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Live from Bourbonnais: New linebackers give Bears edge that has been missing

In Danny Trevathan and Jerrell Freeman, the Bears added two aggressive players on the cusp of stardom with a track record of success, a marker lacking in Chicago’s defensive front in recent years.

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. —  New starting inside linebackers Danny Trevathan and Jerrell Freeman stand side by side after practice, chatting and laughing with a sharp chemistry you would expect from long-time teammates. Yet these new, fast friends have been co-workers for just five months. The two imposing figures signed with Chicago within three days of each other in March—Trevathan reportedly to a four year, $28 million deal and Freeman to a three-years at $12 million. In Trevathan and Freeman, the Bears added two aggressive players on the cusp of stardom with a track record of success, a marker lacking in Chicago’s defensive front in recent years.

“The time is now. We are hungry like a wolf,” said Trevathan of he and Freeman after Friday’s condensed practice.

Despite success (and plenty of money) the hungry hasn’t subsided for either linebacker. Both have battled demons of being overlooked, though Freeman’s path has been bumpier than Trevathan’s. Undrafted in 2008, Freeman dabbled in the CFL before thriving with the Colts the past three seasons, particularly against the run. Trevathan was not exactly a can’t miss prospect when the Broncos drafted him in 2012 but he quickly displayed his talent in Denver, leading the league in tackles in 2013 and proving an integral force in Super Bowl 50.

Even though he owns a still shiny Super Bowl ring, Trevathan knows the Bears present a special opportunity to catapult his game to another level under defensive guru Vic Fangio.

“Knowing the two linebackers he had and how he’s linebacker friendly, and putting two linebackers in that position there’s only great things that can come,” Trevathan says.”

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The two linebackers Trevathan is referencing are former All-Pros Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman, who dominated under Fangio during the Harbaugh Era in San Francisco. In 2011 under Fangio, the 49ers only allowed three rushing touchdowns.

Freeman and Trevathan are not at Willis and Bowman’s level yet but a template is there, and now they have a defensive maestro to take them to the next level. .

After Freeman signed with Chicago, some reports surfaced that suggested the Colts had made an almost identical offer. He says this is absolutely false, that the two were off by “around two million.”


Financial aside, there is a bit of happenstance for Freeman that he wound up on this team, with this new teammate, under this coordinator. Fangio’s system is rooted in speed, technique and all out aggressive

“With Fangio it’s how much work you put in and to know what’s going on around you so you can play fast and physical,” Freeman says.

These are both fast, physical guys, but most of all they are share a common goal that extends beyond the overused cliché of striving for a Super Bowl.

“Once I saw that Free signed, I was like, ‘man, we both hungry,’” Trevathan says. “I had seen him around the league. I see the way he attacked every play, he didn’t take a play off and he was hungry on the field. I saw similar traits in myself.”

Chemistry is critical for inside linebackers, and these two have it in spades. Freeman calls Trevathan a “big, chill guy.” Trevathan says his new teammate is “the O.G. out there, just a good dude” and they laugh in shrieking unison when I confirm that O.G. means original gangster. Most importantly to this new kinship: Freeman doesn’t mind the thick Chanel cologne his new teammate dons.

They genuinely like either other, they’re talented and they’re hungry.  Be excited, Bears fans, because your inside linebacking corps may be among the most improved in the league this year.

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More news and notes from Bears camp 

• Freeman takes daily medication for a grass allergy. To limit exposure during practice, he typically dons warm-up style long pants despite temperatures approaching a sweltering 90 degrees during a chunk of camp. Imagine being allergic to the surface on which your profession largely occurs.

• Among the many walking injured are tight end Zach Miller and wideout Eddie Royal, sidelined since both were placed in concussion protocol on August 1st.  “[The concussion protocol] is what it is. Typically they come back and they’re fine,” said head coach John Fox Friday in his signature nonchalant fashion. The Bears are banking on Miller as a high volume, catching end, after trading brash Martellus Bennett to New England this off-season. Meanwhile, Tony Moeaki in his first year with Chicago, is asking advantage of Miller’s absence.

