Chicago Bears

Could Bears be the 2012 Giants?

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Could Bears be the 2012 Giants?

Picking the Super Bowl winner for 2012 is relatively easy from the standpoint of simply looking at the 2011 playoff qualifiers and selecting a Green Bay or San Francisco for a repeat high finish.

More intriguing is IDing a team that will be a major playoffSuper Bowl player despite not even making the playoffs the year before -- like the 2011 New York Giants.

A surprise here will be if the Bears are not high on that list. They were 7-3 and ahead of Detroit and the Giants on playoff rankings at the time of Jay Cutlers injury and the expectation is that with Cutler back and other obvious upgrades, this will be a team of note.

Indeed, a handful of NFL.com analysts have their handful of teams and the Bears are the only team to be picked by more than one expert.

Jason Smith and Steve Wyche both see the Bears as a definite prospect for being next seasons Giants. Jason LaCanfora thinks it will the San Diego Chargers; Pat Kirwan sees the Carolina Panthers riding Cam Newton to 16 or 17 wins. And Adam Rank has a thing for the Miami Dolphins.

A good point to keep in mind was that the Giants were in the playoffs and winning a Super Bowl, not through their excellence, but by virtue of jaw-dropping incompetence and largesse on the parts of a significant portion of the NFL.

The Dallas Cowboys should have given the Giants a fifth consecutive loss in their first 2011 game with New York. Tony Romos pass to a stunningly open Miles Austin was beyond a disaster and the Giants had no real role in forcing that abomination pass.

The Giants were in the Super Bowl because a San Francisco 49ers punt returner loses two balls, one simply by being stupid enough to have it bounce off his knee.

And do you realize how many truly bad plays the New England Patriots had to deliver for the Giants to escape with a four-point victory?

Those things happen every year and as many games are lost as are won. But the Giants of 2011 are not a particularly high standard. Frankly, if the Bears are the Giants of 2012, meaning they are 9-7 and backing into the postseason, the Fire-Lovie-Smith calls will be deafening long before the wild-card round of the playoffs.

How Charles Leno Jr. isn't thinking about the big picture heading into a contract year

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USA Today Sports Images

How Charles Leno Jr. isn't thinking about the big picture heading into a contract year

One of John Fox’s favorite sayings is that the best ability is availability. No player exemplified that line more than left tackle Charles Leno Jr. in 2016. 

Leno played all 1,010 of the Bears’ offensive snaps last year. His effectiveness may not have matched his availability — Pro Football Focus, for what it’s worth, described Leno as being a “below average” starter. The Bears like Leno, though. But enough to give him another contract?

“He’s pretty reliable and dependable,” Fox said. “But we all have room for improvement so I think he’d tell you the same thing.”

For Leno, there’s no time like the present to make those strides. He’s due to hit free agency after this season, and, unless the Bears sign him to a contract extension, will enter a market that last spring saw five left tackles (Riley Reiff, Matt Kalil, Russell Okung, Andrew Whitworth and Kelvin Beachum) sign contracts each including eight-figure guaranteed money. But Leno, who will be 26 this spring, isn’t doing a lot of thinking about what his future could look like beyond this year. 

“It’s in the back of your mind, but at the end of the day I’m trying to go out there and just perfect my craft,” Leno said. “That’s really what I’m trying to do. I’ve been doing that the last two and a half years now. It’s the same routine every day. Just trying to go out there and perfect my craft, things will take care of itself. If I do what I need to do out there, everything will follow.”

For Leno, perfecting his craft means perfecting the basics of being a left tackle. What he rattled off: Placement of hands, base in pass set, staying square, not opening up too early. Being consistent in those areas is what Leno sees as that next step in his development. 

“I think Charles Leno does a really great job focusing attention to detail within his set,” left guard Kyle Long said. “Whether it’s a set angle, his hands or his strike, he always has a plan and he’s somebody that’s athletic enough to recover if he ever does get in a bad situation. It’s a really difficult position to play out there but I think Charles Leno is one of the most athletic guys that’s been around here.” 

Practice has provided an ideal opportunity for Leno to work on all those things, given the array of pass rushers he’s facing from his own defense. 

“I got a very fast guy (Leonard Floyd), I got a very tall, long guy (Willie Young), and I got a short, powerful guy (Lamarr Houston). I mean, what more do I need on a practice field? I got the best guys in the world to go against every day.”

But the point remains: Leno does have room for growth. A fully healthy Bears’ offensive line, with a more consistent Leno, can be one of the best units in the NFL on which the team’s level of production can be based. 

And if that’s the case, Leno can expect a significant payday next spring, either from the Bears or another team. 

“I never expected I would be in this situation, absolutely not,” Leno said. “I’m very blessed, I’m thankful for the opportunity that I’ve got into. But also, it’s a testament to the work I’ve been putting in for myself and I just don’t ever want that to stop. I don’t ever want the work ethic that I have to ever go down because I’ve got some money or because I’m in a contract year. I want to keep improving whether I have the money or not.” 

Could Mitch Trubisky have already shown the Bears he’s ready to start?

Could Mitch Trubisky have already shown the Bears he’s ready to start?

Could the Bears have already seen something in Mitch Trubisky that gives the front office and coaching staff a reason to believe he can start right away?

The short answer: It doesn’t sound like that’s happened yet from everything that’s been said publicly in Bourbonnais, Chicago and Lake Forest. But the longer answer, and a reason to ask this question, involves what happened with the Philadelphia Eagles a year ago.

Last year’s No. 2 pick didn’t show much, statistically, in his first (and only) preseason game. But Carson Wentz still was the Eagles’ starting quarterback in Week 1 of the 2016 season.

Wentz completed 12 of 24 passes for 89 yards with no touchdowns and one interception in his NFL preseason debut last August, and also suffered a hairline rib fracture in that game that kept him out of the final three weeks of preseason play. All that added up doesn’t exactly scream “Week 1 rookie starter.”

But through practices and workouts over the course of August, the Eagles came to believe they could trust Wentz with the starting job, ultimately shipping Sam Bradford to the Minnesota Vikings in an early September blockbuster.

The Eagles, as it turned out, saw something in Wentz that may not have shown up on his preseason stat line. Trubisky, on the other hand, had an outstanding preseason debut.

Trubisky showed last week he’s more than capable of making all the throws expected out of an NFL quarterback — his third-and-long completion to Deonte Thompson stands out — and put his pure talent on display throughout his two-plus quarters of play. Teammates complimented how Trubisky commanded the huddle, though his plays were coming off a call sheet he was able to study before the game.

The Bears (and Trubisky) have framed his excellent showing against the Denver Broncos as a small step in the right direction, with still plenty on which the North Carolina product can improve. Once again, Trubisky will be the third Bears quarterback to take the field Saturday night against the Arizona Cardinals.

Consider how the Eagles opened training camp last year: Bradford was the No. 1, a veteran (Chase Daniel) was No. 2 and the rookie (Wentz) was No. 3. Sounds familiar, right? Then consider what coach Doug Pederson said about Wentz as training camp began:

“You want (Wentz) to be in a position where if there’s an injury or somebody goes down, you plug him in and you don’t have any worries,” Pederson said. “You’re fully confident in his ability to take over. Because backup quarterbacks need to be ready to go in an instant.”

The Bears’ brass hasn’t said anything along those lines regarding Trubisky, at least not yet. But there has been a scenario — albeit, not one completely congruous to what the Bears have, given the draft picks involved — where a No. 2 pick convinces a coaching staff and front office that he’s ready to start instead of a more experienced veteran. And it was seemingly based on a lot less than what we saw from Trubisky last week.