Bears

Danny Trevathan, Roquan Smith bask in ‘linebacker heaven’ at Bears100 Celebration

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USA Today

Danny Trevathan, Roquan Smith bask in ‘linebacker heaven’ at Bears100 Celebration

When Dick Butkus talks, you listen — especially if you’re a former first-round linebacker entering his second year in the NFL. 

So what did Butkus tell Roquan Smith this weekend at the Bears100 Celebration?

“Pretty much Butkus was like, ‘Just be violent. By all means be violent, that was his main thing,” Smith said. 

Otis Wilson, the linebacker who won a Super Bowl with the Bears in 1985, had similar advice for Smith. Though perhaps the lesson is more about being physical than being, well, that physical. 

“I probably wouldn't have a game check and then (would have to) give them some of my signing bonus,” Smith said, when asked how much money he’d stand to lose if he strictly followed Butkus and Wilson's advice. 

For Smith and Danny Trevathan, the opportunity to meet with Butkus, Mike Singletary and other former Bears linebackers had significant value. While Brian Urlacher backed out at the last minute due to some self-reported digestive issues, there still was a wealth of linebacking information and experiences congregating in Rosemont over the weekend. As Trevathan put it: “This is linebacker heaven.”

While Smith chatted with Wilson and Butkus — Smith won the collegiate Butkus Award, given to the nation’s best linebacker, his final year at Georgia — Trevahtan was able to pick the brain of Singletary. Trevathan had previously read one of Singletary’s books but hadn’t met him before this weekend, and said he can’t wait to apply the lessons he learned this upcoming season. 

“I just know that it’s going to carry over with us because we have so much respect for those guys, and anything they say, we’re zoomed in, we listen to everything that they’re saying because we know that they did it before,” Trevathan said. “And this ain’t no regular (person) talking. It’s somebody that really came in here, worked their tail off and actually reaped the benefits of it. So we know we have to go out there — the window of opportunity is so small.” 

While the Bears100 Celebration was ostensibly a fan event, with autograph tables and activities and merchandise for the thousands that came through the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center last weekend, it was much more than that. It was an opportunity for old teammates to re-connect and tell stories.  

And it was an opportunity for current Bears players to learn from the wealth of information possessed by the living Hall of Famers and hundreds of players who congregated in one place for a truly special weekend. 

“I’m rarely fanned out, but when I see those group of guys, just the foundation and the history that’s here — 100 years Celebration — yeah, I was definitely star-struck just to be around them,” Trevathan said. “And (getting) to have a conversation with them, talk about life, talk about football — those are the type of things you can’t really put a price on.”

Should the Bears sign free agent running back Devonta Freeman?

Should the Bears sign free agent running back Devonta Freeman?

Former Atlanta Falcons running back Devonta Freeman remains unsigned after being released earlier this offseason following a 2019 season that totaled 14 games and a career-low 3.6 yards per carry.

Freeman, who earned back-to-back trips to the Pro Bowl in 2015-16, was at one time considered one of the NFL's top dual-threat running backs. His best season came in 2015 when he ran for 1,056 yards and 11 touchdowns while adding another 578 yards and three scores as a receiver. In 2016, he ran for a career-best 1,079 yards and 11 scores.

Injuries derailed what was a promising start to his career. He hasn't played a full 16 games in any of the last three years and in 2018, he missed 14 games with foot and groin injuries. 

Are Freeman's best days behind him? Maybe. Running backs tend to decline the closer they get to 30 years old, and at 28, Freeman is inching closer to the end of his career than its beginning. But that doesn't mean he doesn't have value for a team like the Bears, who lack any semblance of depth behind starter David Montgomery.

Chicago's running back depth chart is void of any real NFL talent behind Montgomery and Tarik Cohen, and let's face it, Cohen is more of a satellite weapon than he is a true running back.

So what's stopping the Bears from pursuing Freeman? Money.

