Cody Whitehair

The six Bears most likely to make the 2019 Pro Bowl

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USA Today

The six Bears most likely to make the 2019 Pro Bowl

While no Bears were named to the initial NFC roster for the 2018 Pro Bowl, the future may not be bleak for this franchise's representation in Orlando. In the short-term, Akiem Hicks and Jordan Howard could be alternates to this season's Pro Bowl, but there are a handful of players currently on this roster that could make strong cases a season from now.

1. DL Akiem Hicks

Regardless of what defensive scheme the Bears have in 2018 -- 3-4 or 4-3 -- Hicks will be an anchor for whatever plans the team has on defense. He's been a force in 2017 with eight sacks and 15 tackles for a loss, a nice reward for Ryan Pace after he rewarded Hicks with a four-year contract extension in September. Don't be surprised if Hicks uses his initial Pro Bowl snub as part of his motivation to play at an even higher level in 2018. 

2. OL Cody Whitehair

Whitehair struggled at times in 2017, though perhaps that was due to him sliding between guard and center during training camp and then in the first few weeks of the regular season. But Whitehair is finishing this year strong, and he played close to a Pro Bowl level as a rookie in 2016. If he sticks at center in 2018, chances are he’ll make a strong case to earn a Pro Bowl bid in his third year in the league. 

3. RB Jordan Howard

Howard missed out on the Pro Bowl in 2018 despite being the NFC’s second-leading rusher with 1,069 yards through 14 games. Perhaps his low public profile played a role in that snub, with Los Angeles' Todd Gurley and New Orleans' Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara getting in over him. But Howard is one of the best running backs in the NFL, and if the Bears’ offense can evolve into something less conservative in 2018, chances are he won’t face loaded boxes as much as he has in 2017. According to NFL’s Next Gen stats, 41.2 percent of Howard’s runs have come with eight or more defenders in the box, the seventh-highest percentage among qualified running backs. 

4. RB Tarik Cohen

Cohen could make it as a running back and/or a return specialist in 2018, based on what we’ve seen from the explosive rookie in 2017. Cohen is already the Bears’ best offensive weapon, with 348 yards on 82 carries, 327 yards on 45 receptions and three offensive touchdowns. He’s returned a punt for a touchdown and had a 90-yard kick return called back on Saturday against the Detroit Lions. Whoever is coaching the Bears in 2018 will have a dynamic player on his hands; Cohen’s highlight-reel plays and engaging approach with the media will certainly keep him on many’s radar around the league. 

5. LB Leonard Floyd

Floyd wasn’t on track for a Pro Bowl bid in 2017 before he suffered a season-ending knee injury in November, but the flashes were there for the 2016 top-10 draft pick. The issue with Floyd’s nascent NFL career hasn’t been about his athleticism or potential, but with his ability to stay healthy, with concussions costing him a few games in 2016 and the knee injury wiping out nearly half a season in 2017. A healthy Floyd should be able to play at a Pro Bowl level in Year 3 with the Bears, but whether or not he can be healthy remains to be seen. 

6. QB Mitchell Trubisky

Trubisky’s 2017 numbers aren’t far off from those of most rookie quarterbacks in recent history, and it’s likely the No. 2 overall pick will improve in his second year as a pro. Whether that improvement will be great enough to get him into the Pro Bowl is another question, and may be more dependent on the offense he’s running and who he’s playing with in that offense. 

Projecting what holes the Bears will have to fill on their 2018 depth chart

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USA Today

Projecting what holes the Bears will have to fill on their 2018 depth chart

On Wednesday’s edition of the Under Center Podcast, John “Moon” Mullin and I broke down the Bears’ current depth chart, and which players on it will and won’t be back in 2018. 

The genesis of the pod, which you can listen to below, was with this color-coded depth chart:

 

Instead of a deep dive into each of these units, as we did on the podcast, this will more be a look at who those players are who are locked into roster spots in 2018. This should begin to paint a picture of where the Bears’ positions of need are heading into the offseason. 

OFFENSE
 
QB: Mitchell Trubisky
RB: Jordan Howard, Tarik Cohen
FB: 
WR: Cameron Meredith, Kevin White
TE: Dion Sims, Adam Shaheen
LT: Charles Leno Jr.
LG: Josh Sitton, Eric Kush
C: Cody Whitehair
RG: Kyle Long, Eric Kush
RT: 

The first point to note with any of these projections is we don’t know what the Bears offense and defense will look like in 2018 with a potentially different coaching staff in place (i.e., if that coaching staff wants a fullback). 

The biggest need on this side of the ball, clearly, is wide receiver. Meredith and White are both coming off injuries (for White, three injuries in three years), and it’s fair to wonder if they can be as productive as the Bears expected them to be this season. 

The top five receivers currently scheduled to hit free agency are Davante Adams (744 yards, 7 TDs), Jarvis Landry (699 yards, 6 TDs), Marqise Lee (637, 3 TDs), Paul Richardson (592 yards, 5 TDs) and Sammy Watkins (528 yards, 6 TDs). Dontrelle Inman and Kendall Wright could play their way into contracts with the Bears in 2018 — both are due to hit free agency, too — with good play down the stretch. Inman, especially, has quickly developed chemistry with Trubisky since being acquired from the Los Angeles Chargers in October. 

The Bears could also potentially see an upgrade at right tackle, depending on how they’ve evaluated Bobby Massie’s season and his potential cap savings if he’s released ($5.6 million, according to Spotrac). There will be a need to add depth behind these starting linemen — though if Kush returns healthy from a training camp ACL injury, that would be a boost. 

Not all of these offensive players are "core" guys, but Trubisky, Howard, Cohen, Sitton, Whitehair and Long should fit that designation. 
 
DEFENSE

DE: Akiem Hicks, Jonathan Bullard
DT: Eddie Goldman
OLB: Leonard Floyd
ILB: Danny Trevathan, Nick Kwiatkoski
CB: 
S: Eddie Jackson, Adrian Amos

Whether the Bears’ 2018 defense is a 3-4 (as run by Vic Fangio) or a 4-3 (as run by a different defensive coordinator) remains to be seen, but these eight players would fit any scheme. 

The clear need is at cornerback, with Kyle Fuller and Prince Amukamara becoming free agents next year. Marcus Cooper hasn’t played up to his contract and would save the Bears $4.5 million in cap room if he were released (again, per Spotrac). Nickel corners Bryce Callahan (a restricted free agent) and Cre’von LeBlanc could be back, as could special teams ace Sherrick McManis (an unrestricted free agent). Finding an upgrade at this position is a definite “must-do” for the Bears’ offseason checklist.

But so is adding at least one go-to edge rusher, regardless of scheme fit. Pernell McPhee and Willie Young aren’t guaranteed to be back, given their relative lack of production (largely in McPhee’s case), their injury histories (in both players’ cases) or their age (in Young’s case). But if the Bears pencil in Hicks and Floyd as go-to pass-rushers in 2018, they still need a third. 

The good news is Jackson and Amos proved to be a solid safety duo in 2017, and that should carry over to 2018 (Quintin Demps could return, but perhaps as a backup). Goldman has been one of the Bears’ best defensive players this year and could be in line for a contract extension in the offseason. Trevathan is a rock on this defense, too, and is another player on whom a 2018 defense can be built. 

The "core" guys in this group: Hicks, Goldman, Trevathan and Floyd. 
 
SPECIAL TEAMS

PK: 
Punter: 
Long snapper: Andrew DePaola, Patrick Scales

Pat O’Donnell will be a free agent, while the Bears’ revolving door of kickers in 2017 isn’t likely to produce a long-term solution in 2018. 
 

Bears grades: Mitchell Trubisky does his job, special teamers do not

Bears grades: Mitchell Trubisky does his job, special teamers do not

The story of this game was the Bears had control of the game until two massive special teams gaffes allowed the Ravens to get back into the game, so that's what plays out in these grades:

QUARTERBACKS: B

The Bears didn’t ask Mitchell Trubisky to do much, with the rookie only throwing 16 passes in his second career start. Trubisky completed eight of those attempt for 113 yards and threw a 27-yard touchdown to Dion Sims. More importantly, Trubisky didn’t throw an interception. He did lose a fumble on a sack-strip where he said he moved off his first progression too quickly, which caused him to not see a blitzing Lardarius Webb. But even while executing a scaled-back gameplan on the road, Trubisky still made a few impressive plays: His athletic recovery of a high Cody Whitehair snap prevented Baltimore from scoring a touchdown, and his 18-yard completion to Kendall Wright set up Connor Barth’s walk-off field goal. 

RUNNING BACKS: B+

Jordan Howard was excellent, carrying a career high 36 times for 167 yards, with 53 of those coming on a 53-yard run in overtime that set up the Bears’ win. But even before that, Howard was running hard, showing good vision and, for the second straight game, attacked the edge well. Tarik Cohen gained 34 yards on 14 carries and threw a 21-yard touchdown to Zach Miller that was set up by repeated runs to the edge where Baltimore’s safeties crashed toward the line of scrimmage. Dinging this grade enough to not be an A: Cohen losing a fumble late in the third quarter that turned into a Ravens field goal, and Howard inexplicably running out of bounds to stop the clock with 23 seconds left. Howard’s lucky the Ravens didn’t make that count, a la Marion Barber against the Denver Broncos in 2011?

