Bears

Bears special teams facing early roster tests vs. Cardinals

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Bears special teams facing early roster tests vs. Cardinals

Losing impact players is devastating to any unit of a football team and finding a source for replacing them is critical. For Bears special teams, that will be especially difficult.

Defensive lineman Cornelius Washington suffered a quad injury in last Sunday’s loss to the Green Bay Packers, serious enough to land him on season-ending injured reserve. The injury cost the defense one of its only five linemen, which the organization moved to replace with the pickup of defensive end Lavar Edwards, a reserve with small amounts of playing time in Tennessee and Dallas over the past two seasons.

Edwards’ exact role will become more apparent on Sunday vs. the Arizona Cardinals. The Bears need pass rush but they may need Edwards, 275 pounds, on special teams even more.

Washington contributed seven special-teams tackles in 2014, primarily on kickoff coverage, an uncommon total for a defensive lineman. But Washington, who’d added bulk this season to fit the Bears’ 3-4 scheme, is himself uncommon.

“Cornelius is a little bit unique in that regard,” said special-teams coordinator Jeff Rodgers. “The guys that we have, the true defensive linemen, the guys who are going to be in the 290-plus range – it’s rare around the league that that guy’s going to fill a heavy role in the kicking game… 

“He’s unique in that regard. I don’t know that too many of those guys are walking around the planet, though.”

[MORE: New Bears injury issues cloud meeting with Cardinals]

The Bears have had the good fortune to have the likes of Israel Idonije, another defensive end with the speed to be a force for the perennially elite coverage units of former coordinator Dave Toub.

Perhaps coincidentally, perhaps not, Bears’ kickoff coverage struggled against Green Bay with Washington hurting. The Packers returned three kickoffs a total of 105 yards (35.3 average).

The issues were more than just losing Washington, however. “The first kick wasn’t Robbie’s best kick; we didn’t do a good job of beating enough blocks or playing with leverage,” Rodgers said. “The second one was a better kick and we didn’t squeeze as far as we needed to.

“Some of those things have come up in the preseason and were addressed. Some of those things were new; there were a couple new guys out there who maybe got a different look than what they’d seen before.”

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Bears fans!]

Veteran linebacker Sam Acho was re-signed and is expected to return to his roles on all four special-teams units.

The Bears got special-teams solo tackles from linebacker Lamin Barrow and rookie safety Harold Jones-Quartey. Barrow played for Rodgers in Denver last season and Jones-Quartey, an undrafted rookie free agent waived by the Cardinals.

Why those were significant is that Barrow was not signed until Sept. 7, the day after Jones-Quartey was claimed off waivers. A goal of Rodgers’ scheme is to integrate new personnel quickly, which will be required to fill in the loss of Washington.

“You’ve got to be flexible enough with your system to try and minimize the things that’ll show up with newer people,” Rodgers said. “You try not to ask the new guy that week to do 700 things and it’s something you’ve got to be mindful of early season, mid season, late season as we put together game plans and try to get those matchups we’re trying to get.”

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.