Bears

Are the Bears too young?

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Are the Bears too young?

Eventually any story about NFL players getting old is bound to be accurate. Just not right now with respect to the Bears, in the mind of the person whose future is most closely aligned with 30-something veterans like Lance Briggs, Julius Peppers, Charles Tillman and Brian Urlacher.

The calendar is inexorable but looking at just the numbers is missing the far bigger picture, according to coach Lovie Smith.

Briggs, Peppers, Tillman, Urlacher, center Roberto Garza all received some level of Pro Bowl honor this week. None missed a single game in 2011. The four defensive players missed none in 2010; Garza missed two to have in-season knee surgery.

To me you have to first establish, are they breaking down? Smith told CSNChicago.com. And they are not. Julius Peppers I dont care what the Pro Bowl alternate status says is the best defensive end in the league. How many games did Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs, Charles Tillman miss?

Obviously you need young players to come along at every position at some point, but we are not seeing players breaking down at our core positions.

Young in many places

Smith is under no illusions about the need for a productive talent pipeline.

But the oldest of the Bears four top defensive tackles is 27 (Matt Toeaina), with Amobi Okoye, Stephen Paea and Henry Melton 25 or younger and Melton selected as a Pro Bowl alternate. The Bears have explored re-signing Okoye to a longer-term deal.

Smith got to a Super Bowl with an offensive line of veterans (John Tait-Ruben Brown-Olin Kreutz-Garza-Fred Miller), all of whom except Kreutz were free-agent hires.

Lance Louis is expected to resume a starting guard spot. Gabe Carimi, JMarcus Webb and Chris Williams are all draft picks and 26 or younger. Centerguard Chris Spencer is 29; recently re-signed guard Edwin Williams is 25.

Across the offensive line, and really over the whole offense, the guys in key positions are young, Smith said. You always reach a point where you do have to go through a transition at every position.

We have two first-round, young offensive linemen (Carimi, C. Williams). You look at JMarcus Webb, Lance Louis, theyre all first-contract guys. You like that. We have a young quarterback Jay Cutler is 28 and all our tailbacks Matt Forte, 26; Kahlil Bell, 25; Armando Allen, 23 are all young.

Corey Graham, the NFC Pro Bowl special teams selectee, is 27. Devin Hester turned 29 in November. Pro Bowl alternate kicker Robbie Gould turned 30 on Friday.

Transition process

Time will exact its toll. Urlacher, 33, is signed only through the 2012 season and if he is held out Sunday because of knee soreness, you may be looking at his eventual successor in Nick Roach, 27, whom some in the organization see as the prototypical middle linebacker in the Smith defensive schemes.

Linebacker, along with wide receiver and cornerback, will be the priorities of the offseason along with a pass-rushing defensive end. Receiver and cornerback are search areas for immediate-impact players.

But linebacker is a spot where the Bears hope a transition will work, as it has this year at safety, from veteran Chris Harris to youth in Chris Conte and Major Wright.

We transitioned this year at the safety position, playing a rookie in Conte, Major Wright getting more reps, Smith said. Our backup linebackers were new guys.

As for the longer-tenured veterans, theyve played a little bit, Smith said, but I feel like they have a lot more football left in them.

With Leonard Floyd going on injured reserve, will the Bears have a pressing need at outside linebacker in 2018?

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USA TODAY

With Leonard Floyd going on injured reserve, will the Bears have a pressing need at outside linebacker in 2018?

The Bears placed Leonard Floyd on injured reserve Thursday morning, ending the second-year outside linebacker’s season following a knee injury suffered Sunday against the Detroit Lions. Floyd suffered an MCL and PCL injury and will have surgery in the next week, coach John Fox said, and the Bears do not have a timetable for his recovery yet. But that Floyd didn't suffer damage to his ACL is potentially good news for Floyd's recovery timetable. 

Still, with Floyd on injured reserve and out for the season, the Bears’ current outside linebacker depth chart consists of two veterans (Pernell McPhee and Sam Acho) and two practice squad signees (Isaiah Irving and Howard Jones). These final six games of the 2017 season could serve as auditions for all four players for roles on the 2018 Bears. 

If every team needs at least three good pass rushers, the Bears can count on Akiem Hicks and Floyd for 2018, provided Floyd comes back healthy. But who’s the third?

The Bears could save about $7.5 million in cap space if they release McPhee in 2018; if they were to cut ties with Willie Young, who’s on injured reserve right now as well, it would provide $4.5 million in cap relief. McPhee will be 29 in December, while Young will turn 33 next September. 

The Bears won’t necessarily need the cap relief next year, and could certainly decide to keep both players, who’ve shown they’re still productive when healthy. But even if both players are back, the Bears may need to add another outside linebacker via free agency of the draft — remember, the team could’ve began the season with Floyd, Young, McPhee, Acho and Lamarr Houston as their outside linebackers; an injury Houston suffered in the fourth preseason game ended his time in Chicago. 

Needs at wide receiver and cornerback are pressing, but outside linebacker may need to be in that same conversation. If the Bears have a top-10 pick for the fourth consecutive year, plus some cap space, they perhaps could have the ability to address all three needs in March and April. 

That may be looking a little too far into the future, though. The best-case for the Bears is McPhee finishes the season strong and Irving and/or Jones shows something in the opportunities they receive in these final six games (Jones, for what it’s worth, had five sacks as a rookie with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2015). But the worst-case — and perhaps the most realistic — is that the Bears go into the offseason needing to fill at least one pass-rushing spot. 

Under Center Podcast: Can Mitch Trubisky follow Carson Wentz’s path to stardom?

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Under Center Podcast: Can Mitch Trubisky follow Carson Wentz’s path to stardom?

JJ Stankevitz and John “Moon” Mullin are joined by NBC Sports Philadelphia Eagles reporter Dave Zangaro to offer an encouraging connection between Carson Wentz’s growth and that of Mitchell Trubisky.

Check out the entire podcast here: