Bears

Chicago Bears 53-man roster projection

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USA Today

Chicago Bears 53-man roster projection

Chicago Bears training camp practices officially get underway Friday, kicking off a time of year when players fight for starting jobs and roster spots. 

The Bears are entering an exciting time. New coach Matt Nagy has brought hope and optimism with him to Chicago while quarterback Mitch Trubisky has embraced his leadership role like a seasoned veteran.

But all the positive press is now in the past; it's time to get back to the action on the field. GM Ryan Pace will have some tough decisions to make later next month and every rep of every practice will factor into who makes the cut for the final 53-man roster.

Here's my first swing at who should make the squad. I'll be updating this projection before Week 3's preseason game against the Chiefs and again before the Week 4 finale against the Bills (note: Hall of Fame game is excluded from preseason weekly schedule).

CHICAGO BEARS 53-MAN ROSTER PROJECTION

The Bears will deservingly be well-represented at the 2019 Pro Bowl

The Bears will deservingly be well-represented at the 2019 Pro Bowl

The Bears had five players named to the 2019 Pro Bowl roster on Tuesday: Defensive lineman Akiem Hicks, outside linebacker Khalil Mack, cornerback Kyle Fuller, safety Eddie Jackson and returner Tarik Cohen. 

The Bears also had seven players named as Pro Bowl alternates: Mitch Trubisky, Trey Burton, Cody Whitehair, Charles Leno, Roquan Smith, Danny Trevathan and Leonard Floyd. 

Those five players represent the biggest haul of Bears named to a Pro Bowl since 2013, which was also the last time a Bears defensive player made a Pro Bowl (that year was Matt Forte, Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Kyle Long and Tim Jennings). 

For the five players who did make the Pro Bowl roster, though, the honor is not only about personal achievements, but what this team has accomplished so far in 2018. Hicks, for example, was deserving of a Pro Bowl spot in 2017 — only the Bears were 5-11 and largely irrelevant in the NFL landscape. 

But with that success, which started with an NFC North title clinched on Sunday, the players who made the Pro Bowl are all hoping to not actually play in the game, which comes sandwiched between the NFC Championship and the Super Bowl. 

“Definitely want to play in the Super Bowl over the Pro Bowl,” Cohen said Tuesday afternoon. 

Here’s how these five players earned the recognition of a Pro Bowl roster spot:

Khalil Mack

Key stats: 12 1/2 sacks, 6 forced fumbles

Biggest game: Week 3 at Arizona (2 sacks, 1 TFL, 3 QB hits, 1 forced fumble)

No player has had more of a transformative effect on his new team than Mack has had for the Bears in 2018. He’s the best player on the league’s best defense, consistently tormenting opposing quarterbacks and offensive coordinators with his ability to generate pressure. Less noticeable but important, too: Mack has been outstanding in run support, helping turn the offenses he faces into one-dimensional attacks against which he can pin his ears back and get after opposing quarterbacks in ideal pass-rushing downs. 

Mack is probably behind Aaron Donald for NFC defensive player of the year honors, but there’s a legitimate argument to make that he’s been the most important defensive player in the NFL this year. The Bears were already a good defense before the Oakland Raiders traded him on Labor Day weekend; with him, they’re a great defense that stacks up to some of the best in franchise history (1985, 2006). 

“Mack did a lot as far as his style of play, his work ethic and even his presence,” Jackson said. “When he’s on the field, guys triple team, double team him and release free guys up to be one on one or even with pressure, rushing the quarterback, they gotta throw the ball out fast when they see him coming off the edge. So he really helped us in a major, major way and we appreciate him for it.” 

As for the biggest game: It’s hard to pick one, with both of Mack’s games against the Green Bay Packers standing out. But that Arizona game is regarded as a turning point for the season by some in the Bears’ locker room, and what Mack did was critical in sealing a 16-14 win, even over a team that would go on to be one of the worst in the NFL. 

Akiem Hicks

Key stats: 6 sacks, 32 “stops”

Biggest game: Week 11 vs. Minnesota (1 sack, 5 TFLs, 2 QB hits)

Those “stops” are defined by Pro Football Focus as running plays that constitute a loss for the opposing offense, and no defensive lineman has more of them than Hicks. As has been the case every year he's been with the Bears, he’s proven to be an elite run defender with a nice knack for getting to the quarterback. The combination of Hicks and Mack has been hellacious for opposing offensive lines, who can’t double team both of them. Even if neither gets a sack, the amount of un-clean pockets opposing quarterbacks have had to deal with has been staggering thanks to the work put in by these two players. 

But Hicks’ success isn’t just about Mack. He should’ve made the Pro Bowl in 2017, and is just as good — if not better — in 2018. It’s about time Hicks was recognized as one of the best interior defensive linemen in the NFL. 

For Hicks’ biggest game: He thoroughly bullied the interior of Minnesota’s offensive line and made sure Kirk Cousins had to throw, which resulted in a ton of defensive success for this group. As Matt Nagy said the day after the game of Hicks’ performance:

“You could feel it. For him to really play the way he played…we knew he could do well, he’s been that way all year wrong, he’s a big man, he’s powerful and when he turns it on he’s tough to stop.”

