Bears

How do ACL tears affect wide receivers? The numbers are promising for Allen Robinson, Cameron Meredith

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USA Today

How do ACL tears affect wide receivers? The numbers are promising for Allen Robinson, Cameron Meredith

For all the excitement generated by the news that hit in the wee hours of Tuesday morning, the Bears' top two receivers in 2018 are still working their way back from torn ACLs suffered last year. 

Cameron Meredith tore his ACL in a preseason game against the Tennessee Titans on Aug. 27, 2017. Two weeks later, on the third play of the season, Allen Robinson tore his ACL against the Houston Texans. Both players missed the remainder of the 2017 season following their injuries. 

Robinson says he'll be fully cleared for training camp, and the Bears hope the same will be the case for Meredith. Getting both players as many practice reps with Mitch Trubisky is key, given Robinson was with a different team a year ago and Meredith's only chance to fully practice with Trubisky came leading up to that third preseason game against the Titans. 

"We’re going to try and get together as much as we can in the offseason," Meredith said in January. "Try and make up for the lost time. I’m excited to just to get in rhythm with him, come practice time."

All of that will be part of the Bears' efforts to improve the team around Trubisky. Having his two best receivers coming off ACL surgery seems risky, but recent history shows it may not be as risky as it may sound. 

This comes with the caveat that every injury is different and every recovery is different. But since 2013, there have been 34 wide receivers who have suffered a torn ACL. We're crossing out 13 of those players, most of whom played only a handful of games in the NFL and aren't comparable to Meredith or Robinson. So that leaves us with this list of 20 players who we can use to can compare pre-ACL tear performace and post-ACL tear performance. 

To keep the stats even, we're using Pro Football Reference's 16-game average, even though some of these players didn't play in every single game after returning. But it's an even benchmark for comparing production in this case. On to the table: 

Of these 20 receivers, six never made it back from their torn ACLs. Domenik Hixon and Danario Alexander each had suffered multiple torn ACLs/knee injuries prior to their career-enders, while Sidney Rice decided to retire due to multiple concussions. Stephen Hill is the outlier here age-wise, but the former second-round pick wasn't particulary effective prior to his injury. The average age of when these six players tore their ACLs is 27.2 years old.

Seven players (Vincent Jackson, Kelvin Benjamin, Louis Murphy, Jordan Norwood, Arrelious Benn, Reggie Wayne and Leonard Hankerson) returned from their torn ACLs and saw their production decline. Jackson and Wayne were in the mid-30's when they tore their ACLs, while Murphy, Norwood, Benn and Hankerson were varying levels of productive before suffering their respective injuries, and they didn't play much after getting hurt. Benjamin's effectiveness declined, but not sharply until after he returned with 63 catches for 941 yards and seven touchdowns his first year back off the ACL tear. The average age of when these seven players tore their ACLs is 28.4. Among these 13 players who were either out of football or saw their production decline, the average age of when they suffered their injury is 27.8. 

So that leaves seven players who saw their production improve after returning from tearing an ACL: Keenan Allen, Jaron Brown, Jordy Nelson, Paul Richardson, Jeremy Maclin, Charles Johnson and Travis Benjamin. We'll leave Johnson, who tore his ACL before his NFL debut, out of this argument for the moment. So narrowing it down to Allen, Brown, Nelson, Richardson, Maclin and Benjamin, we come up with this: Those six players saw an average increase of 26.8 targets, 12.3 receptions, 196.8 yards and 1.8 touchdowns in their 16-game averages. 

And here's maybe the most important number: Those six players suffered an ACL tear when they were, on average, 25.2 years old. Meredith turns 26 in September; Robinson turns 25 in August. 

Does this guarantee that Robinson will get back to his pre-ACL tear level of production (143 targets, 75 receptions, 1,060 yards, 8 TDs)? Or what about Meredith, who caught 66 of 97 targets for 888 yards and four touchdowns in 2016? Not exactly. But if you're looking for some reason to be optimistic the Bears' bet on Robinson will pay off alongside Meredith this fall, recent history could be it. 

 

 

Sports Talk Live Podcast: Should Roquan Smith make his debut against the Broncos?

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USA TODAY

Sports Talk Live Podcast: Should Roquan Smith make his debut against the Broncos?

Seth Gruen, Chris Emma and Matt Zahn join Kap on the panel. Jon Lester pitches like Jon Lester again and the offense does just enough to win in Pittsburgh. Jim Deshaies joins the guys to talk about the Cubs.

 

Should Roquan Smith make his preseason debut in Denver? Plus the Ohio State controversy takes a salacious turn. Will Urban Meyer keep his job when the investigation wraps up Sunday?

 

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Five things to watch for the Bears in Saturday's preseason meeting with the Broncos

Five things to watch for the Bears in Saturday's preseason meeting with the Broncos

DENVER — Expect the Bears’ starters to play deeper into the first half on Saturday in Denver than they did last week in Cincinnati, but their time on the field will still be relatively brief. The real dress rehearsal for the Bears will be next weekend, when they gameplan for and host the Kansas City Chiefs on Aug. 25. 

But Saturday’s game against the Denver Broncos at Mile High Stadium still represents sort of a checkpoint in the buildup to Sept. 9’s season-opening tilt with the Green Bay Packers. It’ll be the last game of the installation phase of the offseason, with coaches turning their focus to gameplanning for the Chiefs next week and then the Packers afterwards. 