WIDE RECEIVERS: D-

It’s probably more of a coincidence that the Bears barely used their wide receivers in their two wins (four targets, two catches, 26 yards vs. Baltimore; four targets, one catch, nine yards vs. Pittsburgh), but it was another quiet day for this group. Kendall Wright is clearly the Bears’ best receiver, and by a percentage of Trubisky’s attempts, he was targeted on about 19 percent of them (Sims led with four targets). But Tanner Gentry (one target, no receptions) and Tre McBride (no targets) weren’t a factor in the gameplan, and McBride was guilty of an illegal block above the waist (though the Bears still scored on that drive). One other note: Wright, in addition to his two catches for 36 yards, delivered a punishing block on longtime Ravens star linebacker Terrell Suggs. The Bears were pushed around by Suggs a bit on Sunday, so they probably enjoyed that one.

TIGHT ENDS: B-

Sims and Miller were the recipients of the Bears’ two offensive touchdowns on Sunday, with Sims’ 27-yard grab an impressive display of strength to rip Trubisky’s pass away from Ravens safety Tony Jefferson. But Sims struggled in the run game against Suggs, who soundly beat him for losses of six and seven yards on a pair of plays. With two minutes left, the Bears went with Sims, Miller and Adam Shaheen (as well as fullback Michael Burton) and couldn’t pave a way for Jordan Howard to convert a third-and-one, which preceded Michael Campanaro’s 77-yard punt return score. 

OFFENSIVE LINE: B-

The Bears’ offensive line largely did a good job blocking for Howard and Cohen, but Whitehair had two more bad snaps (one didn’t count because of a timeout) that nearly cost the Bears. That’s become a legitimate concern in his game. Bobby Massie (holding) was the only offensive lineman flagged for a penalty on Sunday, which was a nice improvement from Monday night.  

DEFENSIVE LINE: B+

Another week, another dominant game from Akiem Hicks, who bullied third-string Ravens right guard Jermaine Eluemunor and recorded his fifth sack of the year while doing well against the run. Eddie Goldman notched six tackles and played one of his best games of the year, too. Mitch Unrein made a key play in overtime to hold Javorius Allen to two yards on second-and-five in overtime, and on the next play, the defensive line got good pressure on Joe Flacco to force an incompletion. The Ravens punted, and the Bears won the game on their next drive. 

LINEBACKERS: B+

Danny Trevathan made his presence known after his one-week suspension with six tackles and a sack, and Christian Jones — outside of an unnecessary roughness penalty that looked like a questionable flag — forced a fumble (which Trevathan recovered) and tied for the team lead with eight tackles. A Trevathan-Jones inside linebacker pairing looks like it can sustain itself until Nick Kwiatkoski returns, possibly by the end of the month. Pernell McPhee notched a sack in his return to Baltimore and drew a holding penalty in the third quarter. Leonard Floyd didn’t show up in the box score but he did draw a holding penalty in the first quarter with a good pass rush. 

SECONDARY: A

Adrian Amos, knowing a lot of the attention would be on him, said after the game he’d give the game ball to Kyle Fuller. But both players deserve kudos for their work on Sunday: Amos tied for the team lead with eight tackles and returned his first career interception 90 yards for a touchdown; Fuller played the part of a shutdown corner, allowing five catches on 15 targets for only 43 yards, according to Pro Football Focus, with three pass break-ups (Amos had two PBUs, too). Fuller and Amos' tackling was solid, too. Bryce Callahan returned his second quarter interception 52 yards to the Baltimore 20-yard line, which set up Cohen’s touchdown pass to Miller. A ding here: Eddie Jackson took a poor angle on Alex Collins, allowing the Ravens running back to pick up 30 yards instead of about 12. 

SPECIAL TEAMS: F

Maybe Bobby Rainey’s 96-yard kick return shouldn’t have counted, but that it came down to whether or not Josh Bellamy grazed Rainey’s shin is still a problem. And Michael Campanaro’s 77-yard game-tying punt return was inexcusable — yes, the Bears didn’t have special teams ace Sherrick McManis on the field for it due to an injury, but that cannot happen in that situation of a game. Amos checked into a max protect look, and Pat O'Donnell's booming punt gave Campanaro plenty of room to return it. Cre'Von LeBlanc, replacing McManis, struggled in protection and fell down twice on the play. Those two return scores were enough to give this unit an F despite Connor Barth winning the game with a 40-yard field goal. 

COACHING: D+

The Bears put an emphasis on cleaning up the sloppy play that plagued this team for the first five weeks of the season, and for the first three quarters, it looked like that emphasis paid off. But the last 18 or so minutes of regulation were brutal, with the Bears fumbling three times (losing two), committing five penalties and squandering an 11-point advantage after Amos’ pick-six. Allowing a 77-yard punt return and successful two-point conversion when up eight is horrendous. Howard running out of bounds with 23 seconds left was a mental error that John Fox would’ve had to answer for had the Bears lost because of it. On the positive side of things here: Dowell Loggains’ gameplan, while conservative, wound up working against a solid Ravens defense, and he deserves credit for designing yet another successful trick play. Without those two special teams mistakes, the Bears' offense would've done what it needed to control the game.