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Young, exciting Bears and The Robert Zeglinski Face

Which young Bears pushed you to giddy geekdom? Jack M Silverstein breaks down his favorite five.

Denver Broncos v Chicago Bears Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Which young Chicago Bears have given you the giddy face?

Our WCG colleague Robert Zeglinski is in the midst of what might be a season-long one.

On CLTV SportsFeed Tuesday night, Robert was discussing the 2017 Bears with host Jarrett Payton when Payton pivoted to Robert’s trigger name.

“Last Thursday, we did see something pretty special, and I think this guy’s going to be special this season,” Payton started, with Robert maintaining his professional composure to this point. “That’s Leonard Floyd.”

“Absolutely,” Robert said. And then, breaking into a smile and pointing to himself, he added: “You’re preaching to the choir.”

For a brief moment, and then on and off throughout the discussion, he was no longer Robert Zeglinski, NFL Journalist.

He was Rob Zeglinski, Bears Fan.

Just look at him!

His face did not go unnoticed.

Pretty quickly, Rob came back to Robert Zeglinski, NFL Journalist, and not surprisingly, crushed his appearance. But his giddy grins made me ask myself:

Which young Bears have given you The Robert Zeglinski Face?

These have to be young Bears on the brink of a breakout season, or on the brink of an even bigger season, and someone who come to the team via the draft or as undrafted free agents, or as unheralded free agents. (Think Devin Aromashodu.)

Here are my favorite five. Share your own in the comments!

5. Greg Olsen, starting tight end, 2009

Divisional Playoffs - Seattle Seahawks v Chicago Bears Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

My guy Marcus Robinson just misses this list, because his breakout season of 1999 was so complete that going into 2000, I was stoked for getting more of the same, but I didn’t necessarily think he was going to hit a level beyond 84-1400-9.

So my number five man is Greg Olsen in 2009, entering his third season.

In his first two seasons, the 2007 1st round pick split time with veteran Desmond Clark, catching 93 passes for 965 yards and seven touchdowns in 11 starts and 30 games. With the Bears trading for Jay Cutler in 2009 and Olsen having a strong final month of 2008 (20 catches, 176 yards, three touchdowns), it seemed that the 24-year-old Olsen would step in full time for the 32-year-old Clark.

Did he match the hype? — Kind of. In two seasons as a full starter, Olsen caught 101 passes for 1016 yards and 13 touchdowns. In his second season, the Bears won the division and Olsen busted out for a fantastic playoff game against Seattle.

But new offensive coordinator Mike Martz wanted tight ends to block, leading to the team trading Olsen to Carolina. Olsen scored 20 touchdowns in Chicago and has 32 in Carolina, along with three Pro Bowl appearances. Last year, Dez Clark explained to us the trade and its fallout to us:

Grade on the Robert Zeglinski Face scale — 6/10

4. Tommie Harris, defensive tackle, 2005

In 2004, Harris — a 1st rounder out of Oklahoma — had a solid rookie year: 3.5 sacks in 16 starts, with one forced fumble and two batted balls. As we entered 2005, there were plenty of reasons to think Harris was going to become a true force:

  • Year 2 of Lovie Smith’s system
  • A healthy Brian Urlacher, Peanut Tillman, and Mike Brown
  • A full year of camp for Adewale Ogunleye
  • A full year as starter for Harris’s fellow 2004 rookie Nathan Vasher

Did it work out? — Absolutely. Starting in 2005, Harris kicked off a three-year run as a Pro Bowler, amassing 16 of his career 31.5 sacks. He was a crucial piece to a defense that won two straight division titles and reached a Super Bowl, and his season-ending injury in 2006 was a significant factor in our performance in XLI.

Some folks might say Harris’s career didn’t work out — he reached 16 games in only his first two years, was off the Bears after he was 27 and out of the league after he was 28.

But for me, the Tommie Harris experience was an absolute thrill. I loved watching him — especially in the Seattle win in Week 4 of 2006 — and ultimately he is someone who left me feeling as if I’d gotten my fandom money’s worth, as it were. Salute to big #91!

Grade on the Robert Zeglinski Face scale — 7/10

Bears v Buccaneers Photo By Streeter Lecka

3. Rex Grossman, starting quarterback, 2004

After waiting behind veterans Kordell Stewart and Chris Chandler for most of his rookie year, 1st round pick Rex Grossman started the final three games of 2003, leading the Bears to two wins. He entered 2004 as the clear-cut starter. I could not have been more excited.

