The Chicago Bears are banking on Leonard Floyd to break out as a superstar pass rusher in 2018, expectations that are reasonable considering his first-round pedigree. But even if Floyd becomes an elite sack artist this season, the Bears' defense won't reach its maximum potential without a complementary player emerging opposite him.
It's still very early in the process of identifying who that guy might be, but after last Thursday's Hall of Fame Game, Isaiah Irving can't be overlooked. Irving is in a training camp battle with veterans Sam Acho and Aaron Lynch as well as rookie Kylie Fitts for reps at outside linebacker.
Irving appeared in seven games last season after starting the year on the practice squad. His season was cut short on December 2, 2017, when he was placed on injured reserve with a knee injury. Still, Irving's rookie year should be deemed a successful one.
He joined the Bears as an undrafted free agent from San Jose State and had a strong showing in the 2017 preseason. He worked his way to the active roster last October and has gotten off to a fast start this summer.
Irving was the Bears' best pass rusher in the Hall of Fame Game, per Pro Football Focus. His 70.1 pass rush grade edged Fitts' 69.2, both of whom registered a sack. But it was Irving who looked much more explosive off the snap. He flashed a more refined set of pass-rush moves, too.
The fact that Lynch is still sitting out of practice with a hamstring injury has given Irving a great opportunity to prove that he is Chicago's next-best pass rusher. Acho is the most likely candidate to begin the season as a starter, but keep an eye on Irving. If he stacks a few productive preseason games together, especially when opponents' starters are on the field, he could emerge as the guy Vic Fangio pegs as the Robin to Floyd's Batman.
Chicago Bears quarterback Mitch Trubisky isn't going to be handed respect from the national media as he embarks upon his second season as a starting quarterback in the NFL. He has to earn it by showing the kind of improvement expected from a young quarterback who was selected No. 2 overall in the 2017 NFL Draft.
That lacking respect for Trubisky is ringing loud and true this time of year when most outlets are publishing lists ranking players at every position. He's routinely listed among the bottom-five starting quarterbacks.
Pro Football Focus recently published its list ranking the 2018 starting quarterbacks and Trubisky was once again in familiar territory. He ranked 26th.
Trubisky graded at 66.4 as a rookie, good for 29th in the NFL. He wasn’t asked to do much in Chicago’s offensive scheme, though his No. 10 grade on third down is a reason for optimism moving forward. A new system is expected to accentuate Trubisky’s strengths which include his ablity to throw on the run and throwing accurately in the short and intermediate game.
The most surprising thing about Trubisky's ranking isn't that he was 26th. Instead, PFF has him rated higher than two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback, Eli Manning. The Giants' signal-caller came in at No. 28.
Other quarterbacks ranked near Trubisky were Patrick Mahomes (Chiefs, No. 25), Black Bortles (Jaguars, No. 27) and Case Keenum (Broncos, No. 29).
Chicago Bears coach Matt Nagy rested all the team's starters in Thursday night's Hall of Fame Game, so fans will have to wait another week (or more) before seeing the likes of Mitch Trubisky, Jordan Howard and Allen Robinson march down the field.
But that didn't stop a few skill players from having good performances in front of a national audience.
The star of the game was rookie wide receiver Javon Wins, who totaled seven catches for 89 yards. He impressed beyond just the box score. His body control and better-than-expected explosiveness helped him achieve the highest grade on offense from Pro Football Focus; Wims scored a 76.4. The former Georgia Bulldog played 52 snaps, 42 of which were pass plays.
Right behind Wims in PFF's grades was Josh Bellamy. The veteran receiver scored a 75.5 in what was an important momentum-building game for him. Bellamy caught two of his three targets for 25 yards. He could end up in a battle with Wims for the final receiver spot on the 53-man roster.
Third-string quarterback Tyler Bray scored a 72.5 (much better than Chase Daniel's 58.2), and Rashaad Coward led all offensive linemen with a 66.9.