No Spare Bears looming on horizon


No Spare Bears looming on horizon

Saturday, March 12, 2011Posted: 2:25 PM

By John Mullin

To answer one very big question right away: No Spare Bears.

The last time there were lost games in the NFL was 1987, when the records show that only one game was lost from a 16-game schedule. But the cost to the Bears was far, far worse.

This current situation, fortunately, is not on track to be a repeat. Lovie Smith will be spared the dilemma that severely hurt Mike Ditka.

Spare Bears was a phrase that came into the Chicago sports lexicon when the Bears brought in replacement players for the ones who were walking picket lines. The replacement players around the league included Erik Kramer, later a Bears quarterback; Mike Hohensee, who subsequently coached the Ditka-owned Chicago Rush; and Sean Payton, who went on to coach the New Orleans Saints to a win in last years Super Bowl but was a Spare Bear in 87.

This time is completely different.

The current situation is a lockout. Owner-induced. The 1987 situation was a strike by the Players Association. Games in Week Three were canceled.

But while Buddy Ryan, whod moved on by then to coach the Philadelphia Eagles, was contemptuous of the replacement players he was handed, Ditka cost himself dearly with his players when he declared, The real Bears are the ones wearing uniforms on Sunday.

In fairness to Ditka, he was working for a chief executive (Michael McCaskey) who many believed was looking for a reason to rid himself of Ditka and put his own stamp on the franchise. And Ditka quietly campaigned to have the names of replacement players included in the media guide just like everyone else who wore a Bears uniform.

But his declaration irreparably tore the fabric between his players and him.

Its like a marriage, Dan Hampton told me. If you find your wife is cheating on you, you can stay together, but itll never be the same again.

The current impasse, with its yet-to-play-out legal machinations, will engender hard and hurt feelings at some levels. But it wont be a repeat of 1987.

John "Moon" Mullin is's Bears Insider, and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information.

Maurice Jones-Drew ranks Jordan Howard in NFL's top-10 RBs

Maurice Jones-Drew ranks Jordan Howard in NFL's top-10 RBs

Chicago Bears RB Jordan Howard is entering an interesting season. He has just as good a chance of leading the NFL in rushing as he appears to have at losing reps to Tarik Cohen, a player some analysts feel is a better fit for coach Matt Nagy's system.

It's unfortunate that Howard isn't receiving the kind of praise a player like him deserves. He set the Bears' rookie rushing record with 1,313 yards in 2016. In 2017, he became the first running back in franchise history to start a career with back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons.

Howard's production suggests he should be the feature back in Chicago's ground game. In fact, according to NFL Network's Maurice Jones-Drew, it's a no-brainer. He recently ranked Howard in the NFL's top-10 running backs.

7. Jordan Howard (Bears)

Even with the plethora of offensive weapons thanks to some offseason additions, the Bears' offense still must run through Howard. After rushing for at least 1,100 yards in each of his first two seasons, Howard will be a key piece for first-year head coach Matt Nagy and will have to carry Chicago late in the season if the squad is going to make a playoff push.

Howard will be given every chance to prove he can thrive in Nagy's system early in the season. If he can prove reliable as a receiver, he could match Kareem Hunt's league-leading 1,327 yards last season. He'll have to be effective as a pass-catcher to keep Cohen from threatening for more touches.

Howard deserves this kind of respect for what he's done through two seasons as a pro. He may not be in the NFL's elite class just yet, but if he surpasses 1,200-plus rushing yards and threatens for 10 or more touchdowns again, it'll be an undeniable fact that Howard is a true franchise back.


Bears' Nick Kwiatkoski was a top-5 inside linebacker in 2017

Bears' Nick Kwiatkoski was a top-5 inside linebacker in 2017

The Chicago Bears selected inside linebacker Roquan Smith in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft with the expectation that he'll become an immediate starter and impact player on defense. But, was there a need at inside linebacker?

According to Pro Football Focus, Nick Kwiatkoski, who Chicago selected in the fourth round of 2016's draft, was a standout performer last season. He ranked third in the NFL among inside linebackers in run-stop percentage and was fourth-best in pass-rush productivity.

Kwiatkoski also wasn’t tagged for a missed tackle against the run all season. He still has to share time on the field with Danny Trevathan and newly-drafted Roquan Smith, but should be able to capitalize on a great sophomore year after being drafted in the fourth round from West Virginia in 2016. Overall, Kwiatoski was graded as the NFL’s 12th best inside linebacker, higher than both Spaight and Hitchens.

His 21.0 pass-rush productivity ranked fourth and came on the heels of his rookie season in which he ranked 10th in the same category in 2016.

Kwiatkoski didn't receive much fanfare last season but the analytics speak for themselves. He started six games (appeared in 11) and registered career highs in tackles (34) and sacks (two). He's an ascending player but his growth is likely to be stunted by Smith's presence. 

Chicago could view Kwiatkoski as the heir to Danny Trevathan's starting job. The Bears can move on from Trevathan with little consequence at season's end. His dead cap number drops to just $1.25 million in 2019. Kwiatkoski will be in the final year of his contract that season (2019), and if he hasn't earned a starting job by then, he's a near lock to sign elsewhere when his rookie contract expires. 

Kwiatkoski has proven he can produce when given a chance to play, something 31 other teams have certainly taken notice of.