Bears

Three questions for Bears D-line: Does Akiem Hicks have another gear?

Three questions for Bears D-line: Does Akiem Hicks have another gear?

Pre-camp depth chart

DE
1. Akiem Hicks
2. Bilal Nichols
3. Bunmi Rotimi

1. Jonathan Bullard
2. Roy Robertson-Harris
3. Cavon Walker

NT
1. Eddie Goldman
2. John Jenkins
3. Nick Williams

1. Does Akiem Hicks have another gear?

Hicks led the Bears with 8 1/2 sacks last year, and combined with his excellent work against the run probably should’ve been enough to get him to the Pro Bowl (it wasn’t). Still, 2017 was a feel-good year for Hicks, who signed a four-year contract extension a day before the season started and then turned in career-best production.

With the Bears’ pass rush having the most questions of any segment of this team coming into training camp, Vic Fangio will have to hope Hicks not only doesn’t take a step back in 2018, but improves off what he did a year ago. 

Defensive line coach Jay Rodgers said he wants to see Hicks play with greater consistency in 2018 — and if he does that, it would allow him to find that extra gear in his play. 

“Consistency with technique, consistency with production,” Rodgers said. “More opportunities to get in on tackles. I think his solo tackles were really high as compared to previous years, I’d like to see his assists go up, which means that he’s finding ways to get to the ball even faster. All those things you take into consideration when you’re evaluating a guy and seeing a guy if he gets better from Year 1 to Year 2 to Year 3.” 

2. When will Eddie Goldman get his second contract?

Goldman’s place in the Bears’ defensive line isn’t in question, even if his surface-level numbers (27 tackles, 1 1/2 sacks) aren’t exactly eye-popping. What Goldman primarily succeeds at — pushing back two interior offensive linemen weighing about 600 pounds — doesn’t show up in a box score, but it certainly doesn’t go unnoticed by his coaches and teammates. 

“He’s a beast, man,” linebacker Danny Trevathan said. “I’m glad to have him in front of me. He’s not a guy who’s rah-rah, but when he’s out there, he’s out there making plays. It doesn’t show up on film but he’s the key, he’s a vital part of this defense. He’s wrecking stuff in there. As a linebacker, that’s my best friend. 

“The more he can wreck, the more I can make plays and we all can make plays. It shows to us, and probably not to the public as much, but to us we know what his game is and we know what he brings to this defense. He’s definitely making us better.”

Goldman and Hicks played off each other well last year, and with Hicks (and Fangio) sticking around for a while, it would only make sense for Goldman — who’s entering the final year of his rookie contract — to be Ryan Pace’s top priority to sign to an extension during training camp. It seems like a matter of when, not if, that deal will be reached. 

“I don’t know about you all, but I don’t put any of the highlight reels on (that are on) national television,” Rodgers said. “I have a highlight reel in my room. And if I see him knock people back and make a play, or knock another guy back on his way to the quarterback that affects the pocket, that’s a highlight in my mind.”

3. Who emerges opposite Hicks as the starting DE?

While the consistency achieved across Fangio’s defense has been a point of praise for the Bears, at least inside Halas Hall, the impact of the departure of defensive end Mitch Unrein may have flown under the radar. Coaches and teammates praised how well Unrein fit a role on the Bears’ defensive front last year, with his consistency and knowledge allowing Hicks and Goldman to play faster. Consider what Rodgers said about Unrein last fall:

“Mitch is the glue that kind of holds it all together,” Rodgers said. “…When he’s out there on the field with those guys, he allows those guys to play fast. And if they know what’s coming their way, then they can play even faster.”

Unrein signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in March, and the Bears didn’t make a move to replace him in free agency. So that means there will be a relatively open competition for the third starting spot on the defensive line come training camp between, primarily, Jonathan Bullard, Roy Robertson-Harris and Bilal Nichols. 

Each player has his own strengths and weaknesses. Bullard, a 2016 third-round pick, showed flashes at times last year but only has two sacks and 33 tackles in 30 career games. The Bears believe Robertson-Harris is an ascending player with pass rushing potential, but he’s only entering his second year playing 3-4 defensive end and would need to make significant strides in training camp. Nichols is a fifth-round pick who the Bears see as having some pass-rushing potential, too, but expecting a guy who played defensive tackle at Delaware to step into a primary role on an NFL defensive line is a little lofty.

One other note here, though: Even if the Bears have a true “starter,” expect there to be plenty of rotating with the spot(s) opposite Hicks and Goldman. For all the praise Unrein received last year, he didn’t even play half of the Bears’ defensive snaps, so having at least two other defensive linemen emerge as viable options would be beneficial for this group. 

Recalling Chet Coppock – snapshots of a character, who also had character

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NBC Sports Chicago

Recalling Chet Coppock – snapshots of a character, who also had character

The news that came out Thursday, that Chet Coppock had died from injuries suffered in an automobile accident earlier this month in Florida, was sad on so many levels. That you didn’t have a chance to say “good-bye,” that you didn’t have a chance to say “thank you,” that you won’t have more of “those” kinds of Chet moments.

