DEFENSE: By now, it’s pretty well known that the Bears defense is one of the top units in the entire NFL. Not just defensively, but overall. Including offenses and special teams. You can scrutinize the talent from the first to the last man on the defensive side of the ball including players that will be working outside the NFL in this camp and it would be difficult to find a glaring weakness.
Every position will have a hard cut if not multiple ones that will be excruciatingly painful to make, and the Bears will have their fingers crossed on them making it through waivers to sign to their practice squad. The talent is eye popping and seemingly every one of the 90 camp bodies are performing at an impressive level to this point in camp. Keep that in mind when you’ll no doubt be scrutinizing my choices. There’s just not enough spots to go around so I’m going to do my best. Fortunately, most choices will be no brainers.
DEFENSIVE LINEMEN:(5)Akiem Hicks: Here’s the first of the no brainers I just mentioned. Since being signed by the Bears as a mid level free agent Hicks has performed as anything but. To say he has been the biggest bargain free agent (before getting his much deserved extension last season) Bears GM Ryan Pace has signed in his tenure would be a vast understatement. The fact that he has not been an All Pro every season since arriving in Chicago may be the biggest snub in the NFL during that period of time. Forget the pro bowl. There are maybe only 2 other interior defensive linemen who you can even make a case for over Hicks in Fletcher Cox of the Eagles and Aaron Donald of the Rams the last 3 years. Just try and block him with one man and you’re offensive gameplan gets flushed down the toilet. Assigning two blockers to Hicks doesn’t guarantee neuturalizing him either. Expect a second consecutive All Pro season from Hicks.
Eddie Goldman: Goldman is another one of the Bears interior defensive linemen that has not gotten enough mention by the national media or accolades from the league. Goldman is simply one of the best nose tackles in football. A one man wrecking crew versus the run, Goldman is an unmovable and impenetrable wall of a human being. When he’s asked to he’s a pocket collapsing machine using his raw brute strength to walk helpless blockers back into the laps of Quarterbacks. Goldman is incredibly nimble in short areas as he can disgard linemen like ragdolls and run down Quarterbacks and Running backs in the backfield for big losses whenever he is let loose. As far as individual achievment is concerned it’s a well deserved pro bowl nomination or bust for Goldman.
Bilal Nichols: Nicholsis a candidate to not only be the Bears breakout performer of the year, but the entire leagues. The only thing that might prevent that from happening is how stacked the Bears are at defensive line. Only so many snaps to go around. However, if he packs on the stats in nickle situations he may be one of three defensive lineman that makes a pro bowl for the Bears. Unlikely, given the vast talent in the NFC at his position but if he stacks up the pressures, TFL’s, QB hits, forced fumbles, batted balls and sacks which he is capable of don’t completely dismiss it out of hand. Especially given the attention the other monsters on this unit will be getting by their offensive opponents.
Roy Robertson-Harris: Speakingof breakout players Robertson-Harris is as good of a candidate as any. RRH is someone who packed on muscle weight to man the 3-4 DE spot after getting drafted as an edge rusher. He has taken to the position and has been impressive whenever he has been given snaps. He fits right into the culture of the team as being both humble yet confident and has worked for every snap he’s gotten and with nary a peep of complaint coming out of his mouth for playing time. Outside of his natural size and talent, he brings leadership and intelligence along with positional versatility as it looks like he’s lost little athletically in spite of adding all that extra weight to play on the interior of the line to hold up against the run. In a pinch I’m sure he would have no issues playing Edge Rusher if the need should arise.
Nick Williams: Williamsgets the last spot on the Defensive Line as he adds positional versatility and has worked his way on this roster as a reliable and dependable rotational player. Williams shows good instincts and IQ to earn himself some important snaps should an injury occur, as well as holding things down when giving his teammates a well deserved blow. His spot on the roster is far from guaranteed as there are a couple of guys breathing down his neck for a spot, so he’ll have to be a trusted core member of the special teams unit and play as many roles as he can in all phases.
Khalil Mack: Meet the newest face of the franchise. Mack is the most talented and the most feared member of the Bears and perhaps the entire league. Few if any have the ability he has but I can guarantee you no one has the same blend of pure physical talent to go along with the intangibles he has. This is a man who gives his every essence in the film room, weight room and the practice field. He is a man of few words but leads by example. Not just in his play on game day but in every aspect it takes to be the ultimate football player. It’s scary to think Mack actually has even more to give from last season given he missed all of training camp and two regular season games not to mention he played hurt in 2 others. This is a man who is focused on being the best at his position to have ever played the game. Is there anyone willing to say he won’t get there? I know I’m not betting against him. Well, maybe Bill Belichick.
