We’ve entered that time of the season where the Chicago Bears’ focus will be more on developing bright spots, while they overall struggle to muster up results.
In retrospect, this is what 2016 was always going to be about. Injuries have made the future seem more bleak than it actually is, but this season was about building young talent to prepare for contention soon. Chicago is in the same spot as last year, meaning they are able to win or lose against most any team. The contenders are almost always favored.
They’ll need more from whose present and healthy on the field to make progressions as an organization. That’s why it’s heartening to see surprising guys taking steps on both sides of the ball.
It’s the ideal vision you have in mind for a 1-4 team. Find diamonds in the rough and develop them in conjunction.
With that said, as always, since we’re discussing the Bears, I am reversing typical definitions from the stock market. Bearish here, instead of characterizing falling stocks, will be a positive of players with a rising investment. Guys that I’ll be bullish on, are the players that I believe should have their stock fall.
Here’s your Week 5 stock watch following the Bears’ 29-23 loss against the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday:
Cameron Meredith: What a blessing it would be if Meredith were to flourish during Kevin White’s injury recovery.
The second-year former college quarterback flashed frequently against the Colts, maximizing the most of his 12 targets to the tune of nine receptions for 130 yards and a touchdown. There’s a lot of natural ability for the 6’3 lanky 24-year-old.
Something to keep in mind was that this wasn’t Meredith’s first career start. With the Bears working through heavy receiver injuries last year, Meredith took advantage in a thrilling game against the Kansas City Chiefs, making several clutch receptions late. As Alshon Jeffery and others worked their way back into the fold, Meredith was phased out as a fringe player, primarily only appearing on special teams.
Going into 2016, many wondered whether he would make the final 53-man roster. Chicago already had Jeffery, White, Eddie Royal, and other valuable special teamers like Deonte Thompson and Joshua Bellamy. Many teams don’t find value in redundancy.
The final decision had to be helped by Marquess Wilson’s poor health and rookie Daniel Braverman not panning out early, but evidently, they knew what they were doing. They made the right decision.
Brian Hoyer displayed trust in Meredith on Sunday, testing Colts corners deep, working through intermediate routes, and going to him in every situation. Meredith even displayed special instinct running after the catch in turning a short gain into a 30-yard burst early in the second quarter.
There was only one blemish to be displeased with, that being a late fumble when the Bears trailed 26-23. You could have questioned as to whether Meredith ever fully completed a football move (typical NFL catch confusion), but there was no way the officials would overturn it with inconclusive evidence. Still, Hoyer would go right back to him on Chicago’s next and final drive of the game, as Meredith worked through growing pains- a crucial moment for a developing player. He stepped right in after making a back-breaking mistake, something not many young players immediately do.
With White sidelined until December, it’ll be fascinating to see how Meredith builds consistency after this breakout performance. As long as the Bears continue to involve him, there shouldn't be any issues.
Bryce Callahan: Since the Bears have lacked any semblance of a consistent pass rush through five games, it bears mentioning just how impressive Callahan has been while exposed to receivers with greater time.
The 2015 un-drafted free agent has been Chicago’s best player on the back end give or take with Adrian Amos. What Callahan lacks in size at just 5’9, he makes up for with discipline, awareness, and terrific physicality. He’s the ideal nickel corner for a budding secondary.
While not the same player stylistically as someone like nickel corner Chris Harris Jr. from the Broncos, it bears mentioning the similar path both took. Harris Jr. was also an un-drafted free agent developed by John Fox and is now one of the best cover corners in the league on a dominant championship defense.
Callahan is more of a player around the line of scrimmage that’s around the football in general, but the comparison for nickel guys is valid. Both are integral pieces of their teams, even if the Broncos are a different caliber right now. If the Bears get anything close to the value and play the Broncos have with Harris Jr. in Callahan, this defense is on it’s way towards something special.
Last year, Callahan missed seven games due to injury. Before then, he seemed to be, at minimum, a serviceable player. No one expected this rise. This year, he’s been all over the field with more opportunity. Plays like goal line tackles of larger players in Colts tight end Dwayne Allen on Sunday, are impressive to see given Callahan’s stature. He’s also rarely out of position or burned by opposing receivers. He did make a few mistakes against the speedy T.Y. Hilton, but no one can be perfect against one of the league’s premier deep threats. Be assured, that if you attack Callahan in space, it’s not a “gimme” like it can be with other defensive backs.
The scary thing is, he’s still growing. What was once considered an abject weakness on the back-end, now has less concerns due to Callahan.
Willie Young: I’m not going to knock Young’s three-sack performance of Andrew Luck on Sunday because of the shoddy Colts offensive line. It was just a player taking advantage of what’s given to him.
With Leonard Floyd, Lamarr Houston, and Pernell McPhee all out, he was the Bears’ only pass rushing threat. Young- more of a rotation guy than a game changer- came through aplenty for a defense looking for answers with a four-man rush.