Freeman is holding out for a reasonable payday that, apparently, involves demands beyond what the Seahawks offered in May (one-year, $4 million). The Bears, who still have in-house business to take care of, including an extension for wide receiver Allen Robinson, aren't going to offer Freeman a contract in that range. And they shouldn't. Montgomery is the unquestioned starter and that won't change even if a player like Freeman is added. As a result, he'll get a contract consistent with what's paid to a backup with starter's upside.

Remember: Freeman signed a five-year, $41.2 million extension with the Falcons in 2017, and like most players who believe they still have a lot left in the tank, he doesn't appear willing to lower his value by such an extreme amount.

Still, the market will determine Freeman's next deal. And if he's still hanging around and unsigned as training camp approaches, the Bears could find themselves in a favorable position to land an extremely talented running back at a mega-discount.

Chicago's offense will hinge on how productive the running game is in 2020. It would make sense to improve its chances of success by adding more talent. Freeman could be that guy, at the right price.

What would 1985 Chicago Bears look like if they played in 2020?

What would 1985 Chicago Bears look like if they played in 2020?

“We’re gonna do the shuffle then ring your bell,” sang Gary Fencik back in 1985. 

The updated lyrics in 2020 would be: “We’re gonna do the shuffle then get a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty.” 

Football today is a largely different game compared to when the Bears won their only Super Bowl in franchise history. You’ll see that when Super Bowl XX is aired on NBC this Sunday at 2 p.m. CT. But as I went back and watched some highlights ahead of catching the full game on Sunday, I wondered: What from the ’85 Bears would still work in the NFL today?

MORE: 10 crazy stats about the 1985 Bears

Talent, of course, transcends eras. Walter Payton would still be a great running back in 2020. Richard Dent would still be one of those pass rushers offenses have to gameplan around. Mike Singletary’s versatility, toughness and instincts would make him one of the league’s top linebackers. But that’s not what I was wondering. 

The Bears’ first offensive play of Super Bowl XX — on which Payton lost a fumble — came with two wide receivers, one tight end, one running back and one fullback on the field, otherwise known as 21 personnel. There was nothing odd about it back then. 

Only 8 percent of the NFL’s plays in 2019 used 21 personnel. 

The San Francisco 49ers and Minnesota Vikings were the only two teams to use 21 personnel on more than 20 percent of their plays, and both teams made the playoffs. Jimmy Garoppolo, remember, threw eight passes while the 49ers throttled the Green Bay Packers on their way to the Super Bowl back in January. 

Payton and Matt Suhey would’ve been just fine in today’s NFL running from under center quite a bit. But consider this: Jim McMahon’s passer rating in 1985 was 82.6, good for seventh-best in the league. Mitch Trubisky’s passer rating in 2019 was 83.0, ranking him 28th. 

How about Buddy Ryan’s 46 defense? 

I dug up this video we did a few years ago with Rex Ryan explaining his dad’s defense — which, while it turned out to be great at stopping the run, was actually designed to put more pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Check it out:

The Bears’ defense in 1985 is, arguably, the best in NFL history. The Bears held opponents to 3.7 yards per carry and 12.4 points per game, the lowest averages in the league. Dent led the NFL with 17 1/2 sacks and, maybe the most mind-blowing stat of all: The Bears’ defense allowed 16 passing touchdowns and had 34 interceptions. 

But putting eight guys in the box doesn’t seem like a sound strategy in today’s pass-happy, 11 personnel-heavy league — a league that often forces defensive coordinators’ base packages to be in nickel. To wit: San Francisco’s Tevin Coleman faced the highest percentage of “loaded” boxes in 2019, with 40.2 percent of his 137 rushing attempts coming with eight or more defenders near the line of scrimmage. 

The Bears’ defense only had to defend multiple backs (i.e. a running back and a fullback) on 120 plays in 2019. 

So the 46 defense might not work in 2020. Then again, who would doubt Ryan’s ability to coordinate a good defense against today’s modern NFL landscape?

This is all building to my overarching feeling thinking about the 1985 Bears: They'd be fine in today's NFL. Greatness can transcend era. It might take a few tweaks and they wouldn't look the same as you'll see on NBC Sports Network on Sunday afternoon. 

But who am I to say one of the greatest teams of all time wouldn't be great in any era? 

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