Did it work out? — Kind of. For most of the first three games, all was well. The Bears lost a close game to Detroit, went into Lambeau and beat the Packers, and then hung tough with the Vikings at the Metrodome. Rex was hit and miss, but he was improving:

  • Week 1: 43.4 rating, 0 TD, 2 INT, 3 sacks, loss
  • Week 2: 74.3 rating, 1 TD, 1 INT, 1 sack, win
  • Week 3: 91.9 rating, 0 TD (1 rush TD), 0 INT, 1 sack, trailing by five

I didn’t put a “win” or “loss” on that last bullet point because when Rex dove for a three-yard touchdown run, he tore ligaments in his right knee and was lost for the season. Trailing 27-22, the Bears forced the Vikings to punt, followed by backup quarterback Jonathan Quinn throwing four straight incomplete passes (one negated by a defensive offsides) and then taking a game-ending sack on 4th and 5.

We know what happened with Rex from 2005 to 2008, so I won’t retread that here. But from the end of 2003 until probably the middle of 2007, I was all on board the Rex Grossman train.

Grade on the Robert Zeglinski Face scale — 8/10

Chicago Bears Training Camp Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

2. Devin Hester, wide receiver, 2007

FORGET THE HATERS, and come with me back to the beginning of the summer of 2007. Think of where you were when you heard that the Bears were moving Devin Hester — return man extraordinaire and struggling fourth cornerback — to wide receiver.

I was at a bar with friends and saw the news scroll along the bottom of the TV. I damn slapped a hole in the table in excitement. The word on the Bears offense heading into 2007 was that the added speed of Hester and rookies Greg Olsen and Garrett Wolfe would balance any uncertainty around new starting running back Cedric Benson and the loss of veteran Thomas Jones.

Did it work out? — Absolutely.

Again, forget the haters. And while you’re at it, draw the crucial distinction between whether Hester worked as a receiver and whether he worked as a #1 receiver. The controversy around Hester as a potential #1 option between 2008 and 2011 was a matter of coaching and personnel errors.

But the difference in impact between Devin Hester, cornerback, and Devin Hester, wide receiver, was unmistakeable. The team gave him a slow rollout in 2007 (even while he continued to crush as a returner) with two targets in Week 2, and his first NFL catch in Week 4.

Then in Week 6 against the Vikings, Hester broke out in a big, big way: an 81-yard 4th quarter touchdown from Brian Griese to complete a two-touchdown comeback and (briefly) tie the game.

He finished with two touchdowns and 272 all-purpose yards, which at the time was the sixth best mark in Bears history, trailing only Gale Sayers and Walter Payton. Hester finished the season with 299 yards on 20 catches and two touchdowns, and finished his Bears career with these marks:

  • 255 receptions on 449 targets
  • 2807 yards (12.9 yards per catch)
  • 14 touchdowns

In the end, Hester caught 55.6% of passes thrown his way as a Bear, a better mark than wide receiver teammates Johnny Knox (53.4%), Bernard Berrian (50.2%), Rashied Davis (50.0%), and Muhsin Muhammad (49.1%). He got a bad rap because of the #1 receiver problem, and because of a perception that he couldn’t run routes, but the receiver I saw was had terrific hands, game-breaking speed, and ran a mix of slants, posts, and curls, to go along with his unstoppable go routes.

This is an article for another day, but the bottom line is simple: Devin Hester was a terrific #3 wide receiver and 100% worth the move and investment.

Grade on the Robert Zeglinski Face scale — 9/10

1. Brian Urlacher, full season as starting MLB, 2001

In his rookie year, Brian Urlacher led the Bears with 101 tackles and eight sacks, was 2nd on the team with two interceptions, won NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, and made his first of eight Pro Bowls.

And yet, we knew that even bigger things were to come.

There were three reasons to think Urlacher’s 2001 would be even better than his 2000.

First, he was a second-year player instead of a rookie.

Second, the defense around him was improving.

And third, most crucially, he headed into 2001 as the team’s starting middle linebacker, rather than an outside linebacker, his position at the start of 2000.

Did it work out? — ARE YOU KIDDING ME?

The bullet points tell the tale. Brian Urlacher, 2001:

  • NFL Defensive Player of the Year
  • 1st Team All Pro
  • Pro Bowl
  • 89 tackles (2nd on team behind Warrick Holdman’s 93)
  • 6 sacks (3rd, behind Rosevelt Colvin’s 10.5 and Philip Daniels’s 9)
  • 3 interceptions (tied 2nd, behind Tony Parrish’s 3)
  • 2 defensive fumbles recovered (tied 1st)
  • 2 forced fumbles (tied 2nd most behind Daniels, Colvin, and Holdman with 3)
  • 1 defensive touchdown (tied 2nd most behind Mike Brown’s 2)
  • 1 receiving touchdown

The Bears went 13-3 and won the NFC Central. Urlacher, meanwhile, became a new kind of middle linebacker, with game-breaking speed a top component.

He’ll be headed to the Hall of Fame soon enough. I am giddy just thinking about it.

Or, as we say at times like this:

Peak Zeglinski.