Chicago Bears

Bears Training Camp Preview: 3 burning questions for the linebackers

Bears Training Camp Preview: 3 burning questions for the linebackers

With training camp starting later this month, CSN Chicago’s Chris Boden and JJ Stankevitz are looking at three burning questions for each of the Bears’ units heading into Bourbonnais. Today’s group: The linebacking corps.

1. Can Floyd be Beasley 2.0?

At this time a year ago, Falcons fans were anxious that picking Vic Beasley eighth overall in 2015 was a mistake after a four-sack rookie season. Fifteen-and-a-half sacks later on Dan Quinn’s young, fast defense that improved as the season went on, they’re claiming they believed in him all along. There seems to be less doubt about the ninth overall pick from 2016 among Bears fans, but the anxiousness now revolves around Leonard Floyd’s ability to stay healthy for a full season after various aches and pains, topped off by two concussions in five weeks, from which he didn’t fully recover until February.

With approximately eight to 10 additional pounds on his frame, the first step is getting through Bourbonnais and three preseason games. If he can pull it off and miss minimal time, Beasley’s year two numbers might be a bit much, but there’s no reason to think Floyd can’t at least approach it.

“It’s like night and day compared to last season,” said Floyd.  “I’m doing a much better job this year with my weight compared to last year. I came in way, way lighter than I did this year.”

“It slows down, they understand it, they’re not thinking, they’re reacting,” said John Fox about the difference between a player’s rookie and sophomore season. “I expect that, and I’ve seen it already, even in the offseason. He’s a really good talent. I’d rather understate and let him over-produce, but both mentally and physically, he’s gonna take a step.”

[3 burning questions: Defensive line]

2. How much Pernell pacing in practice?

It’s an important year for Ryan Pace’s first big personnel decision. It’s become clear the Ravens chose not to re-sign Pernell McPhee two years ago because of fears about the wear and tear on his legs at the weight he was at. The first half of his first season, McPhee lived up to billing. Since then? Five sacks in 16 games. He seems now to be in the 270-pound range after starting his Bears career in the 280/285-pound range. He’s also coming off labrum surgery, an injury that slowed him once he finally came off the PUP list last season. The important thing will be having him full strength for the season-opening Murderer’s Row in a 19-day span of Atlanta, Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh and Green Bay.

“Dominate and destroy,” were the words that only McPhee can come up with when asked about the pass rush ceiling for the outside linebackers. “Every opponent that we face, and showing the world why we’ve got these guys in the room. That’s my focus. That’s what I wanna do and I think what we’re gonna do.”

3. “Kwit” a quick study?

It would be shocking if inside linebacker Danny Trevathan doesn’t begin the season on the same Physically Unable to Perform list McPhee started on a year ago after tearing the patellar tendon in his knee in November. Nick Kwiatkowski missed almost all of his rookie preseason with a hamstring pull, but started the last six weeks between Trevathan’s injury and Jerrell Freeman’s suspension. And he didn’t look overwhelmed. Now, potentially alongside Freeman’s standout play and guidance, Kwiatkowski must be ready to slide in and take the next step in a way Fox expressed confidence in all the second-year players.

“He’s trying to absorb a lot of things, trying to get his footwork better, his pass rush better, just like all of us strive to every day,” said Freeman.

Bears-Steelers: Best case, worst case and prediction

Bears-Steelers: Best case, worst case and prediction

The best case scenario

The Bears play like they did in Week 1 against the Atlanta Falcons, only without those two blown coverages and drops near/in the end zone. This means Mike Glennon doesn’t turn the ball over and tries to stretch the field a bit with Markus Wheaton back. And if Glennon can successfully complete some deep balls, perhaps it opens up more opportunities for Jordan Howard to get to the second level of the Steelers’ defense and break off a couple of explosive runs. 

Here’s where it’s worth noting Ben Roethlisberger’s home/road splits from 2016, too:
Home: 70.8 completion percentage, 20 TDs, 5 INTs, 116.7 rating
Road: 59.4 completion percentage, 9 TDs, 8 INTs, 78.4 rating

If last year’s road Roethlisberger shows up, the Bears could have a chance to keep things close, as they did against Atlanta. It’ll come down to whichever team makes the fewest mistakes, and if the Bears can eliminate turnovers on offense and special teams and avoid allowing big-chunk plays on defense, they could have another chance to win at the end of the game. And if they do, they can’t afford more drops near or in the end zone. 

The worst-case scenario

This starts with Glennon turning the ball over and, like last week, the game effectively being out of reach by halftime against a team eyeing a playoff run. Pittsburgh is likely to load the box against Howard and the Bears running game until Glennon proves he can stretch the field, and if he can’t, it could be another long day for last year’s second-leading rusher in the NFL. 

The Bears’ defense may have success rendering ineffective Le’Veon Bell — who’s averaging only 3.2 yards per carry in two games — but the Antonio Brown/Martavis Bryant/JuJu Smith-Schuster trio presented a difficult challenge for the secondary. That challenge will become even more difficult if the defense has to deal with sudden-change and short-field situations. 

Prediction: Steelers 31, Bears 16

Bears: Where does Kyle Fuller fit with Prince Amukamara back?

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USA TODAY

Bears: Where does Kyle Fuller fit with Prince Amukamara back?

Prince Amukamara (ankle) is expected to make his 2017 regular season debut against the Pittsburgh Steelers after being a full participant in practices Thursday and Friday (he wasn't listed on Friday's injury report). But that leads to the question: What does defensive coordinator Vic Fangio do with Kyle Fuller?

Fuller acquitted himself well in starts against the Atlanta Falcons — in which he helped limit Julio Jones to four catches on five targets — and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Bears signed Amukamara to start opposite Marcus Cooper, but Fuller has at least earned the opportunity to keep his job — or a job — on Sunday. 

And it's worth noting that both Fuller and Amukamara are in contract years, so both should be motivated to not lose playing time going forward. 

“I was pleased with the waay Kyle played overall,” Fangio said. “There's obviously some plays he'd like to do over and play them a little better, but overall I thought he did a good job. I like where he's at right now.”

Fangio didn’t play Fuller as a nickel corner in 2015. But if the Bears want to get their best defensive players on the field could Fuller force his way into a nickel role with Amukamara and Cooper as the outside guys? 

That’s an especially pertinent question given Pittsburgh’s explosive trio of receivers: Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant and JuJu Smith-Schuster. 

“No matter where a receiver lines up, it’s not going to be a down to take off,” Amukamara said. “We’re always going to have to have our ‘A’ game.”