It’s summertime, which makes it the perfect time to sit outside and whip up a fresh batch of Kool-Aid as we get closer to training camp.
Optimism surrounding the Chicago Bears is at heights that haven’t been reached in quite a few years. With young, talented players on both sides of the ball, the roster appears to be in better shape than it has been for a better part of a decade. Expectations should be tempered, sure, but there’s no fault in being excited about what the team is putting together.
With a rational yet eager mindset, let’s take a look at five optimistic thoughts regarding Chicago’s 2018 season as training camp draws near.
Can Mitchell Trubisky have that fabled second-year breakout?
It’s irresponsible to assume that Mitchell Trubisky will have a second-year breakout quite on the level of the likes of Carson Wentz and Jared Goff. Both played at Pro Bowl levels, and both managed to make huge improvements over the course of their sophomore seasons.
However, one can’t help but feel optimistic that, like Goff and Wentz, Trubisky will make big steps in his second season, even if they aren’t quite as big as his counterparts.
The Bears did just about everything in their power to make sure that Trubisky will improve in 2018. They hired Matt Nagy and Mark Helfrich: two dynamic offensive coaching minds whose schemes fit his skill set like a glove. They spent big money on weapons, snatching Allen Robinson, Trey Burton and Taylor Gabriel. If that wasn’t enough, they traded a 2019 second-round pick to draft Anthony Miller, solidifying their starting wide receiving core and giving Trubisky several talented options in the passing game.
With a full NFL offseason under his belt now, the second-year signal-caller has had plenty of time to prepare for the season ahead. Now it’s just a matter of whether or not he can live up to the hype.
Will Matt Nagy and Co. turn Chicago’s offense around?
Many have ogled over the weapons that the Bears have brought in - and rightfully so - but it may be the new coaching staff that plays just as big of an impact on a potential turnaround of Chicago’s offense.
Head coach Matt Nagy proved during his time as offensive coordinator with the Kansas City Chiefs that he knows how to play up to his players’ strengths, evenly distribute the ball, spread the field with short passes and then make defenses pay with deep bombs. His unpredictable and creative style of play calling will be a big step up from the horrors of the team’s John Fox and Dowell Loggains-led offense last season.
Nagy is joined by offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich, a former collegiate head coach who helped lead Oregon to the first-ever College Football Playoff National Championship. During his time as their head coach, he aided Marcus Mariota to a Heisman Trophy and ran a dynamic spread offense that finished in the top five in yards per game nationally three times in his four seasons as head coach.
The Bears also added several impressive positional coaches, including offensive line coach Harry Hiestand, who is widely regarded as one of the best offensive line minds in the world. With an intelligent group of offensive minds on the sidelines, the Bears have the chance to see development in a lot of key contributors.
Will Allen Robinson bounce back from his ACL injury and return to Pro Bowl form?
An ACL injury can be one of the most devastating things to happen to an athlete in his or her career. Allen Robinson missed the entire 2017 season after suffering one just three snaps into this first game of the year, but, after months of rehabilitation and recovery, he’s ready to get back onto the field.
The Bears took a chance on the former Jacksonville Jaguars wide out in free agency, signing him to a three-year, $42 million contract before Chicago teams signing young players coming off of ACL injuries was trendy. They realized that, in order to prevent a repetition of 2017’s offensive woes, they needed an absolute overhaul at the wide receiver position. Robinson, being the best free agent at the position, was the perfect No. 1 weapon for Mitchell Trubisky in Chicago’s new offense. The Penn State alumnus figures to serve as a dangerous deep threat and a red zone nightmare for defenses around the league.
Would it be wise to assume that Robinson will repeat his 2015 campaign, during which he led the league with 14 touchdowns and had 1,400 receiving yards? No, but that’s not to say that cracking one thousand yards is impossible. In fact, if he can stay healthy, it’s likely. In a restrictive Jaguars offense plagued by play calling issues and poor quarterback play, Robinson managed to break out as one of the best young wide receivers in the league. His injury could make it challenging for him to step right back into his old form, but he has the opportunity this year to prove that his injury was merely a temporary roadblock in his career, rather than a cause for decline.
Is Roquan Smith the favorite for Defensive Rookie of the Year?
Bears first-round pick Roquan Smith was rated as the best defensive rookie in ‘Madden NFL 19’, and for good reason, too: he may be the most pro-ready defender to come out of this year’s draft.
Smith’s combination of athleticism, instincts, skills in coverage and overall tackling ability made him the consensus top off-ball linebacker in the draft. He consistently took good angles to the ball in college and knew where the ball carrier was going to go before he got there. He was able to chase down even the fastest of running backs in space, and he played with a high motor on every down. Needless to say, he figures to be an immediate contributor for the Bears this season.
When one looks at the other defenders drafted early in the first round, Smith sticks out as one of the front runners to win the Defensive Rookie of the Year award. Denzel Ward has never been a turnover machine, so, while his athleticism and ability to mirror routes could see him having a solid rookie year, it’s hard to imagine him putting up sexy numbers. Neither Vita Vea nor Da’Ron Payne will likely make a huge impact in the stat sheet. Marcus Davenport and Tremaine Edmunds are both too raw to realistically step in as immediate standouts in 2018.
That narrows it down to Smith, Bradley Chubb and Minkah Fitzpatrick, with Derwin James serving as a potential dark horse. While all of those rookies have the talent to make an impact from Week 1 for their respective teams, the Bears linebacker stands as good of a chance as any of them to become the Defensive Rookie of the Year this season.
Will there be enough promise in 2018 to consider the Bears a playoff contender in 2019?
As much as we all like to have high hopes for the coming year, it’s highly unlikely that the Bears will make it to the playoffs this year. Considering how loaded the NFC North is this year - as well as how thin Chicago is on paper in their pass rushing unit - this might not be the year that they step out of the basement of the division. That said, though, there should still be a lot of flashes of potential that could possibly lead to talks of a playoff appearance in 2019.
There will likely be some growing pains in the new offense, but the talent and coaching staff both far outshine last year’s squad on paper. The defense, while not perfect, has a handful of talented, young building blocks and, aided by defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, should be able to hold its own with most offenses in the league. Young players like Roquan Smith, Leonard Floyd, Eddie Goldman and Eddie Jackson will all have the chance to make a significant impact on Chicago’s defense this season.
The Bears are technically still in their rebuilding phase, and will be until they have a good enough track record on the field. While said phase might not completely end this year, there certainly seems to be light at the end of the tunnel.