Bears

Dick Butkus with Broncos instead of Bears? Hey, it could've happened

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Dick Butkus with Broncos instead of Bears? Hey, it could've happened

With the NFL Draft coming to Chicago for the first time, Bears Hall of Fame linebacker Dick Butkus had occasion to look back on his own draft experience, which could have ended with him as a member of the Denver Broncos.

Butkus and Gale Sayers were members of the 1965 draft class, right in the middle of the battle between the NFL and the still-developing American Football League. The Kansas City Chiefs made an unsuccessful try to sign Sayers, who played at Kansas, and drafted Sayers with the No. 5 pick of the first round of the AFL Draft.

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Meanwhile, the Broncos were making their play for Butkus, to the point of showing more outward interest in Butkus than his hometown team, the Bears. The Broncos had traded their first-round pick in the AFL Draft to the New York Jets but wanted to take Butkus with the first pick (ninth overall) of the second round.

“My draft experience was, I didn’t have one, I think,” Butkus said via conference call on Tuesday. “You didn’t get the exposure that you get today. I was in New York for one of the All-American weekends and they had the draft back in December.”

Butkus came up from Champaign and the University of Illinois on Friday. Folks from the Broncos were waiting, as were the Bears at their offices in downtown Chicago. Butkus didn’t think much about the Bears as headed off to New York.

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But word was seeping out that the Bears intended to draft Butkus, a consensus All-American at Illinois

“That floored me because they’d never made any contact before,” Butkus said. “Saturday morning, sure enough, I was drafted by the Bears.”

Chicago Bears Training Camp: Veteran and rookie report dates

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USA Today

Chicago Bears Training Camp: Veteran and rookie report dates

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.

Leonard Floyd picked as potential Pro Bowler in 2018

Leonard Floyd picked as potential Pro Bowler in 2018

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.