Danny Trevathan

Bears grades and needs: What to do with Danny Trevathan, Nick Kwiatkoski?

Bears grades and needs: What to do with Danny Trevathan, Nick Kwiatkoski?

2018 depth chart

1. Danny Trevathan
Usage: 16 games, 93.7 percent of defensive snaps
2019 status: $7.65 million cap hit

The Bears could save $6.4 million in cap space if they were to release Trevathan before March 17, per Spotrac, but that move seems unlikely. Trevathan was one of the more underrated players on the league’s best defense in 2018, serving as a vocal leader while putting together his best season in Chicago. He finished the season with 102 tackles, two sacks, two interceptions, four pass break-ups, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery and eight tackles for a loss, all while playing 986 snaps, the third-highest total on the defense. 

With Chuck Pagano keeping 3-4 continuity, Trevathan will maintain a significant role in the Bears’ defense. Cutting him for cap savings could be detrimental to the Bears’ chances of making the playoffs again in 2019. He’s a guy who not only should be back, but should be one of the team’s most important players again this coming season. 

2. Roquan Smith
Usage: 16 games, 83.7 percent of defensive snaps
2019 status: $4,199,356 million cap hit

For a guy who participated in roughly one and a half practices during training camp and the preseason, and didn’t start in Week 1, Smith put together an impressive and encouraging rookie year. He was all over the field, with his speed, instincts and physicality often overcoming a steep learning curve in Vic Fangio’s defense. He led the Bears with 121 tackles but, perhaps just as impressive, tied for third on the team in sacks with five (which equaled Leonard Floyd’s total). 

Smith’s future is searingly bright. And as the Bears’ roster evolves over the next few years, with Mitch Trubisky’s rookie deal coming to an end and a rich extension due to Eddie Jackson, the Bears can overcome some potential roster/cap casualties by Smith living up to his potential while he’s still on his rookie contract. 

3. Nick Kwiatkoski
Usage: 16 games, 10.6 percent of defensive snaps, 71.5 percent of special teams snaps
2019 status: $2,188,780 cap hit

Kwiatkoski lost his starting job after Week 1, when it was clear the Bears needed Smith’s speed on the field after blowing that 20-point lead to the Packers in Green Bay. He barely played on defense after that, but credit the 25-year-old with committing himself to special teams and being a key contributor on those units (he also caught a two-point conversion pass on “Golden Ticket” in Week 17). 

The Bears, though, could save a little over $2 million in cap space by cutting Kwiatkoski. He’s a solid backup, but if the Bears think 2018 fourth-rounder Joel Iyiegbuniwe could be a similarly-solid reserve, they could decide to move on from Kwiatkoski. 

4. Joel Iyiegbuniwe
Usage: 16 games, 2.2 percent of defensive snaps, 74.6 percent of special teams snaps
2019 status: $739,643 cap hit

“Iggy” played more special teams snaps than anyone on the Bears, though his work on defense was limited to three snaps in garbage time in Week 4 against the Buccaneers and 12 after starters were pulled in Week 17 against the Vikings. That doesn’t give the Bears much film to evaluate, though he did play 129 snaps on defense during the preseason that should help with the team’s evaluation of him. 

5. Josh Woods
Usage: Practice squad
2019 status: Reserve/future contract

Woods, who played defensive back at Maryland, suffered a hand injury in the Bears’ second preseason game but stuck around the practice squad all year. 

Level of need (1-11, with 11 being the highest): 1

If the Bears stick to the status quo with their depth chart here, there’s not much work to be done. Trevathan and Smith are an excellent starting pair, with Kwiatkoski a reliable backup and Iyiegbuniwe a strong special teams contributor. If the team moves on from Kwiatkoski, they could be in the market for another backup here, but that wouldn’t be a pressing need. 

Stunned Bears struggle to grasp abrupt end to such an enjoyable, successful season

Stunned Bears struggle to grasp abrupt end to such an enjoyable, successful season

A stunned, melancholy silence enveloped the home locker room at Soldier Field, the same place where the dance parties of “Club Dub” became a phenomenon on so many Sundays this year. But not this day. Not after Cody Parkey’s 43-yard field goal cruelly doinked off the left upright, and then the crossbar, to send the Bears to a 16-15 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in the first round of the playoffs.

