Bears

Five Bears with the most to prove in 2018

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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.

(Too) Bold Predictions:

(Too) Bold Predictions:

You've stumbled into (Too) Bold Predictions, a weekly column that is exactly what it sounds like! Here, we'll take nuanced, well-researched information and use to make wildly improbable predictions. Analysis! 

 

J.J. Stankevitz 

 

1. Leonard Floyd has a breakout game.

A year ago, Floyd had a monster game against Sam Bradford, dropping the then-Minnesota Vikings quarterback twice, one of which went for a safety. Floyd does the same on Sunday, recording his first two sacks of the season in his first game not playing with a club on his right hand. A reason for that optimism: Cardinals left tackle D.J. Humphries allowed 10 pressures in 70 pass blocking snaps in Weeks 1 and 2. This should be a good matchup for Floyd, and without the club on his hand, he takes advantage of it. We'll say the "breakout" game is at least two sacks and five total pressures.

 

2. Mitch Trubisky will hit multiple shots downfield.

Trubisky missed Taylor Gabriel and Allen Robinson on Monday night on throws that could've backed the Seahawks' defense off the line of scrimmage. Connecting on those deep shots is critical for freeing up more room for Jordan Howard, especially against a Cardinals defense that's had success stopping the run (3.6 yards/carry, sixth in the NFL). But the Cardinals' defense has been gouged through the air, allowing 9.8 yards per attempt (31st). Trubisky will complete two deep throws in the Bears' first two drives, which will lead to a much easier path for offensive success on Sunday.

 

Cam Ellis

 

1. Tarik Cohen will take one to the house.

 Cohen hasn't contributed too heavily to the offense yet, though you could make that argument for just about anyone not named Allen Robinson. That's less the case on special teams: after averaging 9.38 yards per return last season, Cohen's  jumped up to 17.17 this year (though it's still a bit early to be taking averages seriously). It's part of why the Bears have the 5th-best special teams according to Football Outsiders' S.T. DVOA. In honor of Devin Hester and the Bears' 2006 comeback in Arizona, my bet is that Cohen, who landed on the NFL All-Pro team last year for punt returns, breaks the game open with a  touchdown of 50+ yards. 

 

2. Kevin White will tie his career high in catches 

After playing 12 snaps in Week 1 (12%), White only played two snaps (3%) against the Seahawks in Week 2. Arizona has the 30th-ranked pass defense, per Football Outsiders, so there's going to be plenty of eating to go around. With all eyes on Allen Robinson and Taylor Gabriel, Kevin White -- should he play -- is going to get a lot of one-on-one matchups. White snagged six catches in games against Dallas and Detroit in 2016, and he'll resurface for at least one game against one of the league's worst pass defenses. 

 

The Way We Hear It: Mike Glennon plays Mitch Trubisky

The Way We Hear It: Mike Glennon plays Mitch Trubisky

With a week of practice wrapping up today, here's what's been happening in the lead up to Sunday's Bears-Cardinals matchup: