Bears

DeAndre Hopkins exactly not what iffy Bears secondary needs in Week 1

DeAndre Hopkins exactly not what iffy Bears secondary needs in Week 1

It’s standard to state that you always want to go against the best. And probably all the Bears’ defensive backs will say that, whether that was once Calvin Johnson over in Detroit or Randy Moss once upon a time in Minnesota.

But in Week 1, with two of their top three cornerbacks (Kyle Fuller and Bryce Callahan) battling injuries that kept them out of the last three preseason games, the NFL schedule-makers would be challenged to have found a more difficult matchup for the Bears.

DeAndre Hopkins ranked sixth in the NFL in total yards from scrimmage (1,507) and third in receptions (111) in 2015.

If there is anything working in the Bears’ favor — and if you are superstitious — it is that Hopkins is featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated. He's on one of four regional covers, emblematic of "The Next Wave" with the subtitle "the new game changers are here," making him the first Texan not named J.J. Watt to grace an SI cover since 2002.

And one current Bear knows very, very well why Hopkins gets the "game changer" designation.

"Hop is a special talent, there’s no doubt about that," said backup quarterback Brian Hoyer, who as Texans quarterback last season was on the launching end of many of Hopkins’ 111 catches. "We always said that if he’s singled up, just throw it to him and let him make the spectacular catch. He’s grown ... so obviously he’s becoming a really dependable No. 1 receiver."

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Some receivers live on speed. Some on route perfection. Hopkins lives on "just going up and getting the ball," Hoyer said, shaking his head. "Similar to Alshon (Jeffery); they’re a little different size, but I’ve never seen two guys who can go up, manipulate themselves and catch the ball. It’s uncanny, and that was what I came away most impressed by with Hop."

Hopkins was the first-round pick of the Texans in the 2013 draft, coming when Andre Johnson was the focal point of the Houston offense. That team went 2-14, Bill O’Brien replaced Wade Phillips as coach and the offense began tilting toward Hopkins, who netted 1,210 yards in 2014 and allowed the Texans to move on from Johnson and still make the playoffs.

Hopkins has not missed a start in three NFL seasons and was recognized with a Pro Bowl selection last season.

The specific problem for the Bears’ battered secondary is that Hopkins is very, very good at what the Bears haven’t been: grabbing the football. The Bears improved their takeaway quotient during the preseason, but they saw no one of Hopkins’ stature and they are not an overly physical secondary to begin with.

"He’s really good at the ball," defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said. "He’s got a good catch radius, he’s strong, he can go get it. He was probably a good rebounder in his basketball days.

"We’ve got to win those 50-50 balls. That’s something that he’s really good at. We’re going to have to compete at the ball and win our fair share of those. We won’t win them all but hopefully we’ll be able to keep him in the park and not let him get over the top of us too much."

Protection Issues: Bears O-line ranked 21st in NFL

Protection Issues: Bears O-line ranked 21st in NFL

Mitch Trubisky is expected to have a breakthrough season in 2018 with all the firepower the Chicago Bears added on offense. Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, Anthony Miller and Trey Burton will give the second-year quarterback a variety of explosive targets to generate points in bunches.

None of the headline-grabbing moves will matter, however, if the offensive line doesn't do its job. 

According to Numberfire.com, the Bears' starting five could be the offense's Achilles heel. They were ranked 21st in the NFL and described as poor in pass protection.

Last year, the Bears ranked 26th in Sack NEP per drop back and 23rd in sack rate. These issues were especially apparent after Trubisky took over. In the games that [Kyle] Long played, their sack rate was 8.2%. It was actually 7.2% in the games that he missed. They struggled even when Long was healthy.

The Bears added Iowa's James Daniels in the second round of April's draft and he's expected to start at guard alongside Long. Cody Whitehair will resume his role as the starting center, with Charles Leno, Jr. and Bobby Massie at offensive tackle.

If Long comes back healthy and Daniels lives up to his draft cost, they should be a good run-blocking team from the jump. But Long has played just 18 games the past two years and is entering his age-30 season, so that's far from a lock. On top of that, the pass blocking was suspect last year and remains a mystery entering 2018.

The biggest addition to the offensive line is Harry Hiestand, the accomplished position coach who returns to Chicago after once serving in the same role under Lovie Smith from 2005-2009. He most recently coached at Notre Dame and helped develop multiple first-round picks. He's going to have a huge impact.

The good news for the Bears is they weren't the lowest-ranked offensive line in the NFC North. The Vikings came in at No. 25. The Packers checked-in at No. 13, while the Lions were 16th.

Trubisky: 'I'd definitely like to catch some touchdowns'

Trubisky: 'I'd definitely like to catch some touchdowns'

The Chicago Bears are counting on Mitch Trubisky to have a breakout season in 2018. His rookie year was strong, but for the Bears to emerge as a playoff contender, the second-year passer must enjoy a Jared Goff-like improvement.

There's no doubting the talent Trubisky possesses in his right arm. And with a plethora of new weapons at his disposal, his production should make him appealing to fantasy football owners. But he may do more than just throw touchdowns.

"I'd definitely like to catch some touchdowns and some passes, that would be cool," Trubisky said at Halas Hall after Wednesday's OTAs. "The sky's the limit with this offense, just the creativeness that these coaches bring, there's going to be a lot of fun plays. We get the base ones down first and hopefully, we can have some fun trick plays."

Trey Burton was signed in free agency to provide a weapon for Trubisky at tight end, but he may end up throwing a few passes before the year is out. He was on the quarterback end of the famous Super Bowl LII touchdown pass (the Philly Special) to Nick Foles and spent time at quarterback as a freshman at the University of Florida.

Don't forget about Tarik Cohen, either. He attempted two passes in 2017, completing one for a touchdown (21 yards) to Zach Miller.

Trubisky is the kind of rare athlete at quarterback who an offensive coordinator can legitimately devise a few trick plays for, adding just another wrinkle in the new-era of Bears offensive football set to launch in September.