When Brock Osweiler made his first NFL start in Chicago last season the then Denver Bronco’s quarterback threw for 250 yards, two touchdowns and a 127.1 passer rating in a 17-15 victory. However things can change extremely quickly in this league; Osweiler is now a Houston Texan and $72 million richer, and make no bones about it, the new look Chicago Bears defense rolling into the new season is a different beast altogether.
The Bears were ranked 22nd against the run last year which is unacceptable in a city that is used to the ‘Monsters of the Midway’ and juggernauts such as Dick Butkus, Mike Singletary and Brian Urlacher who are written in Soldier Field folklore. The under performing 2015 defense often had the ability to make average running backs look like the second coming of Eric Dickerson. A particular low point was the 546 total yards allowed in a 37-34 overtime loss in Detroit where it didn’t matter how many times Chicago scored.
Second year GM Ryan Pace clearly wants to put an end to this mediocrity and in the offseason set about reviving a team that only won a single division game all season. Here are a few of the reasons why I believe Chicago’s defense will be much improved in John Fox’s all important sophomore year:
Free agency additions
The middle linebacker position has been in a mess since the retirements of Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs; It’s safe to say the hall of fame duo left a hole the size of Lake Michigan. Chicago have tried to plug in players such as the un-drafted duo of Christian Jones and Jonathan Anderson and even experimented with 2012 draft flop Shea McClellin. None of these players exactly set the world alight. However, it seems as though the Bears may have found their new ‘Monsters of the Midway’ with the offseason signings of Danny Travathan and Jerrell Freeman. The former makes the switch from Super bowl champions Denver to hook up with his former head coach and the middle linebacker comes with a reputation of having a high football IQ and a knack for getting to the ball. Freeman makes the short move from Indianapolis and like his new linebacker partner has a vision for plays unfolding and a tenacity to stop the run. Although neither of Chicago’s new linebacker core have pro-bowl honours to their name, both are proven NFL starters and that’s a good start for this Vic Fangio defense.
Drafted players to make immediate impact
With six of the Bear’s nine draft picks being used on the defensive side of the ball it was evident that Chicago needed immediate starters at a variety of positions. With their first pick they traded up to ninth to grab Leonard Floyd, the versatile outside linebacker from Georgia. Floyd has terrific upside with his length and diverse skill set and will be sure to make his mark this season. The Bears found terrific value with their third round pick by selecting defensive end Jonathan Bullard from Florida. The explosive Bullard is an excellent scheme fit in Fangio’s 3-4 defense and should see a significant amount of snaps behind veteran Mitch Unrein. In the fourth round, Pace selected cornerback, Deiondre’ Hall, from Northern Iowa. The rangy defensive back is an aggressive playmaker and could be asked to step up early doors if starter Kyle Fuller is not fully fit. Other rookies to keep an eye out for are linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski and safety Deon Bush, who will both provide competition throughout the season.
Players will continue to develop in the second year of Vic Fangio’s defense
It’s not easy transitioning into a 3-4 defense, especially when you are not a traditional scheme fit. That’s why I believe a number of players will make a telling step up this season. The first of those players is Eddie Goldman. The second year nose tackle has returned to training camp slimmer and quicker so expect him to improve on the four and half sacks he contributed last season. Lamarr Houston is another player who we can expect to make more of an impact. The 29 year old outside linebacker was the Bear’s sack leader in 2015 with eight and that was coming off the back of a torn ACL. The former Oakland star will continue to make strides in this dynamic defense. Free safety Adrian Amos had a solid rookie season so expect the former Penn State defensive back to continue to develop under Fox. The 23 year old missed only three defensive snaps all season and led the Bears in tackles, however, Amos made no interceptions so expect the second year player to progress his playmaking abilities.
I don’t expect the return of the 85′ Bears this season but I certainly think Vic Fangio’s new look defense will be much improved and turn a few heads in the progress. If vital players such as Pernell McPhee and Alshon Jeffery can stay healthy throughout the season then it’s a real possibility Chicago could be in the running for a wild card spot.
Stuart Rutherford is a sports journalist from Edinburgh who has been supporting the Bears since 2008. You can find him on twitter at @StuARutherford.
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