In 2016, the Bears’ secondary was the equivalent of wet tissue paper, and the offense just could not consistently put up points. It did not help that injuries and suspensions added to the downward spiral in both issues. Former first-rounder Kyle Fuller missed the entire season after a minor knee surgery in training camp, veteran Tracy Porter bounced between injury and ineffectiveness, and an endless carousel of safeties were tried to no avail. The best coverage linebacker on the roster – and last year’s prized free agent – Danny Trevathan ended his season early as well after a torn patellar tendon during Week 12.
On the offensive side of the ball, injuries to Jay Cutler and Brian Hoyer left the Bears in the less-than-capable hands of Matt Barkley. Kevin White once again ended up on injured reserve. Alshon Jeffery also spent four games on the bench with a suspension. To say the Bears hobbled to the finish line in 2016 would be putting it lightly.
There were bright spots, though. In the absence of Jeffery and White, the Bears may have found an emerging star in Cameron Meredith. They also got to get a good taste of their rookie class. A training camp injury to 2015 third-rounder Hroniss Grasu paved the way for the rookie Cody Whitehair to slide to center and shine. Late addition Josh Sitton joining the team made the interior line a force to be reckoned with. Running back Jordan Howard in a year without Ezekiel Elliott would’ve won Offensive Rookie of the Year. First-rounder Leonard Floyd, if not for injuries, could have easily had a 10+-sack season. After that disastrous (but promising in some ways) campaign, the Bears earned the No. 3 overall pick in the draft.
Free agency rolled around again, and Ryan Pace once again played on the second wave value market, as opposed to the big names. Instead of entering a bidding war for top cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore and AJ Bouye, he opted for Prince Amukamara and Marcus Cooper. Amukamara is a former first-rounder, and Cooper was a Pro Bowl alternate last year. Pace also added veteran safety Quintin Demps and moved 2016 fourth-rounder Deiondre’ Hall to safety to try and bolster the secondary. Pace added massive defensive tackle John Jenkins as depth behind Eddie Goldman, who has spent plenty of time injured himself. Just this week, he added a massive steal in Jaye Howard. If healthy, he can make the Chicago front-seven one of the most fearsome in the league.
The much-maligned 2017 draft of the Bears sports a class of small-school wonders and a potential franchise quarterback. But, all is unknown until they actually hit the field.
So after all of this, where do they go now?
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With a plethora of injured players returning and a boosted secondary, can the Bears be much better? The short answer is yes. A lot of people assume the Bears are a terrible football team, and they plainly are not. They have a growing foundation of youthful talent and plenty of cap fluidity moving forward. This year, however, looks to be a make-or-break year for John Fox and his staff. Without a moderate increase in wins, they may end on the unemployment line.
This weekend, the Bears’ offseason program begins with the rookie minicamp. In the following weeks, the Bears have OTAs scheduled for May 22-23, May 25, May 30, June 1-2, June 5-6 and June 8-9. They will finalize their offseason program with their mandatory minicamp June 13th-15th. No contact may be allowed during this portion of the offseason, but it will be a good chance to get some much-needed reps in for all the new additions. During rookie minicamp, there will be plenty of tryout players, and the bottom of the roster will do plenty of shuffling. More importantly, though, we will get first looks at the Bears’ draft picks as they get their first taste of NFL coaching. After June 15th, the Bears will break until they report to training camp on July 26th.
Training camp is where the fun begins. We can finally see the real competition. We can get a feel for how the rookies perform against pros, and finally see the hobbled Bears of yesteryear back in action. There will be plenty of battles to be had with a roster far from set with starters. Cornerbacks like Amukamara, Cooper and Kyle Fuller will battle for starting spots. Second-year man Cre’Von Leblanc and last year’s nickel wonder Bryce Callahan will also be in the mix for slot duties. Safety will be jam packed, with Quintin Demps in the lead to start at strong safety. However, free safety will be highly contested. Incumbent Adrian Amos, Deon Bush, Harold Jones-Quartey, Chris Prosinski, DeAndre Houston-Carson, Deiondre’ Hall, and fourth-rounder Eddie Jackson will all be vying for playing time.
Rookie running back Tarik Cohen will try to oust underperforming Jeremy Langford and Ka’Deem Carey. Another rookie, tight end Adam Shaheen – will try to prove his own and steal some playing time from Zach Miller and Dion Sims. Another sneaky battle to watch is between kickers Connor Barth and UDFA Andy Phillips. This battle is not a lock for Barth to win.
August 10th kicks off the Bears’ preseason against the Broncos. This will be followed by road meetings with the Cardinals August 19th and against the Titans on August 27th. The latter game will mark the broadcasting debut of former Bears quarterback Jay Cutler. The Bears will finish at home against perennial offseason for the Browns on August 31st. Dates have not yet been released for roster cut downs, but the Bears will use this time to trim the fat to a season-ready 53 men.
The Bears, despite widespread belief, are a better team than last year based on health alone. Add in the free agents and rookies, though, and there is plenty room for optimism. They are a year or two away from contending, but they are on the right path. Sadly, there is still a long way to go until that happens. Tons of things will change between now and kickoff against the Falcons on September 10th. Despite that, we here at Cover32 Bears will be here every step and will keep you informed the entire way.