Bears

Bears sounding increasingly like Lamarr Houston, Willie Young in ’16 plans

Bears sounding increasingly like Lamarr Houston, Willie Young in ’16 plans

While the Bears cut ties with veterans Matt Forte, Antrel Rolle and Matt Slauson sooner rather than later this offseason, they have done nothing to hint that the immediate futures of outside linebackers Lamarr Houston and Willie Young project to be other than Chicago.

Just the opposite, in fact. Despite chatter that the Bears were shopping various veterans in the days around the draft, reports have the Bears not only open to extending Young’s contract, but also doing nothing with Houston and his nearly $6 million price tag for 2016. And John Fox is sounding like anything but a head coach who’s done with either edge threat.

“In year two, a lot of times there’s a big jump from freshman to sophomore, year one to year two, just in the scheme,” Fox said during the Bears’ rookie minicamp. “Two of our outside linebackers [Houston, Young] a year ago were coming off major injuries and really didn’t have an off-season. And they were making the transition from 4-3 ends earlier in their career to acclimating to a 3-4 outside linebacker.

“They’re going to have a full off-season this time around. So they were, and really everybody out there was, kind of new at outside linebacker because we got two new guys in free agency that we brought in, so there will be some growing pains.”

As the Bears headed into this offseason, with its Combine, draft and sundry transactions, the futures of Houston and Young were subjects of speculation. Team-leading sack totals (eight for Houston, 6.5 for Young) notwithstanding, the combination of salaries and age (Young turning 31 in September) put both at risk on a team looking to get younger and faster on defense.

Now, even with the expenditure of draft capital on Leonard Floyd, a decidedly Young-like outside pass rusher, the Bears do not appear inclined to let go of proven pass rushers.

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.