Bears

Can Markus Wheaton fix what ails the Bears’ offense?

Can Markus Wheaton fix what ails the Bears’ offense?

Markus Wheaton was a full participant in practice on Wednesday and wasn’t on the Bears’ injury report Thursday, signaling that the 5-foot-11, 189 pound speedster will make his Bears debut Sunday against his former team, the Pittsburgh Steelers. He’s not the solution for the Bears’ offense, but he could be part of it. 

For an offense that’s woefully lacked someone who can reliably stretch the field, Wheaton can at least provide the threat of going deep. Two years ago, while with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Wheaton averaged 17 yards per reception. Mike Glennon’s longest completion this year went for 22 yards. 

“It definitely adds another dimension,” Glennon said. “It’ll be great having Markus back.”

But Wheaton only played in three games last season (four catches, 51 yards) and, at his best, averaged 48 catches, 696 yards and four touchdowns a year from 2014-2015. Is it fair to expect Wheaton to be a big part of the Bears' offensive solution given he hasn't played much recently, and was limited to only a handful of reps in training camp and preseason practices due to a pair of freak ailments?

Maybe not, but with the Bears 0-2, he's the best hope they have at a skill position. 

Wheaton needed an emergency appendectomy the first weekend the Bears were in Bourbonnais — “I thought I had to poop,” Wheaton said, maybe providing too much information, before realizing the excruiating pain in which he was in was something worse. Shortly after returning to the practice fields at Olivet Nazarene University, Wheaton fractured his pinkie finger in gruesome fashion (he said the bone was sticking out) when he was awkwardly grabbed while trying to catch a pass. 

That Wheaton broke a finger wasn’t only significant for his ability to catch passes. Consider what his former quarterback — Ben Roethlisberger — had to say about what makes Wheaton an effective deep threat:

“He’s got a very good ability of using his hands,” Roethlisberger said. “When you’re trying to stretch the field, you’ve gotta have some little techniques to help you get open because DBs can run as much as receivers can. So you gotta be able to use your hands to swim, kinda, get some swiping, get the hands off, I thought that he really had some good technique when it came to the deep ball and getting away from DBs.”

Roethlisberger and Wheaton shared a good rapport in Pittsburgh, with the quarterback clearly communicating to the receiver what he expected timing-wise in his routes. It’s been a challenge to develop something similar with Glennon given the lack of practice time, but Wheaton said putting in extra work after practice has helped. 

If Wheaton and Glennon can get on the same page, perhaps that can lead to at least some deep ball attempts. The Bears have to find a way to prevent opposing defenses from stacking the box and focusing on stopping Jordan Howard, who only has 59 yards on 22 carries this year. 

“We're going to face overpopulated boxes, we know that,” offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said. “There's going to be seven, eight guys in the box every time and we have to execute better and it comes down to that.”

According to NFL’s Next Gen Stats, only three of Glennon’s 85 pass attempts have traveled 20 or more yards beyond the line of scrimmage. The only completion of those was Sunday’s garbage-time touchdown to Deonte Thompson, which was caught near the back of the end zone. 

The threat of Wheaton going deep won’t be enough, though. Glennon still has prove he can complete those deep balls — the last time he completed a pass of 25 or more yards was on Nov. 2, 2014 (though he’s only attempted 96 passes since that date). 

But Wheaton feels ready to go and is confident he can do his job — which, in turn, could, in a best-case scenario, help his other 10 teammates on offense do their jobs, too. 

“It’s been a long time coming,” Wheaton said. “I’m excited and hopefully this is the week.”

Trubisky on NFC North QBs: 'Bring 'em on'

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USA Today

Trubisky on NFC North QBs: 'Bring 'em on'

The NFC North was recently dubbed the most talented quarterback division in the NFL largely because of Aaron Rodgers, Kirk Cousins and Matthew Stafford.

Bears starter Mitch Trubisky may eventually be viewed as an elite quarterback someday, but his average rookie season has created some doubt among analysts about whether he'll ever be that guy.

In a recent sit-down with Bleacher Report's Tyler Dunne, Trubisky said he isn't concerned with outside opinion, nor is he intimidated by the resumes of his NFC North counterparts.

"I've realized that these people you look up to—watching Aaron Rodgers, watching Tom Brady—they're humans just like I am," Trubisky told Dunne. "They can make mistakes. They're just people. We've all been through similar things to get to where we are now. ... As a competitor, you want the biggest, tallest challenge you can possibly ask for.

"So, yeah, give me the division with Aaron Rodgers, Stafford and Kirk Cousins. Bring 'em on."

Trubisky's confidence has been evident this offseason. There's no doubt who the Bears' leader in the locker room is. Just ask Kyle Long.

Still, he's not without his critics, something he said he doesn't consume himself with.

"Why would I be worried about what anybody has to say on the outside?" he said. "You're sitting in a chair talking into a microphone. I'm in the war. I'm in the middle of the hurricane."

Trubisky's name is consistently mentioned after DeShaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes whenever the 2017 quarterback class is discussed and few -- if any -- experts expect him to be the best of the three.

But none of that matters. All Trubisky has to be is a winner in Chicago, and he certainly has the confidence needed to get there.

"So get ready," he said. "I'm going to be prepared. I'm going to give you everything I've got. Hopefully, I make people eat their words with what they say about me."

15 Most Important Bears of 2018: No. 6 - Kyle Fuller

15 Most Important Bears of 2018: No. 6 - Kyle Fuller

Last year this time, Chicago Bears cornerback Kyle Fuller was about to start the most important training camp of his pro football career. The former first-round pick was coming off a season where he didn't play a single game because of a mysterious knee injury and was viewed as a potential training camp casualty.

The Bears didn't pick up his fifth-year option and as a result, the 2017 season represented a prove-it year for Fuller. And boy did he ever.

Fuller enjoyed the best season of his career from both a health and production standpoint. He registered 60 tackles and two interceptions en route to becoming the kind of shutdown corner the Bears envisioned when he was selected 14th overall in the 2014 NFL draft. He got paid for his efforts, too.

Ryan Pace rewarded Fuller with a four-year $56 million contract, making him one of the team's biggest cap hits over the next three seasons. To be fair, Fuller's contract was actually offered by the rival Packers and Pace exercised his option to match under the transition tag. Still, it's a contract that Fuller must now continue to earn. One great season is a far cry from a great career.

There's no reason to expect a regression from Fuller, assuming he can stay healthy. The entire starting secondary is returning and should be even better than last year with more comfort and confidence in each other. Fuller can trust safeties Eddie Jackson and Adrian Amos to have his back if he takes a chance at an interception. It's not unreasonable to expect Fuller to have an even better year considering he's beginning 2018 with that trust in his teammates already developed.

The Bears need Fuller to take hold of elite status this year. He's just as important to the defense's success as the pass rush is. He has to make Aaron Rodgers, Kirk Cousins and Matthew Stafford think twice about throwing in his direction. He needs to shrink the field.

Fuller isn't that guy yet, but if he blossoms into one of the league's top cover guys, Chicago's defense will challenge for an even better status than the top-10 finish they enjoyed a year ago. Much of his success will rely on the aforementioned pass rush, and one could argue that the Bears haven't exactly set up Fuller for a sensational breakout. But the point remains: For Chicago to soar among the league's top defenses, Fuller has to become one of the NFL's best pure defenders.

He's close.