Bears' offseason rivalry report: Detroit Lions

Bears' offseason rivalry report: Detroit Lions

Now that we're three weeks removed from the NFL draft, and the main moves in free agency are in the books, it's perhaps time to take a step back and check out some of the additions and subtractions from the last time the Bears met the Lions and Packers and Vikings. 

There are numerous sites and odds and articles that say while the Bears will be improved from their 6-10 finish last season, it may not translate into an improved position in the 2016 NFC North standings. At best, they could leap the Lions, but they still aren't on the level of the Packers and Vikings.

What we do know is John Fox and his staff have plenty of new parts to work with, especially on defense, where it's been primarily an offseason of addition, not subtraction. Akeem Hicks and Jonathan Bullard could be new bookends for Eddie Goldman in the base 3-4. There's little argument that Danny Trevathan and Jerrell Freeman will be an upgrade at inside linebacker from last season's carousel of inexperience. They added speed off the edge in top draft pick Leonard Floyd. And while there weren't any splash additions in the secondary via free agency, they've added depth, athleticism (but yes, nothing more than potential) to compete with the incumbent defensive backs that position coach Ed Donatell will try to mold into quick-impact assets, as he did with Vic Fangio in San Francisco.

The questions on offense are a little deeper: Coordinator Adam Gase is gone. So are playmakers Matt Forte and Martellus Bennett. Hopefully part of that will be offset by Kevin White. But can Jeremy Langford and Jordan Howard combine (behind what they hope is an improved offensive line) to provide what Forte did so well for eight seasons? If Zach Miller can remain healthy, that's one less concern. But history shows that's a big "if."

We'll start our three-part series in Motown, where Jim Caldwell was left twisting in the wind as head coach until Bob Quinn was finally named general manager and settled on another chance for Caldwell and his staff.

Detroit Lions

Additions of note: WR Marvin Jones, WR Jeremy Kerley, RB Stevan Ridley, T Taylor Decker (2016 first-round pick, No. 16 overall), C Graham Glasgow (2016 third-round pick, No. 95 overall), G Geoff Schwartz (2016 seventh-round pick, No. 241 overall), DE A'Shawn Robinson (2016 second-round pick, No. 46 overall), DE Wallace Gilberry,  LB Jon Bostic, S Miles Killebrew (2016 fourth-round pick, No. 111 overall)

Subtractions of note: WR Calvin Johnson, RB Joique Bell, G Manny Ramirez, DE Jason Jones, CB Rashean Mathis, S James Ihedigbo, S Isa Abdul-Quddus

Another expected subtraction, though not yet official, is that of their leading tackler, Stephen Tulloch. They've kept him on the roster long enough to give him his bonus, but contractual issues have led him to be a no-show, with his camp saying his days in Detroit are over, and coaches and management mum on the issue.

They will get stud linebacker DeAndre Levy back from injury, and Ihedigbo lost his starting safety spot opposite Glover Quin late last season to Abdul-Quddus, a special teams standout who gave the position an upgrade when he was promoted. Ihedigbo remains a free agent.  Kinnebrew's a hard-hitter and is expected to be given more than an opportunity to win the job versus two free agent backups who were brought in, Rafael Bush and Tavon Wilson.

But this is Ziggy Ansah's defense now, and if Robinson rotates in on the line regularly, with or in place of Haloti Ngata, it may be an interesting watch the next several years since the Bears traded down from a pick they could have used on the Alabama star. Another second-round trade down later, they picked guard Cody Whitehair.

It seems a long shot that Bostic can force out Tahir Whitehead and Josh Bynes to play with Levy at linebacker.

Offensively, Ridley replaces Bell to mix in with sophomore Ameer Abdullah in the Lions' never-ending attempt to establish a running game (ranked an average of 25th the past four seasons). But no one replaces Megatron. It's easily the biggest impact loss within the division (though Bennett and Forte fans might make a 2-for-1 argument). 

So the Lions went out and paid a premium for the biggest free agent wideout in Jones (65 catches, four TD's in Cincinnati), while hoping Kerley can add depth opposite Golden Tate, and 2014 first-rounder Eric Ebron can make an even bigger jump from the step forward he took last year. 

And let's not dismiss Theo Riddick's effectiveness in the passing game (as the Bears can attest). Eighty receptions isn't shabby.

Of course this all revolves around how well Matthew Stafford can be protected, and if that line can help spring the running game. They've invested in LT Riley Reiff, RG Larry Warford, C Travis Swanson, and G Laken Tomlinson over the first three rounds in the past four drafts. 

Reiff's headed into a contract year following a pedestrian first four seasons, and Swanson's been a disappointment. Warford is Pro Bowl-caliber, and while there's still hope 2015 top pick Tomlinson can prove his status, he was bumped from the starting lineup during the season by current Bear Manny Ramirez. 

Thus, three of their top five picks last month were on O-Linemen (Decker, Glasgow, and fifth-round guard Joe Dahl).

Next: Green Bay

Matt Nagy describes Aaron Rodgers’ literal attempt to get first leg up on 2019 Bears

Matt Nagy describes Aaron Rodgers’ literal attempt to get first leg up on 2019 Bears

A year after finishing 6-9-1 and seeing the Bears win the NFC North, the Packers find themselves in an unfamiliar role in the division: hunter, not the hunted.

