The Chicago Bears defense was loaded with star power and All Pros last season, but heading into 2019 there is no position they have a greater ability to be special at then outside linebacker.
Of course the entire defense spins around Khalil Mack, a first team All Pro who was on his way to an MVP campaign until an ankle sprain cost him two games and limited him in at least a couple more after he returned.
With three All Pro selections and one MVP Award already on his resume, Mack is absolutely money in the bank.
It is the kids around him that have Bears fans expectations soaring and most notably of course it is Leonard Floyd.
Injury prone and under-sized his first two years in the league, Floyd broke his hand in his third preseason and started fairly slowly again last year, but while the hand healed and Mack commanded the attention of every offensive coordinator the Bears faced, Floyd blossomed the second half of last season. He finished as a Pro Bowl alternate and looked like the player Ryan Pace envisioned when he traded up to draft him ninth overall in the 2016 draft.
Veteran Aaron Lynch is solid as the third guy in the rotation off one of his best seasons in years, and Isaiah Irving, Kylie Fitts and Josh Woods have all flashed some special skills while URFA’s Chuck Harris and Matt Betts both appear likely to push for the fourth and fifth roster spots as well.
This is an extremely talented group but after the top three they are long on promise and short on scalps on the wall.
3 Burning Questions:
1. Can Floyd reach the sky-high expectations for him heading into his fourth NFL campaign?
The buzz around Halas Hall all summer has been if there’s one player ready to explode it’s the long and lanky linebacker out of Georgia and his coaches have done nothing to tamp down those expectations.
New defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano’s right-hand man is Ted Monachino who also happens to be the outside linebackers coach and the president of the Floyd fan club.
Monachino told us during minicamp he was certainly aware of and thrilled to have Mack in his position room, but “Floyd has the most and best pass rush traits of any player on the team.”
His outstanding second half made exercising their fifth year option on him a no-brainer for Bears brass so he is in Chicago for at least two more seasons, but even though he played 16 games for the first time last year Floyd has to prove he can stay healthy all year long.
2. Is anyone ready to demand/command regular reps after the big three?
Irving is a natural pass rusher who has dominated in exhibition games but has yet to prove he’s the whole package and able to finish. Pressures are certainly valuable and nice but it’s the sack-masters that get paid. He is close but still has a big step to take.
Fitts was a project in the sixth round who looks the part but frankly didn’t show a lot as a rookie, and Woods is quite under-sized and more of a safety, linebacker hybrid than a threat to be a big time pass rusher at this level.
3. Has pace done it again with Harris and/or Betts.
Harris has at least one special trait going for him; he was the heir to Mack’s sack-master title at Buffalo in college. More importantly he was looking and playing like every bit the stud last season until damaging a shoulder that caused him to play with one arm the second half of the season.
This Bears roster boasts one of the best groups of undrafted rookie free agents any team has seen in a long time and Harris is one of the most promising.
Betts is also an exciting natural pass rusher off the edge, a defensive end in college in Canada that faces a huge transition to the NFL. He is more likely a practice squad candidate than able to beat out all the competition around him as a rookie but stranger things have happened.
The Bears will be in great shape if . . .
If Floyd, Mack and Lynch are healthy all year and any of the youngsters are a fourth musketeer, look out NFL!
The Bears are in trouble if . . .
If Mack and Floyd were to both get dinged life would get a lot harder for the entire ‘D’