The suddenness of the end of the Bears’ best season in years hadn’t quite set in. This was a good team that thoroughly enjoyed playing together, with a collective will and spirit that ran as an undercurrent to 12 wins and an NFC North championship.

And now, it’s all over. The 2018 Bears will never play together ever again.

“It did kind of hit me taking off my pads,” center Cody Whitehair, who played every single snap this season, said. “That’s the last time I’ll do it this year with this team as all of us.”

This season wasn’t supposed to end like this. Not with the best defense in the league, the kind that looked ready to cement itself among the legendary 1985 and 2006 groups in franchise history – but won’t be remembered in that echelon thanks to this quick playoff exit. Not with Mitch Trubisky and Matt Nagy proving they could build an offense good enough to support that staggeringly great defense. Not with week after week of celebrations and trick plays that made the Bears fun again.

In a game of wild swings, the Bears ultimately couldn’t muster any of these three things: A lengthy offensive drive to chew up clock after taking the lead, then a defensive stop to hang on to that lead and then a field goal with five seconds left to re-take the lead.

“Just with how our season was going, it was like man, it just seemed like it was meant for us,” cornerback Prince Amukamara said. “And yeah, it obviously wasn’t.”

The Bears head into the NFL’s offseason sooner than they expected, and are hardly guaranteed to repeat or build on the success they had in 2019. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio is reportedly interviewing for two head coaching openings — with the Denver Broncos and Miami Dolphins — on Monday. Safety Adrian Amos and slot corner Bryce Callahan will be unrestricted free agents. Cap casualties are a routine part of an offseason roster churn. Injuries will happen to a team that had significant luck avoiding them in 2018.

The core of this group will be back when the 2019 season begins in eight months: Nagy, Trubisky, Khalil Mack, Akiem Hicks, Roquan Smith, Kyle Fuller, Eddie Jackson, Allen Robinson, Tarik Cohen, etc. The Bears could make some shrewd moves in the offseason to make themselves preseason favorites to win the NFC. The message from the Bears’ locker room was one of hope for 2019, as well it should be.

“You know what it takes now, you know what it looks like,” Trevathan said. “So now, the bar has been set high, so we’re ready to play Chicago Bear ball next year.”

But windows to win open and shut quickly in the NFL. The reality is that the 2017 Jacksonville Jaguars made the AFC Championship behind the best defense in the league, then imploded into being a 5-11 disaster in 2018. The Minnesota Vikings were supposed to be one of the best teams in the league this year, and couldn’t beat the Bears to get in the playoffs a week ago. These things are not assured.

It will take a lot of hard work in the offseason by Ryan Pace, Nagy and this team to repeat as playoff participants, let alone NFC North champions. But that’s all for another day.

For now, the Bears head into the NFL’s long offseason stunned, disappointed and sad that such a wildly enjoyable and successful ride came to an abrupt end on the first weekend of January, far sooner than they expected or hoped.

“It's unfortunate that the season ended this way,” Hicks said. “This is what we got. This is what you're going to deal with. If you wanted a different result, maybe make a different play. You got to swallow this. Let it hurt for a little bit. We'll be alright."

 

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No Mack, no problem: Bears’ defense bounces back, keeps Jets grounded

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USA Today Sports Images

No Mack, no problem: Bears’ defense bounces back, keeps Jets grounded

Part of the Bears’ calculus in deciding to make Khalil Mack inactive for the first time in his career had to be a trust this defense could deliver without their star — yet hobbled — player. 

That’s exactly what Vic Fangio’s group did, smothering the New York Jets for all but one drive in a tidy 24-10 win Sunday at Soldier Field. This was hardly the flashiest performance by the Bears’ defense, which only had one sack and didn’t record an interception against a quarterback who led the league in picks heading into Week 8. 

But it was an effective effort that, beyond not having Mack on the field, felt like a throwback to what this defense did well in 2017. 

