Why the Bears defense needs to be healthy, ready when the bell rings

Why the Bears defense needs to be healthy, ready when the bell rings

John Fox has yet to win a game as Bears head coach in the month of September. And when the schedule was released a few weeks ago, fans probably didn’t feel it would get much better in 2017.

While the offense adapts to new quarterbacks and receivers trying to learn a new system, the defense (particularly the secondary) will still be in the fresh stages of “getting-to-know-you.” If there’s any unit that needs to be ready (and, especially healthy) at the starting gate, it’s Vic Fangio’s guys. The offenses they’ll face will be powerful, with weapons galore.

To wit:

Sept. 10 vs. Atlanta Falcons

The Falcons were the league’s No. 2 offense last season behind MVP Matt Ryan. The quarterback ranked first in passer rating (117.1), second in touchdown passes (38) and passing yards (4,944) and third in completion percentage (69.9). The NFC Champions also had the receiver with the third-most yards (1,409) in Julio Jones, and the ninth-leading rusher in Devonta Freeman (1,079). He and Tevin Coleman combined for 1,600 yards on the ground

Sept. 17 at Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Bucs only ranked 18th in offense a year ago, and the NFL’s second-best rusher from two years ago, Doug Martin, may be out due to a suspension, forcing them to lean on ex-Bear Jacquizz Rodgers. But he still averaged 4.3 yards per rush in Martin’s absence before a season-ending injury. Jameis Winston enters his third season coming off two 4,000-yard passing seasons to begin his career. Mike Evans was a big part of that, especially last season, when he was tied for second in TD catches (12), fourth in yards (1,321) and sixth in receptions (96). But all they’ve done in the offseason is add receivers DeSean Jackson (free agency) and Chris Godwin (third round draftee), and All-American tight end O.J. Howard (19th overall draft pick).

Sept. 24 vs. Pittsburgh Steelers

A week later, it’s back home against the Steelers and their seventh-ranked offense from a year ago. Ben Roethlisberger tied for sixth in touchdown passes (29) and ranked 11th in passer rating. Main target Antonio Brown was second in the NFL with 106 catches, tied for second with a dozen TD catches and was fifth in receiving yards (1,384). Not to be outdone, Le'Veon Bell ranked fifth with 1,268 rushing yards. Second-round pick JuJu Smith-Schuster is insurance if Martavis Bryant can’t stay off the suspended list.

Sept. 28 at Green Bay Packers

So four days after the black and gold on the lakefront it’s the green and gold up the road at Lambeau. Do we really need to go there? Well, if you want: the No. 8 offense featured the quarterback who led the league in touchdown passes (40) and finished fourth in passing yards and passer rating (4,428 and 104.2, respectively), not to mention the fact Aaron Rodgers almost always finds a way to beat the Bears. They may need to turn to fourth round rookie Jamaal Williams to run the ball, but remember how ex-wideout Ty Montgomery had no problem facing the Bears (with a 5.9 yard rushing average for the season). Then there’s Jordy Nelson, first in touchdown catches (14), fifth in receptions (97) and sixth in yards (1,257). Davante Adams’ 12 touchdown catches tied for second with Evans, as he and Randall Cobb combined for 135 receptions. Oh, and they signed former Bear Martellus Bennett to fill a “need” at tight end.

If the defense can keep the games close (a big “if”), there’s no doubt the offense will lean on Jordan Howard. Against the run a year ago, Atlanta ranked 17th, Tampa Bay 22nd, Pittsburgh 13th, and Green Bay eighth.

Trey Lance to the Bears? This 2021 mock draft thinks so

Trey Lance to the Bears? This 2021 mock draft thinks so

Barring some kind of career-year from Mitch Trubisky or Nick Foles, the 2021 NFL Draft will likely center around quarterback for the Chicago Bears. And while that's not necessarily good news for Bears fans, it could be worse. Next year's draft class will have a handful of quality quarterbacks with first-round grades.

In the latest mock draft from The Draft Wire, the Bears spend their first-round pick on North Dakota State darling, Trey Lance. The FCS standout is the apple of Draft Twitter's eye during the first wave of summer scouting, with some respected draft analysts like The Athletic's Dane Brugler ranking him ahead of Ohio State star, Justin Fields.

The Bears use the 12th overall pick in this mock on Lance. By the time April rolls around, and assuming Lance stacks another productive season on top of his remarkable 2019 performance, it's unlikely he'll be around outside the top 10.

Lance threw for 2,786 yards, 28 touchdowns and a remarkable ZERO interceptions in his first full season starting for the Bison. But that's not all; he ran for 1,100 yards and 14 touchdowns, too.

At an estimated 6-3 and 224 pounds, Lance checks all the early boxes for a franchise quarterback prospect. If he does end up leapfrogging Fields for QB2, he'll be a top-five pick.

But here's the catch: we just don't know enough about him yet. His 2019 season was fantastic, but it's the only one he has on film. And it was against FCS competition, which makes his projection to the NFL more difficult. It's a slippery slope to use Carson Wentz as an example to support Lance's ability to make the jump to the pros. Players like Wentz are the exception; they're few and far between.

It's only July, and the mock draft landscape will change multiple times between now and April. But if Trubisky and Foles fail to deliver in 2020, all mock drafts will have the Bears picking a quarterback. The only question is how high will the Bears be picking in Round 1, and which quarterback (if any) falls to their selection.

Cody Whitehair says he's excited to begin training camp at center

Cody Whitehair says he's excited to begin training camp at center

Cody Whitehair is comfortable and excited about playing center in 2020, a position that isn't new for him but also wasn't deemed his full-time home until midway through last season.

With 2020 training camp scheduled to begin in two weeks, Whitehair is feeling good about his season outlook now that he's back to being the quarterback of the offensive line.

"That's where I feel the most comfortable," Whitehair said on Bears All-Access. "Obviously I'm a team guy and I'll do whatever they ask me to do. If it happens to be where they need me to play a different position, whether that be July 28 when we come in the building or, you know, whenever that may be, you know I'm always down for it."

Whitehair has always been a team-first guy since joining the Bears as a second-round pick in 2016. The former collegiate tackle began his career at center before flipping to guard and then back to center last season. He played 561 snaps at center and 508 at left guard in 2019.

"But you know just being comfortable at that position and being played there for as long as I have in the NFL it's really exciting to be able to be there to start the season again," Whitehair said.

Whitehair will be counted on to keep the offensive line in sync and on task, especially in the run game.

"You want your offense to be able to count on that run and especially in obvious situations," Whitehair said. "You know, that's where an offensive lineman has really got to be, you know, at his best whether that be obvious pass or obvious run.

"So it's something we take pride in and in the run game everything starts up there upfront and making sure we can get a hole open for those guys in the backfield because when we do that we're going to be dangerous."

The Bears' offensive line was recently ranked 22nd in the league by Pro Football Focus with the caveat that they could become one of the NFL's 10-best units if it returns to the level of play we saw in 2018. Whitehair was a big reason for that productive season, and he logged all 1,139 of his snaps at center that year.