The 2018 Chicago Bears finished with the league’s number one overall defense, an insane amount of takeaways, and cruised to their first NFC North Division crown since 2010. In the first round of the playoffs, a “double doink” heard around the world, brought the Bears season to a screeching halt. This season, the Bears will be starting with a new kicker and a whole lot of motivation following their early exit. Will they be able to bounce back from the rough ending to an otherwise incredible season? Take a walk with me as I attempt to crack their 53-man roster and what to expect from them this season.
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Maybe more of an interesting off-season than one would expect from a team that ran away with their division title and played a home game in the first round of the playoffs last year. Good teams, along with having a talented group of players, normally have a good coaching staff. The first big domino that fell to begin the off-season, was the 2018 defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, departing to accept a position to become the new Head Coach of the Denver Broncos. With big shoes to fill at the Defensive Coordinator position, the Bears struck a deal with former Indianapolis Colts Head Coach Chuck Pagano, to serve as his replacement. Along with Pagano’s experience as a head coach in the NFL, he has worked as a defensive coordinator in the past with the Baltimore Ravens in 2011. Before that, he worked as the Ravens secondary coach and even before that was a secondary coach with the Cleveland Browns.
As for the players, the dominoes started to fall in March, when free agency began. Many speculated whether or not the Bears would retain one of, if not both Bryce Callahan and Adrian Amos. Most speculators had the Bears retaining at least one of them, however, they didn’t bring back either one. Instead, General Manager Ryan Pace went in a different direction. He brought in safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, running back Mike Davis, defensive back Buster Skrine, wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, and a few smaller free-agent pieces.
Jordan Howard was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles in exchange for a conditional sixth-round draft pick. It was rumored that Howard would be playing elsewhere to open 2019 for quite some time, but that move opened the door for the Bears to acquire a new running back.
GM Ryan Pace traded up in this year’s draft to select running back David Montgomery. He also drafted Riley Ridley, Duke Shelley, Kerrith Whyte Jr., and Stephen Denmark. You can read more about those selections here.
Matt Nagy’s extensive playbook will be rolled out even further this season. For the most part, other than a few spots, the offensive personnel will be the same. Bears fans everywhere are hoping Mitchell Trubisky will take the next step forward that many, myself included, think that he can. After ex-head coach John Fox set Trubisky back light-years, he improved a lot under the tutelage of new head coach Matt Nagy. Trubisky’s completion percentage rose from 59.4% in 2017 to 66.6% in 2018. His passer rating went up from 77.5 to 95.4 as well.
The offensive line is very underrated when fully healthy. According to Footballoutsiders.com, the Bears ranked seventh in pass protection, with an adjusted sack rate of 6%. They were also tied for the eighth fewest sacks allowed (33). Health is important because the running game was a lot better when Kyle Long was on the field. The Bears hope he will be on the field plenty this season. The running game should be improved with the additions of Montgomery and Davis. Cohen is explosive and will be used as a receiver often, but Montgomery and Davis will make the attack less predictable. Nagy will have plenty of options, and even more so when you look at their wide receiver depth.
The defense is stacked. Just before the 2018 season, general manager Ryan Pace made a blockbuster trade acquiring All-Pro linebacker Khalil Mack from the Oakland Raiders. Mack, along with the development of some young players, made an already good defense great. The Bears defense ranked number one in many categories, including DVOA (-25.6%). The DVOA stat was good enough for 12th all-time.
Having a new defensive coordinator will be an adjustment for the players, but one I expect them to make. Reports of the transition have been good so far. The talent throughout is remarkable and if the transition is truly as seamless as it sounds, the defense could be even better than it was last year. Certainly, that’s a scary thought for the rest of the NFL. Of course, predicting them to duplicate the success they had a year ago would be preposterous, right? With Chuck Pagano’s finger on the pulse, there is expected to be more blitzing. As if Eddie Jackson needed to resemble Ed Reed‘s style of play any more. Look for Pagano to scheme Jackson into some old Ed Reed type of plays. Along with getting more aggressive in general.
