Bears

Bears: Alshon Jeffery's return finally gives Matt Barkley an elite target

Bears: Alshon Jeffery's return finally gives Matt Barkley an elite target

So many weeks of the Bears’ 3-10 season have been marked by player exits from the stage, whether for injury or suspension. The games now may mean little overall because of the Bears being eliminated from playoff possibilities but the impending return of one of those players – wide receiver Alshon Jeffery – suddenly adds a level of significance to next Sunday’s game against the Green Bay Packers.

Jeffery was suspended four games on Nov. 14 for violating NFL policy on performance-enhancing drugs and is eligible to return this week after being barred from even being in the building while under suspension. He was at Halas Hall on Monday, with coach John Fox “re-introducing” the veteran wideout and team co-captain to the team.

The real introduction, however, will come when Jeffery begins working with quarterback Matt Barkley, whose run as Bears starting quarterback began during Jeffery’s absence. Jeffery resumes playing for his next contract -- “I think he has a pretty good understanding” of what the next three weeks mean, Fox said – and at the same time gives Barkley an opportunity to operate the offense with one of its biggest weapons after working primarily with receivers no higher than No. 4 on the depth chart. Eddie Royal played 12 snaps in the Tennessee game, Barkley’s first NFL start, but has been inactive the past two weeks.

Barkley has developed chemistry with backups Josh Bellamy, Cam Meredith, Deonte Thompson and Daniel Braverman, with the goal now to develop something with Jeffery “hopefully fast, like this week,” Fox said. “We’re playing a pretty good team here at our place. Obviously we have to work on it.

“The passing game is timing and precision. Alshon knows our offense. It’s not like he’s new to it. This will be his third quarterback throwing to him and even that’s not different. When Jay got hurt and we put Brian in there was an adjustment for everybody and it will be an adjustment for Alshon with Matt.”

Will Mitch Trubisky be this season's Jared Goff?

Will Mitch Trubisky be this season's Jared Goff?

The Chicago Bears have been compared to the Los Angeles Rams as a team capable of a significant one-year turnaround after the many moves by GM Ryan Pace to improve the offense and build around second-year quarterback Mitch Trubisky.

According to NFL.com's Adam Schein, the comparisons go one step further. He thinks Trubisky is the best candidate to be 2018's version of Jared Goff:

"I'm infatuated with the Bears' offseason," Schein wrote. "The Bears smartly followed the Rams' blueprint from last offseason: hand the keys to an offensive guru/quarterback whisperer (Matt Nagy) and dedicate the offseason to surrounding your young signal-caller with talent (Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel and Trey Burton in free agency, James Daniels and Anthony Miller in the draft). Trubisky will follow in Goff's footsteps and take a major jump in his sophomore campaign."

MULLIN: Teammates see greatness in Trubisky

The comparison of Trubisky to Goff makes a ton of sense. Both were drafted with franchise-quarterback expectations but had average rookie seasons. Both played their first year with an old-school, defensive-minded head coach who was later replaced by a young up-and-coming offensive specialist. And both Goff and Trubisky were given high-powered weapons to begin their sophomore seasons with (the Rams signed Robert Woods and traded for Sammy Watkins before last season). 

Trubisky has to turn these comparisons into production, however. The Rams' remarkable 2017 campaign was just that because rarely does a team have such a dramatic turnaround in only one offseason. The odds aren't in the Bears' favor.

Still, there's a surge of confidence and support in and around Trubisky from the coaching staff and his teammates. He's doing everything he can to prepare for a Goff-like season. We'll find out soon enough if his preparation pays off.

Bears counting on a healthy Leonard Floyd in 2018

Bears counting on a healthy Leonard Floyd in 2018

There's a lot of pressure on the Chicago Bears' pass rush this season.

The NFC North has suddenly become one of the league's most talented quarterback divisions with Kirk Cousins (Vikings) joining Aaron Rodgers (Packers) and Matthew Stafford (Lions). Chicago is the only team in the North without a proven veteran under center.

Leonard Floyd is the most gifted pass-rusher on the roster and the onus is on him to become the superstar sack artist Ryan Pace envisioned when he traded up in the first round in 2016 to select him. Floyd, combined with free-agent addition Aaron Lynch and veteran Sam Acho, have to deliver.

“Leonard Floyd has to stay healthy and have a good year,” Pace told The Athletic's Dan Pompei. “Aaron Lynch has to come on. Vic [Fangio] had background with Aaron Lynch, so that gave us a comfort level in signing him. There is upside there. He’s still a young player. He fits the defense and knows Vic. Sam Acho has been a consistent player for us."

Floyd has just 11 1/2 sacks through two seasons, both of which have been marred by injury. He's played in just 22 of a possible 32 games as a pro.

Pace didn't address the team's pass rush until the sixth round of April's draft when he nabbed Utah's Kylie Fitts. It seemed odd at the time that he waited so long to address one of the team's most glaring needs and there haven't been any veteran signings to sure up the group since the draft concluded. The Bears are one injury away from a serious problem at outside linebacker and are relying on a bunch of guys who haven't proven capable of playing a full season in their careers.

"We felt fortunate to get Kylie Fitts in the sixth round, and he has to stay healthy," Pace said. "You are never going to come out of the offseason and say we addressed everything, we’re perfect.”

The Bears invested most of their offseason resources into surrounding Trubisky with playmakers who can help him compete with his NFC North counterparts. The offense will be better.

But if Floyd doesn't have a breakthrough season, more pressure will be on Trubisky to score points -- and a lot of them -- to keep games close in the division. And that's not the kind of pressure the Bears are hoping Floyd creates in 2018.