Preseason matters exactly zero in the grand NFL scheme of things (although last year’s game at Seattle was a disturbing precursor to a disaster of a season).
But the games are test kitchens, particularly for teams transitioning as the Bears are, and the Bears are adding to a relatively strong preseason schedule – two playoff teams and none of the four opponents coming off seasons with fewer than seven wins – with their planned two-day extended visit to Indianapolis prior to their Aug. 22 game against the Colts.
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The Bears play the Miami Dolphins (8-8), Colts (11-5), Cincinnati Bengals (10-5-1) and Cleveland Browns (7-9) in addition to the two extra days against the Colts. It is the most difficult preseason lineup (36 combined wins) since 2002 (39 wins) in addition to those added practices against an AFC team that transitioned from Peyton Manning to Andrew Luck with only one non-playoff season since 2001.
“Anytime you can butt [practice] up to playing a game, getting down to Indy early… ,” said coach John Fox. “I know [Colts coach] Chuck Pagano pretty well. I know his staff. I know how they operate. In my opinion it’s an excellent team to work against. I think they’re a good football team. They’re a playoff team. They’re talented.
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“So I think it’s good from that standpoint for us to see and work with a good competitive football team, as well I think that stage of camp I think guys get a little bit tired of banging on each other and it’s usually in my experience it’s been a little chippy at that point, so it’s kind of nice timing to move on and work against somebody else.”
Fox’s Denver Broncos had the Houston Texans coming to Colorado for game three of last preseason and the Texans, like the Bears this year, came out a couple days early to work with the Broncos.
“They came out and visited us,” Fox recalled. “So logistically it’ll be a little bit of a headache. All in all, it’ll be well worth the time and money the organization is investing.”
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.
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.