Predicting the 53 Man Roster
QB (2): Mitchell Trubisky, Chase Daniel
Tyler Bray is the odd man out, but there really isn’t much question about it. Chase Daniel was brought in ahead of last season, mainly because of his familiarity with Head Coach Matt Nagy and his system, to be the primary backup and did a serviceable job when called upon. Trubisky is the clear cut starter and will look to progress even more in year two of Nagy’s system.
RB (4): David Montgomery, Tarik Cohen, Mike Davis, Kerrith Whyte
Tarik Cohen will be the only returning member of this group. David Montgomery and Mike Davis look like they are in a competition for the lead-back duties, but they aren’t. Davis will get work, but Montgomery will eventually be the guy. Matt Nagy’s eyes light up when he talks about him. Between Montgomery, Cohen, and Davis, this should be a very fun and versatile group to watch.
Ryan Nall has impressed early on, but Kerrith Whyte Jr. was selected in the seventh round of this year’s draft. Whyte Jr. provides the Bears with more speed and elusiveness which could wind up being more beneficial on special teams, at least for this season. The front office won’t want to risk losing him, in hopes that he can land on their practice squad. The more likely scenario, they will take the risk that Nall will carry through to the practice squad.
WR (7): Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, Anthony Miller, Cordarrelle Patterson, Riley Ridley, Javon Wims, Marvin Hall
Two seasons ago, the Bears depth at wide receiver was more shallow than your average backyard kiddie pool. Last year, the additions of Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, and Anthony Miller, helped solidify the position. All three of them will be returning this season, and Robinson, in particular, looks terrific. The chemistry between him and Trubisky has been on display since the beginning of camp. The additions of Cordarrelle Patterson and Riley Ridley could be huge. Patterson will likely be used on special teams and as a swingman between wide receiver and running back. Javon Wims has shown major potential and growth in camp this season. He’s even getting into competitive tussles with veteran cornerback Prince Amukamara. Marvin Hall makes the team because he’s been good in camp and has the versatility to play special teams.
TE (4): Trey Burton, Adam Shaheen, Ben Braunecker, Bradley Sowell
A returning group for the most part. Except for Bradley Sowell who is making the switch from tackle to tight end. That means he won’t have to report as an eligible receiver to referees the next time Matt Nagy decides to call “Santa’s sleigh.” Keeping Sowell makes sense if Nagy wants to include more jumbo packages. I think the Bears will keep four tight ends, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they decided to go with three. Undrafted free agent Ian Bunting has made an impact receiving. Ultimately, I think he falls short of the roster and maybe winds up on the practice squad. Dax Raymond has a lot of potential, but he needs grooming as well.
OL (8): Charles Leno, Jr., Cody Whitehair, James Daniels, Kyle Long, Bobby Massie, Ted Larsen, Rashaad Coward, Alex Bars
Three of these guys have played in Pro Bowls, including two first-timers last season, Cody Whitehair and Charles Leno Jr. Kyle Long was brought back on a restructured deal. James Daniels and Cody Whitehair switched back to their more natural positions, as Daniels moves to center and Whitehair goes back to left guard. So far, the reviews about the switch have been good. Ted Larsen provides good depth and can move around. Last year, Coward transitioned from defensive line to offensive line. He’s made significant progress and should make the squad as a backup tackle. Alex Bars is a highly regarded undrafted free agent out of Notre Dame. His potential alone could help him make the team. Cornelius Lucas and T.J. Clemmings are fighting with Bars for that last spot. If the Bears decide to pick someone other than Bars, I think it’ll be Clemmings. He is the more talented lineman, in my opinion.
DL (5): Akiem Hicks, Eddie Goldman, Bilal Nichols, Roy Robertson-Harris, Jonathan Bullard
Eddie Goldman has become known for soaking up the run game as a solid nose tackle. Also, the push he gets during passing situations is very underrated. Akiem Hicks is also one of the best in the game. Bilal Nichols looks to improve even more this season and had a tremendous camp. Look for him to have a breakout season. I think Robertson-Harris makes it and Bullard is a closer call, but ultimately makes the roster as well.
Edge (4): Khalil Mack, Leonard Floyd, Aaron Lynch, Isaiah Irving
Unarguably, this group is headlined by one of the best defensive players in the game, Khalil Mack. Leonard Floyd is also a lock to start on the other side. Fans have been disappointed by his lack of sacks, but Floyd has been rock solid in other areas. Aaron Lynch has been brought back on a one-year deal. Isaiah Irving is the last guy I have making the roster. Chuck Harris, Kylie Fitts, James Vaughters, and Mathieu Betts are all battling for a fifth edge spot, but I don’t think it will be necessary on the main roster.