“You always want to rally for your guys, especially when they’re down,” defensive lineman Akiem Hicks said. “You just do your best to play the best of your capabilities. And don’t forget, we were a top 10 defense before.”

Hicks is right about that. A year ago, the Bears’ defense didn’t have a player with more than eight sacks and only totaled eight interceptions. But what this group did well was stop the run and force opposing offenses into difficult down-and-distances, the likes of which could be taken advantage even by a not-so-opportunistic defense. 

The Jets’ averaged 8.6 yards-to-gain on third down, which is a good starting point of explaining how New York converted only three of 14 third down tries despite the Bears only recording one sack and two quarterback hits. The Bears’ run defense was dominant, limiting running back/“Dude Wipes” spokesman Isaiah Crowell to 25 yards on 13 ineffective carries. Change of pace back Trenton Cannon only managed 10 yards on six carries, too.  

Beyond the Jets’ best offensive weapon being Crowell, stopping the run was critical in setting the tone for a defense that had been so easily and frequently gashed in its last two games. 

“If a team gets the momentum and feels like they can topple you and run over you all day, they’re going to keep doing it,” Hicks said. “If you shut that down early, that lets them know that you’re here to play and you gotta be consistent, you gotta keep doing it but it’s a real tone setter. When they scheme runs to run against your defense and you’re smacking them in the mouth, it’s a real tone setter and they don’t forget it.”

The Jets’ receiving corps was comically depleted on Sunday, missing top targets Quincy Enunwa and Robby Anderson as well as reliable pass-catching running back Bilal Powell. But the Bears’ secondary did well to plaster New York’s available receivers and make plays on the ball, even if they didn’t turn any into interceptions. Bryce Callahan broke up three passes, while Eddie Jackson, Kyle Fuller and Danny Trevathan notched pass break-ups as well. 

And when Sam Darnold did complete passes, for the most part the Bears’ defense swiftly made tackles. The Jets’ longest play of the game was a 29-yard completion to Deontay Burnett that happened when Fuller barely couldn’t make a fingertip interception. 

“We just need to play our ball, man,” Trevathan said. “Get off the field on third down keep them in second and short, stop the run game — there were no turnovers, but I think we played a sound game defensively. Stopped the run game, passing game, kept them limited. It was a good game for us.”

To some extent, the Bears’ defense needed this game. Yes, the Jets offense was horrendous — somehow, it combined for five false start penalties — but the Bears’ defense played well regardless of how many “just a guys” populated their opponent’s depth chart. The Jets were overmatched, and the Bears made sure that played out on the scoreboard. 

“We just came out and played our game,” Jackson said. “We executed, we played aggressive and we played four quarters. That was one of the biggest things that we wanted to do.”

Jackson said he had a feeling Mack wouldn’t play when the outside linebacker wasn’t part of the team’s mock game on Saturday, though no decision was made on him until Sunday, coach Matt Nagy said. Deciding to hold Mack out against the Jets was not due to a setback with his balky angle, Nagy added, and his status for Week 9’s trip to Buffalo will remain day-to-day, though the hope is that he’ll be able to play next Sunday. 

But the Bears’ defense proved against the Jets it can still clamp down on an opponent even without its most dominant force, at least prior to Mack suffering that ankle injury in Week 6’s loss to the Miami Dolphins. The Bills’ offense is worse than the Jets, and the Bears can take some confidence from Sunday that this defense indeed can succeed without Mack. With a critical three-game stretch against the Lions, Vikings and Lions looming in Weeks 10-12, that’s important, given they’ll need Mack as close to 100 percent for those games as possible to legitimately start thinking about playoff contention. 

“This is a day-by-day, daily, hour by hour,” Nagy said. “It's just one that I really haven't been a part of before just because of where he's at, and so you know, it could be a similar situation. But I just think right now, that was what was best for him and what was best for us. 

“We had guys that stepped up. I think that's the other thing that you can't get lost in this is when a great player like Khalil or another player like Allen (Robinson) doesn't play, we have guys that step up and that’s — I'm proud of our guys for doing that, and understanding that, knowing that, hey, here we go, it's my time and next man up.”