Leonard Floyd: Floyd is one of the top breakout player candidates for this Bears team – and posibly the entire NFL – for several reasons. One, he’ll be playing all his games with the use of both hands. He was restricted by having to wear a club on his hand for about half the season in 2018 due to a broken bone sustained during his 3rd pre-season game versus the Bengals. It’s no coincidence that his second half was far more productive than his first. He’ll also have a full season of a healthy Mack getting all the attention with a full training camp freeing Floyd up to be single blocked. Keep in mind, it’s a contract year for Floyd too. He still has a season to go after this one after the Bears picked up his 5th year option, but teams generally extend players (especially identified core players) before their last season contract ends to avoid a bidding war when they become free agents. Expect a lot of production from Floyd and Mack with the entire defense benefiting because of it.
Isaiah Irving: Irving has been here for this long for a reason. He’s obviously been fully evaluated and properly developed in the Bears vision of what the backup edge rusher role is. He’s still very young and there is no way to find out if he’s ready for an expanded role if you don’t give him one. Irving has flashed plenty, but as you’d expect from a very young former UDFA signing from a small school, his consistency needs to improve. He’ll get the chance this season to show if he can be more consistent.
Aaron Lynch: Originally, I thought about leaving Lynch off, but none of the UDFA guys have distinguished themselves enough to justify replacing him with. Plus, he has been treated as one of the teams important players as he has not played in any preseason games yet. While Lynch has performed when called upon his injury history has come up to bite him and did so last season too, especially when it mattered most, the last 2 games and in the playoffs. That said when he does play there is no denying the fact he is a professional Edge defender who gives this teams Edge unit some much needed reliable depth.
INSIDE LINEBACKERS: (5)
Roquan Smith: Itwould be pretty hard to call one of the top rookies of the 2018 draft class as a breakout player but that is exactly what I am proposing here. With an entire offseason under the watchful eye of the organization to get acclimated to the routine of being an NFL player while also getting professionally coached I see him improving as an individual player from year one to year two. I also see him being used better by Chuck Pagano as a blitzer which is a strength of his and should see him pile on the stats. Add to that, all I’ve been hearing about from all the local media covering the Bears in camp thus far is how improved Smith is in coverage. Expect an all pro type season from Smith.
Danny Trevathan: Trevathanis part 2 of a dynamic duo at the inside linebacker position for the Bears. He has the same skill set and overall game Smith has but only at slightly less speed and quickness. Trevathan can fill in the run game as well as pursue sideline to sideline. He can cover backs, slots, and tight ends. At current he’s the quarterback of the defense and the heart and soul inspirational leader of the defense. This is also a big year for him as he is set to hit free agency in 2020 so he is in essence playing for a contract whether it be here or with another team. With Smith still a ways away from free agency there is a chance Trevathan does get resigned, but with Smith looking ready to take over as the defenses quarterback it’s feeling like this may be Trevathan’s last hoorah with the Bears.
Nick Kwiatkoski: Kwiatkoski is your classic banger. When coming downhill with his pads behind him he’s a load to handle. He isn’t athletic enough to cover one on one but is smart enough to occupy his zone in coverage. He is also an excellent blitzer which fits right in line with his new DC’s philosophy which leads one to believe he’ll be used in some pressure packages. He can also play the edge in a pinch and is a core special teamer which solidifies his roster spot with the team.
Josh Woods: Woods is one of these smallish hybrid type Linebackers who brings athleticism to be able to play in a wide variety of roles and in specialty packages on defense, as well as being a contributor on special teams. He has flashed in camp and is well liked by this organization which gets him on this roster.
Kevin Pierre-Louis: With his proven track record on special teams Pierre-Louis brings a comfort level to squeeze his way onto the 53-man roster. He is also a known commodity by Matt Nagy coming from Kansas City. He has fit in with the team culture and has performed at Linebacker in camp thus far. It’s unusual to keep 5 off ball linebackers on a 3-4 defensive roster but with the versatility of several players on this team to play multiple positions in a pinch the Bears have the luxury to do so while fortifying their special teams unit.
Kyle Fuller: How does one improve from an all pro season the year before while leading the league in interceptions? I guess it’s a matter of how you view improvement. Fuller was one of the hardest Cornerbacks to complete a pass against when targeted 67.6 passer rating/#2) while being one of the highest targeted Corners in the league to the detriment of said opposing offenses. I suppose the Bears opposing offensive coaches weren’t convinced of Fuller’s breakout 2017 season seeing it as more fluke than breakout. I am pretty convinced that does not happen again this season. So consequently with less chances to make plays usually comes less statistics along with them. If teams do avoid throwing to his side of the field thus shutting off one side of the perimeter of the defense in the passing game one can argue that is as good as shutting down the passing game by making plays. You just hope the voters who elect pro bowlers and select all pros realize this and give Fuller his just due.