Kyle Fuller

Key stats: 7 interceptions, 21 passes defended

Biggest game: Week 12 at Detroit (8 tackles, 1 interception, 2 passes defended)

Fuller topped all cornerbacks in fan votes, this despite not having a Twitter account to promote himself and get votes based on retweets — “I look at it like what you do on the field is what does it,” Fuller said. “I mean, all that stuff helps, but that’s not me.”https://www.nbcsports.com/chicago/bears/bears-pro-bowl-leading-cornerback-kyle-fuller-happy-let-his-play-do-talking)

Fuller is tied for the league lead in interceptions and has more passes defended than any other player this year. His emergence has been remarkable, going from being an injured afterthought in 2016 to a solid player in 2017 to one of the league’s best at his position in 2018. Not only is Fuller paid like one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL, he’s playing like one, too. 

We’ll give Fuller’s best game to what he did against the Lions on Thanksgiving, mostly for the game-sealing interception he had in the end zone in the fourth quarter. The Bears were worn down and in need of a big play, and Fuller delivered it.   

“A great player, he’s got great situational understanding, great ball skills to be able to finish and somebody that has certainly made a lot of plays,” Los Angeles Rams coach Sean McVay said. “I got a lot of respect for him.”

Eddie Jackson

Key stats: 6 interceptions, 3 defensive touchdowns

Biggest game: Week 11 vs. Minnesota (1 interception, 1 touchdown)

Jackson’s pick-six of Kirk Cousins — and the orchestra he conducted afterwards — was a seminal moment for the 2018 Bears, cementing this team as not only one of the best, but one of the most fun teams in the NFL. The ballhawking instincts the Bears bet on with a fourth-round pick in 2017 have blossomed in 2018, with Jackson second in the NFL with six interceptions. He'll likely finish the regular season with that total after suffering an ankle injury against Green Bay on Sunday, though the Bears don't believe the injury is season-ending, meaning there's a chance he returns for the playoffs. 

The five defensive touchdowns he has in his two-year career are more than double what anyone else has in the same timespan. In fact, Jackson has the most touchdowns of any defensive player over the last four seasons — and that’s for a guy who spent 2015 and 2016 in college at Alabama. In fact, since 2010, only five defensive players have more touchdowns than him: Aqib Talib, Janoris Jenkins, Malcolm Jenkins, DeAngelo Hall and Captain Munnerlyn — and all of those players were in the league in 2010 besides Jenkins, who debuted in 2012. 

“Hell of a player, young guy,” Mack said. “I didn’t know he was that young. He’s so mature. He attacks the game like a 10-year vet. It’s very impressive.” 

Tarik Cohen

Key stats: 413 punt return yards, 8 total touchdowns

Biggest game: Week 15 vs. Green Bay (Two punt returns, 53 yards)

Let’s be honest here — Cohen is in the Pro Bowl not only because he’s a solid punt returner, but because he’s one of the most electrifying offensive players in the NFL. Cohen’s 413 punt return yards lead the NFL, and the 44-yard return he had on Sunday against the Packers all but sealed the Bears’ 10th win of the season. 

But where Cohen has become a legit star in the NFL is what he can do all over the field, be it running, receiving, returning or throwing. His “Oompa Loompa” touchdown throw to Anthony Miller against the New York Giants was remarkable, just as a 70-yard dash on a screen for a touchdown was against the New York Jets. He’s one of the most fun players in the NFL to watch, and should be a blast to see participate in the Pro Bowl (that is, unless the Bears make the Super Bowl). 

While Cohen does not have a punt return touchdown this year, he’s been smart about taking what’s in front of him. He’s averaging 13.3 yards per return and has been happy to take a 10-15 yard gain rather than risking a loss while trying to break a 50-yard return. 

“When you can have a punt returner knock off a 94-yard touchdown run and he gets nothing else, and his number is still very, very high,” special teams coordinator Chris Tabor said. “That’s why I don’t look at stats. I look at the tape, and the tape will tell you the story. And I think his tape shows he has been very consistent. He’s done a nice job with his decision-making skills, and he’s a guy when the ball is in his hands anything can happen. Those to me sound like Pro Bowl traits and qualities.”

Guy roasts his girlfriend's dad with Bears prank, is living the dream

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USA Today

Guy roasts his girlfriend's dad with Bears prank, is living the dream

Bears fans are FEELIN' themselves right now. It is a good time to be them. 

For instance: last night on Twitter, Steven, our story's protagonist, posted this on Twitter:

This is what type of confidence this Bears team in instilling in their fans. They are so good that they've got fans pranking their girlfriend's dad's new Christmas golf gear. 

This dad is now going to be out on the course for the first time in a few months, the Packers dud of a season finally behind him, only to go in for a ball marker and see this. 

6/10 prank. 9/10 execution. Good luck to you, Steven.