But one of my favorite movie moments is at the end of “The Last Samurai” when Tom Cruise, the wounded ex-U.S. soldier who’d fought with the Samurai, is asked by the young Japanese emperor about the death of Ken Watanabe’s Samurai character Katsumoto, “Tell me how he died.” To which Cruise says, “I will tell you, how he lived.”

Somehow that’s the feeling thinking about Chet – little fun snapshots of how he lived.

Snapshots like listening to Coppock on Sports, and appreciating that Chet deserves a spot in the pantheon of those who created a genre.

Like how we in the media laughed imitating Chet’s questions, which routinely went on long enough for you to run out for a sandwich and be back before he was finished. But the chuckle was how Chet wouldn’t directly ask a guest, “So why did you make THAT idiotic play?” No, Chester had this tack of, “So, what would you say to those who would say, ‘You’re an idiot?’” Of course, it would take a minimum of two minutes for him to wend his way through the question, but the results were always worth waiting for.

Like “Your dime, your dance floor.” 

Like grabbing lunches with Chet while I was working on the ’85 Bears book, but in particular while I was writing “100 Greatest Chicago Sports Arguments.” The specific in the latter told me a lot about Chet, far beyond just the information he was sharing.

The “argument” was over who was the greatest Chicago play-by-play broadcaster. Now, Chet of course suggested tongue-in-cheek that he belonged in the discussion; after all, as he pointed out, a high school kid at New Trier games, sitting by himself in the stands, doing play-by-play into a “microphone” that was one of those cardboard rollers from bathroom tissue, oughta be worth something.

Chet’s nomination for the actual No. 1 was Jack Brickhouse, the WGN legend who Chet noted had done play-by for every conceivable sport.

But the reason for Chet’s vote for Brickhouse wasn’t about any of that. It was, Chet said, because Brickhouse beginning back in the mid-‘50s, when the Cubs were integrating with Gene Baker and Ernie Banks, had very intentionally made it clear with his broadcasting and behavior that Baker and Banks were “Cubs,” not “black Cubs.” Brickhouse’s principles had left an impression on a then-young Chet.

I hadn’t known any of that. But Chet did, and that he had taken a lasting impression from what he’d heard growing up said something about Chet as well as Jack. That impressed me, and frankly has always been my favorite Chet story.

So losing an institution like Chet is sad; Chet did say that, no, he wasn’t an institution, but rather that he belonged IN one. But at least he came our way.

Behind Enemy Lines: Looking at where the Bears fall in their opponents’ schedules

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USA TODAY

Behind Enemy Lines: Looking at where the Bears fall in their opponents’ schedules

Week 1: Packers at Bears (TNF / NFL Season Opener)

It’s NFL Opening Night. Really not much else to say here. The Packers do host the Vikings in Week 2, so there’s that.

**10 days off**

Week 2: Bears at Broncos

No shortage of juice for the Broncos here. On top of Vic Fangio getting the opportunity to take down his former team, it’s the Broncos home opener. There’s also some ridiculous stat out there about the Broncos being something like 75-2 in Week 2 at home or something (*Not the actual stat, it’s buried in TweetDeck somewhere), so this one will be tough.

Week 3: Bears at Washington (MNF)

 

Washington’s schedule

Week 1 at Eagles

Week 2 vs Cowboys

Week 3 vs Bears MNF

Week 4 vs Giants

Week 5 vs Patriots

So Washington hosts the Bears in the midst of facing all three of their divisional opponents in the first four weeks of the season. I don’t know what it means, I just know I found it interesting. Worst case scenario for the Bears is that Washington is (more than likely) 0-2 and needs to throw the kitchen sink at the Bears to “save” their season on Monday Night Football. But then there’s this: Washington is 2-14 on Monday Night Football since November of 2008.

Week 4 Vikings vs Bears

 

Vikings Schedule

Week 3 vs Raiders

Week 4 at Bears

Week 5 at Giants

Week 6 vs Eagles

Divisional games aren’t typically let down or look ahead spots and that certainly holds true for both teams here. I’d watch out for that Giants game in New York sandwiched between the Bears and Eagles if I were a Vikings fan though.

Week 5 vs Raiders in London

 

Raiders Schedule

Week 2 vs Chiefs

Week 3 at Vikings

Week 4 at Colts

Week 5 vs Bears in London

Week 6 BYE

All bets are off for these London games. The Khalil Mack trade revenge game certainly should be a Bears win, and after facing a murderers row of the Chiefs, Vikings and Colts, the Raiders could be limping across the pond.

Week 6  BYE

Week 7  Saints vs Bears

 

Saints Schedule

Week 6 at Jaguars

Week 7 at Bears

Week 8 vs Cardinals

As JJ Stankevitz, Cam Ellis and I talked about on the Under Center podcast I actually think it’s a good thing the Bears are facing a likely Super Bowl contender coming out of the bye week. Last season, they faced the Dolphins and Giants coming out of the Bye, and the extended post-Thanksgiving break respectively and they lost against bad teams. No excuse for not getting up for this game. And as you can see, there’s nothing to distract the Saints from the defending NFC North champs.

