15 Most Important Bears of 2018: No. 13 - Danny Trevathan

USA Today

15 Most Important Bears of 2018: No. 13 - Danny Trevathan

Any conversation about the Chicago Bears' inside linebackers seems to start and stop with first-round pick Roquan Smith, who after joining the team as the eighth pick overall is expected to instantly become one of the defense's best all-around players. But don't overlook Danny Trevathan's critically important role in any success the Bears will enjoy in 2018.

Trevathan joined the Bears in 2016 when GM Ryan Pace signed him to a lucrative four-year, $28 million deal. He was the team's biggest free-agent move that offseason but his tenure in Chicago got off to a rocky start. He appeared in only nine games due to a combination of thumb and knee injuries.

Trevathan had a slightly healthier season last year. He missed a handful of games with a calf injury but still finished with 89 tackles, two sacks and an interception in 12 starts. His season ranked 12th-best among linebackers on Pro Football Focus' grading scale (he finished the year with an 84.7 grade).

RELATED: 15 Most Important Bears of 2018: 15 - Taylor Gabriel, 14 - Trey Burton

With most of his defensive teammates back for another year, Trevathan will take on even more of a leadership role. Most importantly, he'll serve as Smith's mentor in the middle of the defense. 

Trevathan will benefit as much from Smith as Smith will from Trevathan. Opposing offensive coordinators are likely to pay more attention to Smith's game-changing skill set, leaving Trevathan in more favorable situations to make plays. It may take a few games for Smith to earn that kind of respect from Bears opponents, but the assumption is he will and once he does, Trevathan will be the beneficiary. 

The good news for Chicago is that Trevathan, when healthy, is about as reliable of a defender as the team has on the roster. If he's given a chance to make plays, he's going to make them. He doesn't need Smith to be great to find success on the field, but Trevathan's ability to thrive alongside the first round pick is an added benefit.

This season marks the best chance Trevathan has had since joining the team to match some of the remarkable numbers he produced with the Broncos. In 2013, the last time he played a full 16 games in a season, he had an incredible 152 tackles.

Trevathan has to prove to the Bears that he can contribute over a full season; he has to stay healthy and start 16 games. If he has another injury-riddled season, Pace can move on from him with little cap consequence next offseason. Trevathan certainly doesn't want to receive his walking papers, and he knows the pressure is on in 2018 with the commitment Chicago made at inside linebacker in the NFL draft.

The best way for Chicago to get a massive return on its investment in Smith is if Trevathan has the kind of season Pace envisioned a couple of years ago. If he stays healthy, Trevathan could easily become the team's most important defensive player by the time the season ends.

Bears roster lacks veteran cut candidate

USA Today

Bears roster lacks veteran cut candidate

The Bears battle for the 53-man roster doesn’t have many contentious positions entering training camp.

Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy brought back largely the same roster from their breakout 2018 season, finding replacements for the few players gone in free agency.

Outside of kicker, the entire starting lineup is pretty much set for Week 1, and the main competitions to stick with the team are at the bottom of the depth chart.

It leaves the roster with no notable veterans that stand out as candidates to be cut. ESPN’s Jeff Dickerson was asked to name one for an article, and he couldn’t come up with any.

He mentioned Taquan Mizzell, who made the move from running back to wide receiver this offseason, but as Dickerson pointed out “Mizzell is hardly a well-known commodity around the league.”

Former third-round pick Jonathan Bullard hasn’t lived up to his draft status, but the Bears have seemed comfortable keeping him around in a backup role.

The Bears roster has very little fat to trim. The only other player who could potentially qualify is cornerback Sherrick McManis, since the team has so many young players at his position, but he’s been working at safety to increase his value, and he’s one of the team’s best special teams contributors.

The trim down from the 90-man roster shouldn’t have too many significant surprises, which is why so much of the attention this offseason continues to go to the kicker position.

Alex Bars is ready to take his shot with Harry Hiestand and the Bears

USA Today

Alex Bars is ready to take his shot with Harry Hiestand and the Bears

Alex Bars was cleared to practice last week, allowing him his first chance to put on a helmet since tearing his ACL and MCL Sept. 29 while playing for Notre Dame. The undrafted guard was able to participate in veteran minicamp, allowing him to shake off some rust before his real push for a roster spot begins in training camp next month. 

Many speculated Bars would’ve been as high as a mid-round draft pick if not for that devastating knee injury. It didn’t take the 6-foot-6, 312 pound Bars long, though, to decide where he wanted to go after not being picked in April’s draft. Call it the Harry Hiestand effect. 

Bars played under Hiestand’s tutelage at Notre Dame from 2014-2017, and said he always wanted to wind up with the Bears to work with his former coach — just as 2018 top-10 picks Quenton Nelson and Mike McGlinchey hoped to as well. 

“I remember talking about that, because they both wanted to play for him,” Bars said. “They understand where he can take you and how phenomenal a coach he is, so they both wanted that. And I’m just the same way.”

While Nelson transformed the Indianapolis Colts’ playoff-bound offensive line and McGlinchey showed plenty of promise with the San Francisco 49ers, the reunion of Bars and Hiestand carries some intriguing possibilities for the Bears. Bars has always had upside — he was a four-star recruit out of Nashville in 2014 — and getting to work with Hiestand may be the best way to tap into that potential. 

“He knows me very well, I understand his technique very well,” Bars said. “So having that connection, that player-coach connection all four years through college is huge.”

Hiestand called Bars after his injury last fall and offered some words of encouragement, which only furthered Bars' wish to play for his former college coach in the NFL. 

"That meant everything," Bars said. "He cares so much off the field as well as on the field. That’s who he is."  

Bars wasn’t able to participate in OTAs or rookie minicamp, but Hiestand doesn’t see that as putting him in a tough spot to make the Bears' 53-man roster. And there will very much be an opportunity for Bars to make a push during training camp, given 10-year veteran Ted Larsen only has $90,000 in guaranteed money on his one-year contract. 

It may not be the more eye-catching roster battle during training camp, but the Bears hope they can find interior offensive line depth through competition in Bourbonnais. And Bars, now cleared to practice, will get his shot. 

“He’ll have the chance because he’s smart, he understands the technique, he knows what to do,” Hiestand said during OTAs, when Bars hadn’t practiced yet. “He’s learning the offense even though he’s not doing it. But when we put the pads on that’s when you make or don’t make the team.” 

It’s often unfair — yet far too easy — to place high expectations on undrafted free agents. For every Cameron Meredith or Bryce Callahan who gets unearthed, there are dozens of anonymous players who struggle to stick on an NFL practice squad. 

But Bars is among the more important undrafted free agents on the Bears given his connection with Hiestand and the position he plays. While Kyle Long is healthy, he hasn’t played a full season since 2015, underscoring the Bears’ need for depth on the interior of their offensive line in the immediate future. 

And the Bears would save a little over $8 million against their 2020 cap if they were to make the difficult decision to cut Long in a year. If Bars develops into the kind of player plenty in the NFL thought he could be before his knee injury, that would make releasing Long a little easier to swallow at Halas Hall. 

For now, though, Bars is just hoping to make the Bears. Anything else is a long ways away.

“I’m excited to be here, thrilled for this opportunity and it’s all about productivity,” Bars said. “Just need to be productive and prove you belong on this team.”

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