He’s played in the league before and keeps getting better every day,” Fox said Friday. Miller has a firm grasp on the starting spot, though look for the Bears to run some interesting multiple TE sets this season.

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• Royal is probably fine as well—though his burgeoning injury history and general lack of production are disappointing for a slot player slotted to make $4.5 million this season. The Bears suddenly have great depth in the slot, including veteran receiver-returner Marc Mariani who started five games last season for the injury-plagued WR corps last year. Mariani has impressed Bears brass.

• Then there’s splashy rookie receiver Daniel Braverman, who narrowly misses our cut as the player garnering the most buzz (for reasons you will see below). A seventh-round selection out of Western Michigan, the 5’10 Braverman has already exceeded expectations with strong footwork, great hands and the feistiness you want from a slot guy. On Friday he was noticeably energetic during a practice that more closely resembled a walk through than anything full speed.  Braverman is still a bubble player, though, and his value to the special teams unit (namely, can the kid catch punts?) will likely determine whether or not his name appears on the 53-man roster.

• Pro Football Weekly’s Kevin Fishbain told me that fan attendance in Bourbonnais is the lowest he’s seen in the four season’s he has covered the Bears. It makes sense. There are several intriguing players on this roster but no one consistent megastar at this point, two known splashy personalities, Bennett and Brandon Marshall, have relocated, and Jay Cutler isn’t exactly the most fan-friendly quarterback. 

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Getting some buzz: Akiem Hicks 

Because I spent just one day in Bourbonnais and practice was cut short by an hour, I decided to pose the “most buzzed about” question to two men far more qualified to answer: Freeman and Trevathan. Almost in unison they resoundingly said Hicks, the 340-pound defensive end previously with New England, who signed with Bears in free agency. “Just to try to move him. Their unit was already good but having that big mountain there is making our jobs so much easier,” Trevathan said. Added Freeman: “He’s the strongest person on the team. You can’t single block him.” Early this week Fangio also expressed enthusiasm for his new defensive end, pointing out his display of energy for such a monstrous player, though did add that he’s working to get Hicks “honed up a little bit better in the techniques.”

Five questions with kicker Robbie Gould 

Q1: How do you feel about the new kickoff rule implemented for 2016 that will move touchbacks from the 20-yard line to the 25?

RG: I think it’s something that will change over time. It depends on who your returner is, who your kicker is and what conditions you play in. There’s going to be times when people kick it out and times when they kick it in play.

Q2: Washington coach Jay Gruden said he’s open to trying pooch kicks, which likely would not have the player safety benefits the league is looking for. Do you support this trend?

RG: It depends on how good your cover team is, it depends if you play in Chicago in December or Minnesota, there’s so many factors. I think it’s really difficult to figure out what everyone is going to do from a special teams perspective. The 25 form the 20 is not that big of a yard line difference. It not like you’re flipping the field.

Q3: This week Justin Tucker kicked a 69-year field goal in practice and maintains that he could make an 80-yarder. What are the expectations for kickers right now?

RG: Guys coming out have stronger legs so it makes sense. You’re either a power kicker or a technician. You play with what you’ve got. Tucker’s got a big leg and it’s fun to watch him kick.

Q4: The Bears are all over the map in preseason rankings. We have you guys right in the middle at no. 16. What are the realistic expectations for this team?

RG: Obviously expectations are high. We’re all here to go to the Super Bowl. You set your goals high and try to get to that point. As far as everyone else’s expectations, it doesn’t really matter.

Q5: Can you give me a snapshot into the athleticism required to be a kicker in the NFL these days?

RG: Like I said there are two types of kickers: power kicker and technical kicker. A technical kicker like me isn’t going to be lighting it up from 70-yards. But generally the more sports you play, the more athleticism you have at our position it helps in coverage, and it helps in staying healthy down the road. Most people say kickers aren’t athletes, but we definitely try to break that mold.