Green Bay very well could win the NFC North in 2019, though they’ll have stiff competition in the division in the Bears and Vikings. Thus, the Packers need to do what they can to get a leg up on the competition.

Enter Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

Rodgers and Bears head coach Matt Nagy were two of the many sports celebrities to compete in the American Century Celebrity Golf Championship Tournament in Nevada from July 12-14. Thursday, Nagy recalled a prank Rodgers pulled on him at the event.

“So we're all in there and I'm scrambling to get in the back and stand up, and there’s about 100 guys sitting down in the back row,” Nagy said. “As I’m walking, all of a sudden, I trip.

“I kind of catch my knee. Somebody is sitting down. I look back. Someone stuck their knee out to trip me. I look back, and (Rodgers is) just sitting there and he’s just staring at me laughing, giving me this grin.”

Okay, so Rodgers tripping Nagy doesn’t actually give the Packers a leg up on the Bears entering the 2019 season. However, it sure is a fun way to kick off the latest rendition of the rivalry, as the two teams square of on Sept. 5 to open the NFL season. Plus. Nagy took the whole thing in stride.

“I just looked at him, and all I thought about is: ‘This is going to be fun,’” he said.

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Allen Robinson is looking like a true No. 1 receiver. Can he break the Bears' 1,000-yard drought?

USA Today

Allen Robinson is looking like a true No. 1 receiver. Can he break the Bears' 1,000-yard drought?

Here’s a fact that feels surprising every time it’s brought up: Allen Robinson is still in his mid-20s, turning 26 on Aug. 24. 

This is a guy who’s entering his sixth season in the NFL, having debuted while Marc Trestman was still Bears' coach. He’s four years removed from his 1,400-yard, 14-touchdown explosion with the Jacksonville Jaguars, but is also two years removed from the torn ACL that wound up ending his career there. 

As he enters his second season with the Bears, the difference from Year 1 to Year 2 has been noticeable. 

“I look like a totally different player,” Robinson said. 

That statement runs deeper than in just how he’s played over the course of the Bears’ preseason practices. He was able to grow his rapport with Mitch Trubisky during OTAs — a year ago, he wasn’t participating in those — and no longer has to focus on rehabbing his knee to get back on the field. 

But how Robinson looks even goes beyond his connection with Trubisky or his health. Cornerback Prince Amukamara practiced against Robinson when the pair were in Jacksonville in 2016, and said the receiver he was then isn’t the receiver he is today — in a good way. 

“He was real good in Jacksonville, and I feel like he’s better now,” Amukamara said. “I feel like in Jacksonville he really just went up and got the ball, they threw him a lot of jump balls. But now he’s running routes, he’s very crafty, he changes his tempo and he just seems very polished right now. He makes our jobs harder on defense.”

Amukamara pointed out that, of course, Robinson can still go up and snag those jump balls. Trubisky’s confidence in Robinson’s go-up-and-get-it ability grew in 2018, and is stronger entering 2019’s season. 

“I have a lot of confidence within myself, with me and him's chemistry,” Trubisky said. “And just being on the same page, if I put it up in his area 12 is going to come down with it.”

But it’s clear Robinson is more than a jump ball guy to Trubisky. The Bears can use him in a number of different ways, and the detail he puts into his routes and his ability to read coverages makes him a threat anywhere on the field. 

Similarly encouraging: Robinson and Trubisky are seeing things the same way. 

“I think for me and Mitchell I think we’ve done that a lot, being able to see whether it’s the breaking angle out of a route or stuff like that,” Robinson said. “I think, for us, we got a chance to rep a lot of that and to be on the same page — like if the corner plays it like this or if they run this kind of pressure or whatever it may be.”

Coach Matt Nagy said he’s observed Trubisky’s trust in Robinson being “a lot higher” than it was a year ago, too. 

“(Robinson) understands coverages,” Nagy said. “I think that separates the good wide receivers from the ones that become great. He has that next-level awareness. When you have that and you put the 'want' into how bad he wants it with his quarterback, that's where it's gonna be fun to see what those guys, how they connect this year.”

The Bears haven’t had a receiver eclipse 1,000 yards since 2014, representing the longest drought in the NFL. This is an offense, though, that believes in its ability to spread the ball around to a number of weapons, from Robinson to Taylor Gabriel to Anthony Miller to Trey Burton to Tarik Cohen to Cordarrelle Patterson to David Montgomery, etc. Not having a 1,000-yard receiver — sorry, fantasy football players — wouldn’t necessarily be viewed as a bad thing inside Halas Hall. 

Yet Robinson will enter 2019 with the best shot at hitting that mark, as he did four years ago. He stood out more than any other receiver during training camp, looking like a go-to guy for Trubisky if the offense is in a tight spot. That’s what he proved to be in the final seconds of January’s wild card loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, in which he dominated the final 20 minutes and made two critical catches that set up what could’ve been a game-winning field goal with time expiring (we all know what happened after that). 

So whether or not Robinson has a three or four-digit receiving yards total feels less important than the continuation of his development into a reliable, trustworthy target for his quarterback at any time in a game. And from what we've seen over the last month, that's what he'll be for Trubisky in 2019. 

“He's pretty much winning,” Trubisky said. “When it's one-on-one, the ball is going to 12 and he's unstoppable when he can go like that."

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