If the Bears had even one other reliable pass rushing threat to counter with Young, the whole result might have went in Chicago’s favor. Maybe Young wouldn’t have gone fishing as much, but his presence would have been complimented. Still, going into the game he only had one sack on the year and quadrupled that total in sixty minutes. That deserves applause.
Give credit where it’s due. He’s reliable, sets the edge in the run game, and does his job regardless of snap count.
As the Bears get healthier and likely attempt to add an impact pass rusher in next year’s draft, expect Young to continue to be “Mr. Reliable.” The 31-year-old will be here through at least 2018 following a contract extension in the summer. By then, ideally Chicago will have better players in position, while Young settles in as the primary third or fourth rotation guy he’s best suited for.
Young is the epitome of a yeoman’s performance
Alshon Jeffery: When you search NFL statistical receiving leaders, you have to scroll all the way down to the second page, to find a top 10 receiver talent-wise currently tied for 49th in the NFL with 31 targets. The same man shares company with the Redskins’ Pierre Garcon and others all the way down at 35th in the NFL with only 22 receptions. This man, Alshon Jeffery, also hasn’t scored a touchdown all season.
Despite this, somehow he is 11th in the NFL in overall receiving yards. That’s a problem.
I’m not sure how to explain Jeffery’s lack of involvement as the Bears’ best player. Maybe you attribute it to Hoyer not having the arm strength to test defense’s with Jeffery’s vintage jump balls and tight spots in coverage. Maybe it’s health, as Jeffery always seems to have some kind of nagging injury. Or, perhaps the Bears and Dowell Loggains don’t know how to scheme their best target open at intermittent points in games when coverage is rolled over.
The best answer is a nuanced combination of everything. I shouldn’t have to forget whether Jeffery still exists for portions of games and the Bears can’t ignore him either. When Hoyer missed Jeffery in the end zone on the final play against the Colts, you saw the frustration venting out in slamming his helmet on the sideline followed by expletives in the post-game.
Whatever spiral the Bears are in, they’d be well served to have their superstar help them work out of it not only for more success, but to keep him happy long-term. Jeffery is an unrestricted free agent at the end of season who will have a bevy of teams to choose to sign with should he go that route. The Bears can franchise tag Jeffery a second time, but it would be 120 percent higher than this Jeffery’s approximate $15 million earned this season. That’s a lot of cheddar. I don’t think Chicago is in a place where they can afford to let him go.
If he’s not getting the ball enough and the Bears are lacking in the win column, aside from money, walking looks most promising for his career. Chicago has nothing to promise Jeffery that other ready-made teams don’t have as well.
Hopefully there’s a concerted design to feed Jeffery moving forward because these are not questions I want answered when you lose an impact offensive players.
Harold Jones-Quartey: The second-year free safety has been adequate up to this point. He hasn’t impressed by any means but he also hasn’t made many horrendous mistakes.
Going in, Jones-Quartey had the opportunity to seize a free safety job by storm, but he hasn’t done so. I can’t tell you why the Bears benched him in favor of Chris Prosinki - a back-up and nothing more- on Sunday, but clearly they see something lacking unless there’s an undisclosed injury we won’t know about. Fox said it was performance based which might be the first death knell.
You saw Jones-Quartey get animated on the sideline with linebacker Danny Trevathan following a missed assignment on a Colts’ Allen touchdown early, and that doesn’t inspire confidence. Either the mental game isn’t there yet, or it’ll never be.
The other conundrum is, Jones-Quartey plays the same exact kind of game as the strong safety Amos, but Amos is, well, better. In the modern league, you can’t have two safeties who excel only around the box. One will be the odd man out, and that’s Jones-Quartey right now. Chicago needs a ballhawk to compliment Amos in tandem, not vice-versa.
Maybe this benching is temporary, a lesson, and he picks it up. With his spot not solidified until then, the Bears will look at all options in the offseason to replace Jones-Quartey either in the draft or with guys already on the roster.
Connor Barth: I’m just going to go ahead and completely entrench Barth in this section until he either improves or is replaced. I can confidently say, the former won’t happen.
Barth missed another field goal on Sunday and this time he missed it on two opportunities following an induced running into the kicker penalty. He’s been everything to expect as an objectively below-average kicker. I’ll sound like a broken record, but getting rid of Gould on that expensive contract was the right move. You cannot invest in a declining under-performing kicker like Gould to the tune of $4 million- the higher figure in the league. Yet, choosing Barth as the replacement on short notice has proven to be one of the poorly planned mistakes under Ryan Pace.
Gould is better than Barth, he just required more compensation.
If the Bears aren’t having competitions this week and putting Barth’s job status into jeopardy, they’re watching a different game. Barth puts this team at risk of lost points and potentially games, very single week. The kicking options on the free agent market are thin but it wouldn’t hurt to at least place some pressure on the veteran kicker
Honestly, he could merit his own new weekly “Barth-Watch.”. That is, if he’s still a Bear by then.
Robert Zeglinski is the Bears beat writer for the Rock River Times and is a staff writer for Windy City Gridiron and Second City Hockey. You can follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.