Bears

Bears' massive overhaul of 3-4 front seven to extend into draft

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Bears' massive overhaul of 3-4 front seven to extend into draft

BOCA RATON, Fla. – Like most NFL coaches and personnel decision-makers, Bears GM Ryan Pace gets a little squirmy when the conversation brushes up too close against who’s hot, who’s not and other subjects around what he and his team might be doing in the immediate future, as in the draft or ongoing free agency.

But action is character in theater and what Pace and the Bears have done in the areas of defensive line and linebackers have made clear statements of not only the priority going into 2016, but also the belief that dramatic improvement is within reach.

[RELATED - Bears have Kevin White '100 percent healthy' at this stage of '16]

That has come with the signings of inside linebackers Jerrell Freeman and Danny Trevathan in addition to defensive lineman Akiem Hicks. And while Pace tried to stay away from draft talk, it was apparent that the third spot in the “3” portion of their 3-4 may be addressed from the talent pool in this year’s draft, rated one of the best ever for defensive linemen.

“There’s talent there but it’s also a deep position in the draft,” Pace said on Tuesday during the NFL owners meetings. “So it’s a spot when we talk about improving our defense, it’s an area where we can make quick improvement.”

That improvement will come in multiple areas besides the draft. Ego Ferguson, a spot starter and part of the defensive rotation before suffering a season-ending knee injury, is on pace to begin training camp on time.

At this point, there have been significant developments at all four linebacker spots. Besides the Freeman and Trevathan signings, rush linebacker Pernell McPhee is targeting a lower weight as a means of increasing his speed and decreasing strain on his injured left knee, repaired with a scope procedure this offseason.

And 2015 sack leader Lamarr Houston (eight sacks) is securely in place at the linebacker spot opposite McPhee. Houston’s $6 million contract for this season loomed as a sticking point, but the Bears have managed their salary cap effectively, exercised restraint in the face of some hysteria signings elsewhere in the early days of free agency, and now are not expected to be in a position of needing a pay cut or roster trim involving Houston.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

“We feel good about Lamarr,” Pace said. “He came on strong. Luckily we’re in a healthy cap situation so we can [stay with him]. Those guys are hard to find. I think the playoffs were an example of pass rush and having a strong pass rush, and the more we have of those guys, the better. So we’re comfortable with where he’s at.”

Chicago Bears Training Camp: Veteran and rookie report dates

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USA Today

Chicago Bears Training Camp: Veteran and rookie report dates

Chicago Bears training camp is right around the corner with the first practice (non-padded) scheduled for July 21. 

Bears veterans and rookies will report a few days ahead of that first session to acclimate themselves to their new (for some) surroundings. Rookies report on July 16, with veterans coming three days later on July 19.

All eyes will be on QB Mitch Trubisky and the potentially high-flying offense under coach Matt Nagy. Training camp will take on extra importance because of the plethora of new faces on the roster and coaching staff as well as the installation of a completely new offensive scheme. It's critical that Trubisky builds chemistry with wide receivers Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, Anthony Miller and Kevin White, all of whom he's never thrown a regular-season pass to. Add Trey Burton to that mix and a lot of miscues should be expected in the preseason.

The rookie class is led by linebacker Roquan Smith, who remains unsigned. With less than 30 days until rookies are required to report, a greater sense of urgency -- even if it's not quite a panic -- is certainly creeping in. Assuming he's signed in time, Smith should earn a starting role early in training camp and ascend to one of the defense's top all-around players. 

The Bears have higher-than-usual expectations heading into the 2018 season making fans eager for summer practices to get underway.

Leonard Floyd picked as potential Pro Bowler in 2018

Leonard Floyd picked as potential Pro Bowler in 2018

The Chicago Bears need a big season from outside linebacker Leonard Floyd. He's the team's best pass-rush option and the only legitimate threat to post double-digit sacks this year.

Floyd joined the Bears as a first-round pick (No. 9 overall) in 2016 and has flashed freakish talent at times. The problem has been his health; he's appeared in only 22 games through his first two seasons. 

Floyd's rookie year -- especially Weeks 5 through 9 -- showed a glimpse of the kind of disruptive force he's capable of becoming. He registered seven sacks and looked poised to breakout in 2017. Unfortunately, injuries limited him to only 10 games and four sacks.

Despite his disappointing sophomore season, NFL.com's Gil Brandt has high hopes for Floyd in 2018. The long-time NFL personnel executive named Floyd as the Bear with the best chance to earn a first-time trip to the Pro Bowl.

CHICAGO BEARS: Leonard Floyd, OLB, third NFL season. Floyd had seven sacks as a rookie in 2016, but missed six games last season due to a knee injury. He's a talented guy who can drop into coverage or rush with his hand on the ground and should play much better this season. He also has become much stronger since coming into the league.

The Bears will be in a heap of trouble if Floyd doesn't emerge as a Pro Bowl caliber player. There aren't many pass-rushing options on the roster outside of Floyd aside from Aaron Lynch and rookie Kylie Fitts. Neither edge defender has a resume strong enough to rely on as insurance.

It's a critical year for Floyd's future in Chicago, too. General manager Ryan Pace will decide whether to pick up Floyd's fifth-year option in his rookie contract next offseason. If he plays well, it's a no-brainer. If not, Pace could be looking at two straight first-round picks (see: Kevin White) that he's declined the extra year.

We're a long way from that decision. Until then, the Bears' season may sink or swim based on its pass rush. It begins -- and ends -- with Floyd.