Bears

Despite Leonard Floyd's presence, Bears know what they have in Willie 'Don’t Call Me ‘Linebacker’ Young

Despite Leonard Floyd's presence, Bears know what they have in Willie 'Don’t Call Me ‘Linebacker’ Young

Acting on the time-honored bromide of, “You can never be too rich, too thin or have too many pass rushers,” the Bears reportedly have chatted with defensive end/linebacker Willie Young about extending his contract beyond its final (2016) season.

The organization used the No. 9-overall pick of the 2016 NFL Draft on EDGE rusher Leonard Floyd, a lighter and younger version of Young. But irrespective of the draft choice and presumably of offseason knee surgery for linebacker Pernell McPhee, the interest is there in keeping Young, even at age 30, as initially reported by Bleacher Report.

Which should come as little surprise, for a variety of reasons. Those begin with the opinion of the head coach: “I think Willie is a great teammate,” John Fox said back in this year’s owners meetings. “I’ve enjoyed coaching him my one year because he’s not afraid to work and he does it enthusiastically. So I like Willie, and I’ve seen him improve.”

Which is a character statement about Young, whose disdain for being called “linebacker” may have been humorously voiced, but reflected his desired role and where he thought he fit best. Despite coming back from a season-ending (2015) Achilles tear, Young collected 6.5 sacks as an outside linebacker/end in a defense that opponents regularly schemed out of its preferred 3-4 structure.

Whatever he was called, Young was one of the two most impactful players on the Bears defense.

Using one measure, according to ProFootballFocus.com, Young graded out second only to McPhee among Bears defensive players, and was credited with 33 quarterback hurries, second only to McPhee’s 48, in addition to his 6.5 sacks and seven quarterback hits.

Based on Bears team statistics, including Young’s one interception and three passes defended, Young averaged one “impact play” (sack, tackle, PBU, TFL, etc.) every 6.68 snaps played. That placed him alongside McPhee, the leader of the defense, who delivered an “impact play” every 5.99 snaps played.

The “impact play” number reflects only plays resulting in a measured statistic, and is just for a loose comparison. For reference sake: safety Adrian Amos, the Bears’ leading tackler and a very bright defensive highlight for the year, averaged one impact play every 8.70 snaps played. Linebackers Christian Jones and Shea McClellin had impressive tackle totals but are out of the defensive picture because of non-statistical shortcomings.

The overall point: Young, with 10 sacks in 2015 and 6.5 last season, is the Bears’ top pass rusher since coming over from Detroit on a three-year contract in 2014.

Whether contract talks prove fruitful, the Bears clearly know what they have.

Rob Gronkowski 'highly unlikely' to play Sunday against the Bears

Rob Gronkowski 'highly unlikely' to play Sunday against the Bears

Sunday's game against Tom Brady and the Patriots will be a tough test for the Bears, but it looks like they're going to receive a big break.

According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski didn't travel with the Patriots to Chicago and is "highly unlikely" to play Sunday.

Avoiding Gronkowski, who is one of Brady's favorite targets, would be a huge break for the Bears' defense. In six games this season, the tight end has 26 receptions for 405 yards and a touchdown; in 14 games last season, Gronkowski had 69 catches for 1,084 yards and eight touchdowns.

Gronkowski has not officially been ruled out yet, though time is running out for the Patriots to make a decision.

Meanwhile, Khalil Mack appears set to play Sunday despite dealing with an ankle injury. Between having Mack on the field and Gronkowski off of it, good news keeps coming for the Bears' defense.

Final thoughts: Cody Parkey quickly moves on from missed game-winning kick

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USA Today Sports Images

Final thoughts: Cody Parkey quickly moves on from missed game-winning kick

There’s, probably, only one position in sports that can match the you-had-one-job scrutiny of a placekicker attempting a critical field goal late in a football game. As in: If you make the kick, it was expected; if you miss it, well, you didn’t do the one thing you were brought on to do. 

The comparison here is a closer in baseball. The expectation is whoever is called upon with a one-to-three-run lead in the ninth inning will convert the save and win his team the game. 

But when a closer blows a save and is in the spotlight during baseball’s regular season, there’s always a game the next day or, at worst, in two days. The immediacy and pace of a Major League Baseball team’s schedule lends itself to closers having to “flush” a bad outing and move on to the next one, since it might be tomorrow. 

For Bears kicker Cody Parkey, though, he’s had to wait a week until he gets his next “meaningful” chance at making a field goal after missing a game-winning 53-yard attempt last weekend against the Miami Dolphins. But moving on from a critical missed kick has never, and is not, a problem for the fifth-year veteran. 

“(It takes) five minutes,” Parkey said. “You kick the ball, and if it doesn’t go in you’re not going to sit there and cry on the field, you’re going to continue to move on with your life. I don’t think there’s really much to it other than knowing you’re going to have to kick another one sometime throughout the season, next game, in the next week, you never know. You stay ready so you’ll be ready for the next week.”

Not allowing those missed kicks to fester is an important trait for a placekicker to possess. What helps Parkey quickly work through his misses is focusing on having a good week of kicking in practice, and also an even-keel mindset that’s been instilled in him since a young age. 

“I think I’ve always been pretty mellow,” Parkey said. “At a young age, my coaches told me never let the highs get to high, never let the lows get too low. And I’ve kind of taken that to heart. If I miss a game winner, make a game winner, I’m going to have the same demeanor. I’m just going to be super chill and knowing it’s a game, it’s supposed to be fun, we’re supposed to go out there and try our best. I put in a lot of work and I try my best on the field.”

That’s something, too, that special teams coach Chris Tabor sees in Parkey. 

“He's always been like that,” Tabor said. “He hit a good ball, his line was just off. In his career going in he was 7-of-8 over 50 yards. I'll be honest with you, I thought he was going to make it. And next time we have that situation, I know he will make it.” 

Age is just a number

Sunday will mark the 6th time in Tom Brady’s career that the 41-year-old has faced a head coach younger than him, but the first time it’ll be a coach other than Miami’s Adam Gase (who’s 40). Brady is 3-2 against Gase’s Dophins. 

Matt Nagy, meanwhile, is also 40. Brady just missed playing Kyle Shanahan (38) and Sean McVay (32), facing the San Francisco 49ers and Los Angeles Rams in 2016, a year before both those youthful coaches were hired. 

Meanwhile, the youngest player on the Bears — 21-year-old Roquan Smith — was three years old when Brady made his unassuming NFL debut on Nov. 23, 2000. 

They said it

A couple of amusing one-liners out of Halas Hall this week…

Nagy, when it was brought to his attention that Mitch Trubisky (105.6) has a better passer rating than Brady (98.2), chuckled: “You want to say that one more time?” 

Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, when asked if he’d ever heard of “Baby Gronk” Adam Shaheen: “(long pause)… Sometimes.”