ILB (5): Roquan Smith, Danny Trevathan, Nick Kwiatkoski, Joel Iyiegbuniwe, Kevin Pierre-Louis,
Roquan Smith and Danny Trevathan headline this group. Smith led the Bears with 122 tackles as a rookie last season. Three tackles shy of Brian Urlacher‘s Bears rookie record of 125. Trevathan is good in coverage and swarms the ball. He had 102 combined tackles last year which is the most he’s had since joining the Bears. Kwiatkoski, Pierre-Louis, and Iyiegbuniwe will provide the depth and special teams units. Josh Woods is the bubble guy, but I think he’s expendable.
CB (6): Kyle Fuller, Prince Amukamara, Buster Skrine, Duke Shelley, Kevin Toliver II, Stephen Denmark
Fuller is the lockdown corner and Amukamara will be starting opposite. Both of them had exceptional years in 2018. Fuller tied for the league lead in interceptions with seven and had the most passes defended with 21. Amukamara has looked terrific in camp, many have raved about it being his best ever. The big additions to watch are Buster Skrine and Duke Shelley. Those two are competing for the starting nickelback role, but it looks like Skrine has the early edge. Kevin Toliver II has looked good and I think he makes the roster. Stephen Denmark is a freak of nature who might make it just so the Bears don’t lose him. The fringe guy that I don’t have making the roster, as of now, is John Franklin III. He’s looked very good in camp and has come a long way from his Last Chance U days. Franklin III made the switch from quarterback to wide receiver, and then last year from wide receiver to cornerback. Despite making a lot of progress, I think he will fall just short of the roster.
SAF (5): Eddie Jackson, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Deon Bush, DeAndre Houston-Carson, Sherrick McManis
Not much needs to be said about Eddie Jackson. He comes into the 2019 season as one of the best playmaking safeties in the league. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix replaces Adrian Amos, setting up an Alabama renewed tandem with Clinton-Dix and Jackson. McManis makes the transition from corner to safety. He’s on the bubble to make the roster, but I think he does because of his great special teams work. The same thing goes for DeAndre Houston-Carson.
ST (3): P Patrick O’Donnell, LS Patrick Scales, K NO CLUE
The punter and long snapper positions are pretty set. In regards to the kicker, the hottest topic going into the off-season remains the hottest topic at the end of training camp. I don’t personally think the Bears can risk going into the season with what they currently have, but right now what they have is Elliott Fry and Eddy Pineiro. I don’t want to pick between either one of these two. But if I have to, I’ll go with Fry. Simply because in the pre-season game against the Panthers, he made his only attempt from 43 yards while Pineiro went 1-for-2 with a miss from 48 yards out.
The NFC North Division as a whole should be improved. On paper, the Bears are the most complete team. Coach Matt Nagy completely changed the culture at Halas Hall. Adding good character guys like Chuck Pagano, certainly won’t hurt that.
As a Bears fan, this is the most excited I’ve been going into a season since 2011, the year after the Bears won the NFC North Division and were eliminated in the Conference Championship game by the Green Bay Packers. Injuries are a huge question mark going into every NFL season. Fortunately, for the Bears, they didn’t have to deal with too many issues last season. If that’s the case again this year, knock on wood, given the fact that much of the team from last year is returning, the Bears should be a dominant force once again. I think the offense has major potential to improve and the defense should be lights out.
Their schedule is daunting, but they have the right group of guys to be able to navigate through it. Defense wins championships. That’s all it really takes. But if Trubisky can take the next step and continue improving his accuracy, this team could go a long way this season. The thing that gets talked about the most is the missed kick by Cody Parkey in the final seconds of the playoff game last year. The thing that doesn’t get talked about is the fact that Mitchell Trubisky led the Bears downfield in the final minute of the game and set them up in a position to win.
I expect the Bears to build off the experience from last season, and host many more parties at #ClubDub this season.
Season Prediction: 11-5; NFC North Division Title. Realistic Super Bowl Contenders.
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