There’s still plenty to be learned on Saturday, though. A few things to watch:

1. Will the first-team offense actually produce?

Mitch Trubisky this week bristled at the notion preseason games didn’t matter — “They don’t matter?” he said. “Then why do you guys talk about them so much?” — which fits with the attitude of a guy who was fairly frustrated with his and his teammates’ performance against the Cincinnati Bengals last week. Trubisky wasn’t happy with offense’s sloppy and ineffective play during the two drives he quarterbacked, and wasn’t willing to write it off as “just” a preseason game. 

“No matter what it is, if it’s on the practice field, if I’m in the backyard by myself, if it’s a preseason game, we’re trying to get better and we’re trying to move the football,” Trubisky said. “That’s what great players do. That’s what great teams do. We’re trying to get some momentum and everybody do our job and execute the offense.”

Still, because the Bears aren’t doing much in the way of gameplanning for the Broncos, any production or lack thereof won’t tell us much about the direction in which this offense is headed. More important will be how successful this group is next week against the Chiefs. 

But Trubisky’s competitiveness means he’s not going to let a poor performance slide, even if it’s only for a few series in a game that doesn’t count. He and the Bears hope that translates into some first downs and points on Saturday. 

2. Some notable debuts

Helping Trubisky’s cause will be the 2018 preseason debuts of running back Jordan Howard and wide receiver Allen Robinson, as well as running back Tarik Cohen — who only played one snap against Cincinnati — perhaps being used more. 

The Bears’ offense will not be at full strength, with wide receiver Taylor Gabriel (foot) and tight end Dion Sims (concussion) still out. But for Trubisky, it’ll be a good opportunity for him to see how all the work he and Robinson put in to develop a chemistry in the last few weeks translates to the field.

“We continue to create that chemistry in practice and my job is just to get the ball to the playmakers,” Trubisky said. “The more playmakers we have on the field, just continue to get them the ball and let them do what they do and we just need to roll as an offense, be on the same page, everyone continue to do their job, lock in and go out there and have fun an execute. It’ll be nice to see those guys with the ball in their hands this weekend.”

3. What about Roquan?

It wouldn’t be surprising to see Smith in full uniform going through pregame warmups, but it would qualify as a minor surprise if he actually played on Saturday. 

The benefit to Smith playing would be working to accelerate his development with an eye on Week 1, even if it’s only for a few snaps. But does the risk of him getting injured outweigh whatever benefit playing him would provide?

It’s a question the Bears surely are debating. But coaches and trainers made sure to not push Smith too hard in this week’s joint practices against the Broncos, and it would be risky to put him in Saturday but tell him to not play at full speed. 

It’s not out of the realm of possibility for Smith to play on Saturday, but more likely would be No. 58 making his preseason debut against the Chiefs with another week of practice under his belt. 

4. Snap decisions

James Daniels felt like he was a little sloppy last week against the Bengals, specifically with his hand placement but more broadly because the intensity of things was increased. 

“I think that’s when my technique gets sloppy is when you’re out there and playing against somebody else, you’re really playing,” Daniels said. 

This week’s joint practices, then, were beneficial for Daniels to focus on keeping his technique sound in a more intense setting. And he had the opportunity to do that all while still playing center, not left guard, where he had been working up until last week. How Bears coaches evaluate Daniels' week of practice — which certainly wasn't perfect — will be important, especially in the context of...

... Cody Whitehair going through a snapping “slump” over the last week or so, starting with that preseason game in Cincinnati. If those low/high snaps crop up again Saturday, and Daniels is able to put in a solid day of work with the second-team offensive line, it may nudge the Bears toward moving Whitehair to guard and inserting the second-round Iowa product into the starting lineup. 

The Bears haven’t considered that move yet, though, and the plan all along has been to keep Whitehair at center. A lot has to happen for that plan to change: If Whitehair can’t consistently get snaps to Trubisky, if Daniels proves he’s one of the team’s best five offensive linemen, and then if Daniels proves he’s a better option at center than Whitehair. So far, the Bears haven’t arrived at any of those conclusions, but Saturday’s game could have a significant impact on what those conclusions wind up being. 

5. Down-the-depth-chart position battles

Plenty of players fighting for a spot on the Week 1 53-man roster will get an extended opportunity to put more good — or bad — things on film on Saturday. 

Near the top of the depth chart, Adam Shaheen will have another opportunity to keep his arrow pointing up at the “Y” tight end spot with Sims still out. Jonathan Bullard and Roy Robertson-Harris will continue their competition for the final starting spot on the defensive line, with Bullard still likely the slight favorite. Nick Kwiatkoski can help his case to hold off Smith with another solid showing in what’s been a solid preseason. 

An all-hands-on-deck competition to be the Bears’ reserve outside corner is developing, and with Prince Amukamara (groin) not practicing this week, everyone from that group will get a chance to help their case of making the Week 1 roster. Marcus Cooper needs to have a better game than he did against Cincinnati, while 2017 practice squad’er Doran Grant should get plenty of opportunities, too. For undrafted rookies Kevin Toliver, Michael Joseph and John Franklin III, it’s a big opportunity, too, to turn a longshot bid for a roster spot into something more realistic.