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.

The Bears' defense is ahead of its offense, but Matt Nagy doesn't see that as a problem

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USA Today Sports Images

The Bears' defense is ahead of its offense, but Matt Nagy doesn't see that as a problem

Asking players about how the defense is “ahead” of the offense is a yearly right of passage during OTAs, sort of like how every baseball team has about half its players saying they’re in the best shape of their life during spring training. So that Vic Fangio’s defense is ahead of Matt Nagy’s offense right now isn’t surprising, and it's certainly not concerning. 

But Nagy is also working to install his offense right now during OTAs to build a foundation for training camp. So does the defense — the core of which is returning with plenty of experience in Fangio’s system — being ahead of the offense hurt those efforts?

“It’s actually good for us because we’re getting an experienced defense,” Nagy said. “My message to the team on the offensive side is just be patient and don’t get frustrated. They understand that they’re going to play a little bit faster than us right now. We’ll have some growing pains, but we’ll get back to square one in training camp.”

We’ll have a chance to hear from the Bears’ offensive players following Wednesday’s practice, but for now, the guys on Fangio’s defense have come away impressed with that Nagy’s offense can be. 

“The offense is a lot … just very tough,” cornerback Prince Amukamara said. “They’re moving well. They’re faster. They’re throwing a lot of different looks at us and that’s just Nagy’s offense. If I was a receiver I would love to play in this offense, just because you get to do so many different things and you get so many different plays. It just looks fun over there.”

“They’re moving together, and I like to see that,” linebacker Danny Trevathan said. “We’re not a bad defense. They’re practicing against us, so they’re getting better every day, and vice versa. It’s a daily grind. It’s going to be tough, but those guys, they got the right pieces. I like what I see out there. When somebody makes a play, they’re gone. Everybody can run over there. It’s the right fit for Mitch, it’s the right fit for the receivers, the running backs.”

Still, for all the praise above, the defense is “winning” more, at least as much as it can without the pads on. But the offense is still having some flashes, even as it collectively learns the terminology, concepts and formations used by Nagy. 

And that leads to a competitive atmosphere at Halas Hall, led by the Bears’ new head coach. 

“He’s an offensive coach and last year coach (John) Fox, I couldn’t really talk stuff to (him) because he’s a defensive coach and it’s like Nagy’s offense so if I get a pick or something, I mean, I like to talk stuff to him,” Amukamara said. “He’ll say something like ‘we’re coming at you 2-0.’ Stuff like that. That just brings out the competition and you always want that in your head coach.”

Will Mitch Trubisky be this season's Jared Goff?

Will Mitch Trubisky be this season's Jared Goff?

The Chicago Bears have been compared to the Los Angeles Rams as a team capable of a significant one-year turnaround after the many moves by GM Ryan Pace to improve the offense and build around second-year quarterback Mitch Trubisky.

According to NFL.com's Adam Schein, the comparisons go one step further. He thinks Trubisky is the best candidate to be 2018's version of Jared Goff:

"I'm infatuated with the Bears' offseason," Schein wrote. "The Bears smartly followed the Rams' blueprint from last offseason: hand the keys to an offensive guru/quarterback whisperer (Matt Nagy) and dedicate the offseason to surrounding your young signal-caller with talent (Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel and Trey Burton in free agency, James Daniels and Anthony Miller in the draft). Trubisky will follow in Goff's footsteps and take a major jump in his sophomore campaign."

MULLIN: Teammates see greatness in Trubisky

The comparison of Trubisky to Goff makes a ton of sense. Both were drafted with franchise-quarterback expectations but had average rookie seasons. Both played their first year with an old-school, defensive-minded head coach who was later replaced by a young up-and-coming offensive specialist. And both Goff and Trubisky were given high-powered weapons to begin their sophomore seasons with (the Rams signed Robert Woods and traded for Sammy Watkins before last season). 

Trubisky has to turn these comparisons into production, however. The Rams' remarkable 2017 campaign was just that because rarely does a team have such a dramatic turnaround in only one offseason. The odds aren't in the Bears' favor.

Still, there's a surge of confidence and support in and around Trubisky from the coaching staff and his teammates. He's doing everything he can to prepare for a Goff-like season. We'll find out soon enough if his preparation pays off.