Bear-ly Possible? Maybe Not…
As the Bears prepare to take the field for the first time in Training Camp-apalooza 2016, we present a little food for thought here that Leonard Floyd was too full to finish. As Ryan Pace continues to build this roster, this team’s injury margin for error remains smaller than the Minnesotas, Green Bays, Carolinas, Seattles and Arizonas of the NFC. Idle football off-season minds can start working with actual news and reality as teams charge toward the first full week of September. But here are a few thoughts about this team that’ve passed between my ears over the past week or so, and you can decide whether I should’ve slathered the top of my head with sunscreen, too.
2nd and 3rd before 1st
As we anxiously await Saturday’s first contact practice at camp to see how Leonard Floyd stands up to attacking NFL linemen, the thinking here is guard Cody Whitehair and defensive linemen Jonathan Bullard will play a greater role for the Bears this season than their top draft pick. Even with his role simplified compared to what it was at Georgia, there’s still a physical and mental learning curve that might not be as steep for the two guys in the trenches. Whitehair started for four years at Kansas State, Bullard the equivalent of three at Florida, and many scouts believed both could’ve been drafted even higher than where they landed with the Bears. I’m still confident Vic Fangio can turn Floyd into the player the team projects, and will make some impact plays in 2016. I just think the steadier contributions will come from the other two.
White will be a Beast
….eventually. Call him an “advanced” rookie because he had to settle for just being around the team, getting a knack for NFL life, as well as mental playbook reps and a month of actual on-field practice. And that will help him now. He had an big-target NFL body before his injury a year ago and that size and speed figures to win a lot of battles down the road, along with his share this season. But his limited route tree he had at West Virginia has to grow, and how quickly that happens immediately affects the level of his impact this fall. Is 65 to 70 catches (4-plus per game) too much to ask? If….if…he, Alshon Jeffery, Eddie Royal and Zach Miller don’t miss significant time and those weapons are available options all season, White’s numbers could exceed that.
Top 10 “D”
Consider Coordinator Vic Fangio taking over a unit that had its two worst seasons in franchise history, and taking it from 30th overall in 2013 and 2014, to 14th in 2015. And he didn’t have close to the pieces he needed. So many square pegs for round holes. Now, add Danny Trevathan and Jerrell Freeman as an inside linebacker tandem that can’t be surpassed elsewhere around the league. Throw in an end who can anchor one side of the line in Akiem Hicks to pair with an ascending young nose tackle in Eddie Goldman. Pernell McPhee’s knee needs to be ready, with Willie Young and Lamarr Houston rotating in. With health, that’s a front seven to be excited about for the first time, post-Lovie. Now, the secondary is another issue, needing Tracy Porter to stay healthy, Kyle Fuller to put it all together and Adrian Amos and a safety-to-be-determined required to make more plays on the ball. Between the improved first two lines of defense and Year Two of defensive back tutorship under Ed Donatell, I’m sayin’ there’s a chance.
The Houston Texans are a better team than the Bears right now, and should be a better team this season. But if they open the season without J.J. Watt (back surgery), Brock Osweiler feels the weight of $72 million ($37 million guaranteed) with a green receiving corps outside of DeAndre Hopkins, and the new-look Bears defense can create some chaos and uncertainty for the hosts, it’s not out of the realm of possibility the Bears could steal that opener, depending on their health going in. So after that? It’s Philadelphia at home, what should be a dreadful Cowboys defense in Dallas, then Detroit at Soldier Field. Of course, this franchise has to figure out a way to beat the Lions, which they haven’t done since 2012. The biggest test to a four-win first month would seem to be the first one. They pull that off, maybe that baby bear baseball team won’t steal all the attention come October. If they get there.
In closing, I have not been sipping the Bears Kool-Aid that on-air partner Dan Jiggetts loves to swig. But who knows? Maybe I needed to shampoo with some of that sunscreen, after all.