Week 8   Chargers vs Bears

 

Chargers Schedule

Week 6 vs Steelers

Week 7 at Titans

Week 8 at Bears

Week 9 vs Packers

So the Chargers were 7-1 on the road last season, but I think their road success and their 12-4 record come back to earth in 2019. Last season was their first season winning 10+ games since 2009. And we saw the real Chargers (not) show up against the Patriots when it mattered most in the AFC Divisional Round. Give me a healthy dose of Philip Rivers throwing a temper tantrum after Khalil Mack and Akiem Hicks combine for the Bears fourth sack of the day.

Week 9 at Eagles

 

Eagles Schedule

Week 7 at Cowboys (SNF)

Week 8  at Bills

Week 9 vs Bears

Week 10 BYE

Week 11 vs Patriots

The already tall task of avenging last season’s double doink playoff heartbreak gets even tougher with the way the schedule falls for Jordan Howard’s new team. Having the Patriots looming could have been advantageous for the Bears, but this being the Eagles’ last game before the bye nixes any chance Doug Pederson’s team will be looking past the Bears and ahead to a Super Bowl LII rematch. Big game at a big point of the season for both teams.

Week 10 vs Lions

 

Lions Schedule

Week 9 at Raiders

Week 10 at Bears

Week 11 vs Cowboys

Week 12 at Washington

Week 13 vs Bears  (Thanksgiving)

Nothing jumps out from the Lions perspective here. Should be a ‘get right game’ for the Bears coming off IMO their toughest stretch of the season. There is some letdown potential with the lowly Lions dropped into this otherwise murderer’s row 5 game stretch.

Week 11 at Rams (SNF)

 

Rams schedule

Week 10 at Steelers

Week 11 vs Bears  (SNF)

Week 12 vs Ravens (MNF)

Super Bowl hangover anyone?? The Bears laid the defensive blueprint for how to beat the Rams – and the thing I can’t still get over: it’s great that a mic’d up Sean McVay realized the Patriots were using the Bears scheme early in the Super Bowl. But how did he not have a counter for it at that point? A team beat you this exact way? The Bears finish what they started a season ago by sending the Rams into a tailspin while Mitch cements himself as a household name.

Week 12 vs Giants

 

Giants Schedule

Week 11  BYE

Week 12  at Bears

Week 13 vs Packers

We’re doing this again are we? Huge letdown spot for the Bears against what should be a really bad team coming off their bye week and the Bears have a short Thanksgiving week looming. I don’t like it. Not even a little bit.

Week 13 at Lions (Thanksgiving)

 

Lions Schedule

Week 12 at Washington

Week 13 vs Bears  (Thanksgiving)

Week 14 at Vikings

We saw the Bears handle a brutal 85-hour turnaround from Sunday Night Football to Thanksgiving last season – so they’ve been here. Last year’s Thanksgiving game did actually come down to Kyle Fuller making a game-saving INT in the end zone at the end of the game. Definitely edge Bears but anything can happen on Turkey day.

**update! I found the Broncos stat!  51-8-2 in weeks 1-2 at home.  Carry on.****

Week 14 vs Cowboys (TNF)

 

Cowboys schedule

Week 12 at Patriots

Week 13 vs Bills

Week 14 at Bears (TNF)

Week 15 vs Rams

Getting funky with back to back Thursdays. The Bears did do this in 2014, losing against the Lions and Cowboys in that order as the Trestman era was coming to its Real Football Coaches of Chicago (in)glorious ending. For my money, I have this as the most pivotal game of the season. With 10 days off afterward, a win could propel the Bears into their crucial home stretch (and the playoffs) in the driver’s seat.

**10 days off**

Week 15  at Packers

 

Packers Schedule

Week 13 at Giants

Week 14 vs Washington

Week 15 vs Bears

Week 16 at Vikings

Week 17 at Lions

Well here’s some fun with schedules. The Packers finish with three straight against the NFC North. And they get to warm up for it with back to back games against the NFC East’s least. Does the Matt Nagy era come full circle from Lambeau heartbreak in the 2018 opener to cementing his second straight divisional crown in enemy territory?

Week 16 vs Chiefs (SNF)

 

Chiefs Schedule

Week 14 at Patriots

Week 15 vs Broncos

Week 16 at Bears (SNF)

Week 17 vs Chargers

Definitely a roll of the dice by the schedule makers to have the Andy Reid – Matt Nagy, mentor vs pupil, reigning MVP vs reigning top defense this late in the season. This game very well could mean nothing to either or both teams. But for everyone’s sake, let’s hope we all get the primetime early Christmas present of watching Patrick Mahomes vs the Bears defense with everything on the line.

Week 17 at Vikings

 

Vikings Schedule

Week 14 vs Lions

Week 15 at Chargers (SNF)

Week 16 vs Packers (MNF)

Week 17 vs Bears

Another fun schedule wrinkle where another NFC North opponents close with a division heavy final stretch. Normally I would have a problem with the Vikings getting to end the season with all three of their NFC North home games in the final month. But we saw what the Vikings did at home with their season on the line against the Bears in the final week last season, so I have my doubts as to whether they’ll even still be alive at this point.

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