Bears

While Bears continue downward spiral, Cameron Meredith opening eyes in Chicago

While Bears continue downward spiral, Cameron Meredith opening eyes in Chicago

At this point, the Bears season needs to be taken for what it is: a developmental year.

Forget the grand illusion that this team could be in the crowded NFC playoff picture if not for a couple of bounces going their way the last two games.

After suffering their second consecutive loss, this time blowing a double-digit fourth-quarter lead to the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars — a bottom feeder in arguably the worst division in the NFL — it would behoove the Bears to use the remaining 10 games to see which players on their roster could be potential building-blocks for 2017 and beyond.

One of those potential building-blocks is wide receiver Cameron Meredith.

Meredith has been thrust into a key role and tasked with playing a larger part in the Bears offense due to former No. 1 pick Kevin White going on IR with a broken leg earlier this month. White's departure has been Meredith's gain as he continues to produce at a high clip and deliver the type of production the Bears thought they would be getting out of White.

For the second straight game, Meredith led all Bears wideouts in receptions (11), yards (113) and targets (15). Pair that with his performance in a Week 5 loss to the Indianapolis Colts, Meredith now has accrued an eye-opening 27 targets and hauled in 20 catches for 243 yards and a touchdowns in his last two games.

"Cam is a playmaker when he gets the ball and he's made some plays with it," Bears quarterback Brian Hoyer said.

To see Meredith continue to put up impressive stat lines has been a pleasant surprise in a season that's been mired by disappointment. And what's been even more stunning in Meredith's sudden rise is the fact that he's only been playing wide receiver for a few years

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!].

The 24-year-old starred as a quarterback at St. Joseph High School in Chicago's western suburbs and after not getting any FBS-level offers, enrolled at Illinois State where he served as Redbirds' backup quarterback in 2011 and 2012 before transitioning to wide receiver in 2013.

After going undrafted and receiving an invite to minicamp in 2015, Meredith ultimately played his way onto the Bears' final 53-man roster. This past preseason, Meredith had to do it all over again and fight for his roster spot in a crowded wide receiver group.

The Bears decision to keep him around could pay major dividends as the front office builds for the future.

"I think it's just getting the reps, honestly," Meredith said. "The more I'm out there, the more confidence I'm getting in my hands and routes and stuff like that, and also in my preparation during the week. I'm just going to continue to work on that and continue to get better and grow and come like that every week."

Former Bear Greg Olsen randomly walks into marriage proposal, catches whole thing on video

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USA TODAY

Former Bear Greg Olsen randomly walks into marriage proposal, catches whole thing on video

Scenario: you're walking down the street and randomly walk into a marriage proposal. What do you do?

For former Bear and current Carolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen, the answer was to capture the magical moment on video. 

Olsen was in Nashville this week to give a keynote speech at a healthcare conference. While walking back to his hotel on Thursday, he randomly stumbled into a marriage proposal. His first response: hit record on his phone and capture the whole thing on video.

"Did she say yes? I got it on video, dude," Olsen said emphatically. "I'm going to send it to you!

"She said yes and I got it all on video, and you don't even know me, but I'm going to send it to you."

The couple, according to the Panthers, is Max Harvat and Brooke Hartranft. The two were visiting Nashville for the week, but Harvat didn't necessarily plan the proposal. It was as much of a sporadic moment for him as it was random for Olsen.

"Oh my god, you're my hero," Harvat said to Olsen after the proposal.

As it turns out, Harvat grew up a Panthers fan. However, he had no idea that Olsen was the person recording the proposal in the moment, only happy that someone caught it on video. When he stood up, he realized who the mystery man was.

“When I stood up, I looked over and I started having a mini heart attack," Harvat said to panthers.com. "I was like, ‘I’m 90 percent sure that’s Greg Olsen from the Panthers!’

“I'm a huge Carolina fan. I was like, ‘Oh my God, you're telling me that Greg Olsen just recorded the whole thing?’ I was so excited. It was amazing."

The moment wasn't just special for Havrat and Hartranft, though.

"It's the best thing I've ever witnessed," Olsen said in the video.

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Bilal Nichols eyes an even bigger impact for Bears in 2019

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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.”