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."

Bilal Nichols eyes an even bigger impact for Bears in 2019

USA Today

Bilal Nichols eyes an even bigger impact for Bears in 2019

Even if Bilal Nichols repeated his 2018 performance in 2019, the Bears would be lauded for unearthing a solid rotational player with a fifth-round draft pick. But Nichols isn’t resting on his rookie accomplishments, and is aiming to be an even more impactful player on the Bears’ defensive line as he enters Year 2 in the NFL. 

“More consistent, more dominant,” Nichols said. “That’s the biggest thing for me right now.”

Nichols was a top-50 run defender in the NFL last year, as rated by Pro Football Focus — he made a “stop” on 8.7 percent of his run defense plays, ranking 44th in the league (PFF defines a “stop” as a play that constitutes a failure for the offense). For reference, Akiem Hicks ranked eighth at 13.3 percent, Eddie Goldman was 17th at 11.6 percent and Jonathan Bullard came in 40th at 9.1 percent. 

Nichols’ biggest “stop” came in the Bears’ narrow Week 3 win over the Arizona Cardinals, in which he dropped running back Chase Edmonds for a three-yard loss on a third-and-two play inside Bears territory just after the two-minute warning. While Nichols debuted a week earlier against the Seattle Seahawks and recorded a pressure of Russell Wilson, that play against the Cardinals was critical in an important victory for the Bears. It also proved to Nichols that what he was doing was beginning to work. 

“That was really a situation where I had cut it loose and went,” Nichols said. “I knew what i was doing on that play, I knew the possible things I could get from the offense and that was just a situation where I cut it loose and just played football. And I happened to make a big play. 

“I can’t wait to do that this year.” 

Nichols, as he was figuring out how to form a routine and study opponents in the NFL after making the jump from FCS-level Delaware, played a shade under a third of the Bears’ snaps last year as part of a rotation that proved critical to the team’s defensive success. Hicks played the most snaps (780), followed by Goldman (552) and Roy Robertson-Harris (353). Nichols (328) pushed Bullard (298) to the bottom of the rotation, which helped keep members of Jay Rodgers’ unit fresh and at their most effective when they were on the field. 

The Bears’ defensive line is arguably their best and deepest unit, one which can collapse pockets and stymie opposing run games (the latter of which is especially important, given the Minnesota Vikings and Detroit Lions’ renewed commitments to running the ball this year). Nichols was already a big part of it in 2018, and may be an even bigger part of it in 2019. 

“Last year, I was still trying to figure things out, still trying to figure the league out, figure myself out as a player,” Nichols said. “And now that I got everything figured out, I’m just able to go. I could just play and play fast and cut it loose.”

Bears announce 2019 training camp schedule, which features July 25 report date


Bears announce 2019 training camp schedule, which features July 25 report date

The Bears' potential run to Super Bowl 54 will begin in earnest on July 25.

Thursday, the Bears unveiled their 2019 training camp schedule, which will run from July 25-Aug. 11 at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais. The team will hold nine open practices during camp, including eight in Bourbonnais from 7:30 a.m. to noon. The ninth open session is Bears Family Fest, which will take place at Soldier Field on Aug. 3 starting at 7 p.m.

Before heading off to Bourbonnais, though, the team will hold a "Return to Decatur" event from July 20-21 in Decatur. 2019 is the Bears' 100th season in the NFL and they played their first season as the Decatur Staleys in 1920. The team will announce details at a later date, though both general manager Ryan Pace and head coach Matt Nagy will hold their opening press conferences on July 21.

Admission to training camp is free, though fans must get tickets in advance at Giveaways will be available to the first, 1,000 fans or while supplies last, according to the team. 

Check out the official training camp schedule:

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