From bolstering their defense to parting ways with all-time franchise leading scorer Robbie Gould, it’s been an eventful couple of months for the Chicago Bears. So, what should we expect from the 2016 squad?
First and foremost, the Bears defense should be much improved.
Pace inked the best linebacker on the free agent market, Danny Trevathan, to a four-year deal. Additionally, Pace agreed to terms with Jerrell Freeman, previously the second leading tackler for the Indianapolis Colts, on a three-year deal. Freeman recorded 11 total tackles in preseason while Trevathan tallied 5.
Then came along first-round pick Leonard Floyd, who also gives the Bears something to be excited about. Even at 235 lbs, the outside linebacker can be a dominant pass rusher.
Floyd racked up seven tackles during the preseason, one of which included a goal-line stand against the Cleveland Browns on September 1st. Browns running back Isaiah Crowell tried to score around the left end but Floyd turned Crowell’s efforts into a loss of 3 yards.
Third-round draft pick and defensive end Jonathan Bullard will add much-needed help to the Bears defensive line. Bullard had a flashy preseason, in which he notched 7 tackles and 1.5 sacks.
As long as the Bears defense don’t get swarmed with injuries, which they dealt with all preseason long, this unit should fare much better than last season. Chicago has already suffered a setback, as they will compete without outside linebacker Pernell McPhee for six weeks due to knee surgery over the offseason.
Similar to the defense, this offense cannot function to its full potential if there are injuries. Unfortunately, the Bears have already had multiple injuries to their squad.
With Alshon Jeffery as the top wide receiver, there are questions surrounding how many games he’ll be able to play this season.
Jeffery led the team in receiving last year, but calf, hamstring, groin and shoulder problems limited the former South Carolina wideout to nine games last season. Jeffery’s still facing health issues, as he suffered a strained hamstring in training camp.
After cutting ties with tight end Martellus Bennett, who’s now a member of the New England Patriots, Chicago now relies on injury prone tight end Zach Miller to carry the load.
Miller recorded admirable numbers last season with five TDs and 34 receptions. The 31-year-old missed the 2012, ’13 and ’14 seasons because of injuries and spent much of the preseason in the NFL’s concussion protocol.
In the midst of the Bears health issues, we have wideout Kevin White and an improved offensive line.
White is a 24-year-old from West Virginia University. The wide receiver is known for his physique at 6’3″, 216 pounds. His size and extraordinary athletic ability makes him a player to watch this upcoming season. The man should be a huge complement to Jay Cutler’s offense.
You know who also will be a huge complement to Jay Cutler’s offense? Offensive lineman Josh Sitton, who just recently signed a three-year contract with his former division rival.
Sitton’s a three-time Pro Bowl guard and adds depth to an already bolstered offensive line thanks to Kansas State product Cody Whitehair and tackle Bobby Massie.
Massie and company will be protecting a new backfield due to the departure of 30-year-old Matt Forte in March.
Jeremy Langford currently holds the position of the number 1 running back. Rookie Jordan Howard, who had 16 carries for 107 yards and a 16-yard touchdown in the Bears preseason finale, and Ka’Deem Carey, who ran for 36 yards and a touchdown in three preseason games, will be used situationally.
Last but not least, all eyes will be on quarterback Jay Cutler, who received mixed reviews from various NFL athletes this offseason.
Brothers Martellus and Michael Bennett had some choice words for Cutler in an interview with ESPN The Magazine. Michael called Cutler the “worst quarterback in the NFL” and Martellus added, “I’d be open and he’d throw into double coverage.”
Former Bears wideout Brandon Marshall begged to differ with those comments. On ESPN’s “First Take” Marshall said, “I truly believe if Alshon Jeffery stays healthy, and then you have Kevin White, if this rookie can come in and catch 55-plus balls, Jay Cutler can be an MVP this year.”
It should be interesting to see how Cutler works with his new offense this season.
The story of special teams this year is how the Bears will manage without Robbie Gould, the most accurate kicker in franchise history at 85.4 percent.
30-year-old Connor Barth is the new man in charge. Barth spent the preseason with the New Orleans Saints before being cut. The kicker played in 12 games for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2015 and was 23 of 28 in field goals with one missed extra point. Barth spent five games with John Fox and the Denver Broncos in 2014.
And with former Bears kick returner Marc Mariani being cut last Saturday, Deonte Thompson is listed as the kick returner and Eddie Royal is their punt returner for week 1 at the Houston Texans.
This season is truly dependent on if the Bears can stay healthy or not. If injuries run their course, we should be strapped in for a very long season. If not, significant improvements will be made and this team should be more competitive with the rest of the league. Playoffs? Not so sure.
As Chicago sports fans can we wait yet another year for the Bears to develop into prominence again? Well, we will see. If you love the NFL, what choice is there other than to hope for the best?
Prediction with injuries: 6-10
Prediction without injuries: 9-7
Chicago squares off against J.J. Watt and the Houston Texans on Sunday at noon.