Five Bears with the most to prove in 2018

USA Today

Five Bears with the most to prove in 2018

The Chicago Bears are entering a season with higher-than-usual expectations. Despite finishing 2017 with an embarrassing 5-11 record and another last-place finish in the NFC North, the Bears have been re-energized by a new coaching staff and an arsenal of young offensive weapons.

The fate of the Bears will mostly rest on the shoulders of Mitch Trubisky, but he's not alone on the list of players who need to have a big season for Chicago to compete for a playoff spot. 

Here are five Bears who have the most to prove if a playoff run is in the cards this season.

Leonard Floyd, OLB

The Bears will never become a truly special defense without a star pass rusher. Floyd is the most capable of being that guy. In fact, that's the reason GM Ryan Pace selected him in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft. Floyd has 11 1/2 sacks through two injury-plagued seasons and is beginning 2018 with questions surrounding a knee injury he suffered in last year's Week 11 game against the Lions. He has to prove he can be a double-digit sack artist in the NFL and it has to happen this season. If he fails, the defense is in serious trouble.

Charles Leno, Jr., OT

Leno was signed to a contract extension in 2017 that ensures he'll be the team's starting left tackle for the next few seasons. That said, his cap number drops to $2.7 million in 2019 giving the Bears wiggle room if he fails to keep Trubisky upright. Leno is being overlooked in terms of the players who are the most critical for a successful 2018. He's proven to be a reliable left tackle for a team without playoff aspirations, but if the Bears want to make a jump into the ranks of Super Bowl contenders, top-tier left tackle play is mandatory. Is Leno that kind of player? He's flirting with that standard, but he's not quite there yet. This season will go a long way in his evaluation.

Allen Robinson, WR

It's easy to forget Robinson's underwhelming 2016 season when highlights from his incredible 1,400-yard, 14-touchdown stat sheet in 2015 flash across the screen. He came crashing down to earth over his last healthy 16 games. That, combined with an ACL injury last September, qualifies Robinson as a player who has to prove he's worth the three-year, $42 million contract the Bears gave him. If he fails to return to that sensational 2015 form, the Bears offense will be fall way short of its preseason expectations. In fact, Robinson may have more pressure than any other player on offense to produce. 

Eddie Goldman, DL

Goldman's rookie season set a high bar for what his career in Chicago was supposed to be. When healthy, he's a force. He played 15 games last year after suiting up for only six in 2016. He has to stack back-to-back healthy seasons together and if he does, he and Akiem Hicks will quickly garner national respect as one of the most fearsome defensive line duos in the league. In fact, Goldman may have already done enough to earn a lucrative contract extension before the season kicks off. Regardless of whether he gets that new deal, he has to step up and have a breakout 2018.

Kyle Long, OG

There's no doubt who the leader of the Bears' offensive line is. Long has been an alpha since his rookie season but he's started only 17 games over the last two years. He needs to stay healthy and take charge up front. Long's offseason calendar has been filled with medical procedures to get him back to good form, and the timing couldn't be better. The offense finally appears ready to challenge defenses on every possession and its ceiling is much higher with Long on the field. If his body fails him again, questions about his long-term future with the Bears will slowly begin.

Under Center Podcast: What's the Bears' ceiling this year?

Under Center Podcast: What's the Bears' ceiling this year?

After the Bears' statement-making 25-20 win over the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday night, Laurence Holmes, Lance Briggs, Matt Forte and Alex Brown sat down to talk about how far they think the Bears can go this season. They also debate whether they trust kicker Cody Parkey after a 3-3 performance, and look ahead to Thanksgiving Day's matchup with the Lions. 

You can listen to the entire podcast right here, or in the embedded player below. 

Cody Parkey’s bounce-back game reveals something important about the 2018 Bears

USA Today

Cody Parkey’s bounce-back game reveals something important about the 2018 Bears

 Cody Parkey, of course, noticed the two news helicopters hovering over Soldier Field Wednesday night. Maybe they added a little bit of pressure to his kicking practice session four days before he connected on all three of his field goal tries — including a game-clinching 48-yarder — in the Bears’ 25-20 win over the Minnesota Vikings. 
Or maybe the literal hovering over his every move didn’t affect him at all. 
“They just added a little extra wind for me,” Parkey quipped. 
Parkey’s confidence in himself didn’t waver after he missed four field goal attempts off an upright a week ago, even if the rest of Chicago might’s lost faith in their team’s kicker. While Matt Nagy framed his calling of a pair of two-point conversion attempts after the Bears’ two touchdowns Sunday as wanting to be aggressive (“we just felt like we had some good stuff down there in that area,” he said), perhaps it wasn’t a coincidence it came a week after his kicker missed two PATs. 
But Nagy’s confidence in Parkey was there when he called on him for that 48-yard field goal with a little under three minutes remaining in, at the time, an eight-point game. Had Parkey missed the kick, Minnesota would’ve taken over possession in optimal field position to drive downfield and tie the game. 
Instead, Parkey nailed the kick, and nearly the entire Bears’ sideline rushed onto the field to celebrate with him. 
“Parkey’s a dog, man,” outside linebacker Khalil Mack said. “Practice makes perfect. He’s a great kicker and I’m glad he got back to showing it.”
“You support your guys,” defensive lineman Akiem Hicks said. “There’s always going to be people out there that are hard on you that can never do what you do. I think that’s he’s handled it very well. Very respectful, very humble about it, and he came out tonight and he played one of his best games for us.”
“We all believed in him in the locker room,” quarterback Mitch Trubisky said. “There was never a doubt. That happens week to week in the NFL. But we just continue to come together closer as a team, support our guys, have each other's back. I'm happy for Cody. He was big time tonight. He definitely delivered for this team and put some points on the board when we needed them. They were crucial, and he did a heck of a job.”
And cornerback Prince Amukamara: “We knew that he had a tough time last week and was very hard on himself. For him to hit the first one and hit the last one, we knew how huge that was and he crushed it. He ended up breaking us down at the end right here. And that goes with what I've been saying all year, we have genuine love for each other and guys celebrate others' success."
That last point is important. The Bears have a certain positive spirit in their team, one instilled by Nagy that permeates every corner of Halas Hall. How often do you see so many players sprint off the sideline to celebrate with their kicker after he hits a field goal that isn’t a game-winner? 
“That was pretty cool,” Parkey said. “Obviously they saw me down last week and they picked me up. I think that’s just really special about this team and it shows how close we are.”