks with Jackson, Adrian Amos Jr., Deon Bush and DeAndre Houston-Carson. This group, like the corners, are solid in the starting spots but some concern exists on the reserves. Overall, the defensive back group may be an area the Bears try to improve next year but as long as the starters can play a majority of the season then this group should get the job done in the present.
The Bears needed to upgrade at place kicker after struggling to find a reliable option since Robbie Gould left.
General Manager Ryan Pace failed to take care of that problem last year but did not make the same mistake this year. Cody Parkey was brought in to clean up the place kicking and he has been good overall in his career to this point. Not a guy that has a booming leg and he hasn’t attempted a lot of field goals over 50 yards, Parkey still will be an upgrade over what the Bears have had.
As for punter, Pat O’Donnell narrowly won the punter battle in the preseason. O’Donnell has a strong leg and can boom it for sure but he has just been inconsistent.
Chris Tabor, the special teams coordinator, learned from the best in Dave Toub so Tabor may be able to coach up O’Donnell. Benny Cunningham and Tarik Cohen are returning as kick returner and punt returner respectively, both are solid returners with Cohen having the potential ability to give a Hester like boost when he gets the ball in space.
This season will be the first time in a while that Bears Nation does not have to deeply question any position group heading into the season. All the areas of need have been addressed fittingly and the majority of the team is under the age of 27. The new coaching regime has also did a nice job of keeping guys healthy so far to this point.
Perhaps Nagy and his guys were being overly cautious, but it is important to be as healthy as possible coming into the season because of this team’s recent past. It, for once, feels like the Bears truly took care of everything in time for a season and aren’t just trying to figure things out as they get deeper into the fall.
That said it doesn’t mean the roster is perfect or there won’t be areas needing improvement. But the Bears went into last year with obvious holes on the roster in places like receiver, tight end and place kicker. This year is different, there are no glaring obvious holes looking at the depth chart.
So all that’s left is to show the improvement and that campaign starts around 7 pm central time on Sunday night.
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