Prince Amukamara: As much as players benefit from playing with elite talent around them they can also have it hurt them. As far as being recognized anyway. The fact is Amukamara has turned into one of the best press man corners in the league and his coverage skills can be referred to as sticky. His issue is comparative to all the stat monsters he plays along side with he can seem as being just a guy. Especially as he was never considered to have top ball skills. People locally and with the team know better. Aside from being a good player he is also one of the leaders on this team and brings with him a boat-load of intangibles that contribute to the development of the younger guys and to the winning cutlture this organization values. Amukamara is heading to free agency in 2020 and is playing for a contract with the Bears or more likely another team as he is aporoaching 30. Expect another stellar season from Amukamara.
Buster Skrine: By contrast to Amukamara, Skrine looks to directly benefit from being surrounded by the Bears elite talent. Also, by being in Pagano’s system which will make use of his aggressive style and blitz ability. To this point in camp he has been one of the most impressive players by all reports. So, for those fretting about the loss of Bryce Callahan, relax. It looks as though the Nickle position is in good hands. It remains to be seen if he can limit his high penalty number but thus far he’s looking like an excellent under the radar signing.
Duke Shelly: Judging by all reports out of camp Shelly has held his own against the ones. He’s also shown his agressive physical style in both pre-season games and looks like a pretty good and willing tackler. Bears clearly see him as their future starting Nickle until he proves otherwise. If all goes according to plan, it will be Skrine getting the majority of this season’s snaps while Shelly gets eased in slowly concentrating on development as a slot corner while providing solid play on special teams.
Kevin Tolliver: Tolliver looks to be Amukamara’s replacement in 2020 as the Bears other boundry corner opposite Fuller. Provided he plays well in his current role. He has impressive size at 6’2″ 203 but doesn’t give up speed or agility in spite of his frame. Flips his hips well for a man his size. He also played well last season and limited his rookie mistakes when given a chance while gaining valuable expierience. It’ll be interesting to see how many snaps he gets and if he’ll get any in the slot.
Eddie Jackson: When Ed Reed is projecting you as a possible hall of famer you know your star is rising. That’s exactly what happened when Reed was asked who he sees as being one of the next to get the call to the hall at Safety. Reed mentioned some of the guys who played in his era but singled out Jackson as the only current player he thinks is well on his way. Jackson is chasing Reed’s career and has his sights set on topping the numbers Reed put up in his HOF career. A pursuit that would be real hard to catch but given his start who can doubt him.
Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix: Dix another alumn of Alabama and former teammate of Jackson’s is a ballhawking safety himself who may not have the same juice athletically as Jackon but has proven to be someone who has top ball skills. The biggest criticism with him is the fact he will gamble and thus let some big plays get behind him. He has also been questioned about his willingness to tackle at times particularly by the Green Bay media and especially by their fanbase. Packers ponied up big coin to get Adrian Amos so essentially it’s a trade of one safety for the other even though Dix did get traded to Washington mid season in 2018. Dix signed a one year prove it deal so I see the Bears getting Dix at his best. Expect lots of picks from the backend of the defense in 2019.
Deon Bush: Bush appears to have a bit of a chip on his shoulder after the Bears signed Dix and not giving him a shot as the starting safety opposite Jackson. He played well as a reserve and had a hell of a playoff game replacing Jackson but he’s taken his play to the next level in camp and in the few snaps he got in the Bears preseason games. It’s looking like Bush may get his shot next season as it’s unlikely Dix gets resigned. Jackson will be getting paid the franchise money at the Safety position soon. Perhaps mid season. Bears Restructured Charles Leno’s contract for a reason. If Dix does play poorly Bush will get his shot sooner rather than later.
Sherrick McManis: McManishas improved each and every season as a defensive back. McManis flourished under the tutelage of Ed Donatel jr. With Pagano being an accomplished Defensive Backs coach I do not see a regression in McManis’ play. He is learning a new position being moved to Safety but I see a smooth and seamless transition from the special teams leader and one of the teams captains. He will hold his spot as the teams longest tenured player after he secures a roster spot on the 2019 53 man roster.
DeAndre Houston-Carson: Houston-Carsonis a guy who appears to have secured his position as special teams ace and core player on that unit. Very reminiscent of the aforementioned McManis. He appears to also have gained enough trust to be in the rotation on defense should he be called upon to replace an injured or fatigued player. I see him being on this roster no final cutdown day.
Final Thoughts: Most of these picks were too easy to make. There are just 24 players two less than on offense, but many players have the positional versatility to play multiple positions if need be. There will also be plenty of guys making it to the practice squad who can move up a rung if attrition should hit them. Aside from maybe depth at Edge this defense is as complete of a unit as any in the league. With a relentless and powerful Defensive Line, Two Edges that will be nearly impossible to block, two smart athletic ILB’s who can blitz, stop the run and cover and a back 4 covering all 4 Quarters of the field like blankets, the Bears are as good of a bet to be the best defense in the NFL as any.