1. It’s been two and a half years since Mike Glennon has started an NFL game, but last we saw, he’d shown improvement playing with defenders in his face. That’s a critical trait for NFL quarterbacking, especially for a Flacco-sized pocket passer. Glennon surely didn’t love the Bear’s Mitchell Trubisky selection, but he still has a golden opportunity. If he plays well, he’ll be a starting quarterback (somewhere) in 2018.
2.With Alshon Jeffery gone, there’s no number 1 receiver. Third-year pro Kevin White was drafted in the first round to be that guy, but injuries sabotaged his first two seasons. And remember, coming out of college, White needed to gain experience. He lined up only on the right side at West Virginia. When White has been on the field, he’s looked slow and stiff. Let’s hope that’s because he wasn’t fully healthy.
3. There are six other receivers who could garner significant playing time. Obviously, not all of them will. But all will get a chance. Offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains runs a three-receiver base offense, similar to what Adam Gase employs in Miami. That means unbalanced formations and three-receiver route combinations from the wide side of the field. Victor Cruz is the one everyone knows, but he no longer runs well and might be constricted to option routes out of the slot. But the slot is where ex-Titan Kendall Wright plays. Ex-Steeler Markus Wheaton can also align there. Outside, there’s Cameron Meredith, who caught 66 balls for 888 yards last year. Meredith had some untimely drops and fumbles, but that can be corrected. He’s a superb route runner, especially on double moves. Rounding out the group are Deonte Thompson and Josh Bellamy.
4. How talented is Kyle Long? The son of Hall of Famer Howie and the younger brother of Chris didn’t even play on an offensive line until 2011, at Saddleback College. Coaches will tell you, because of how nuanced blocking mechanics are, that it’s difficult for a lineman to play multiple positions, especially if it involves switching from the left side to the right (or vice versa). In his four NFL seasons, Long, still relatively new to O-line play in general, has spent 39 games at right guard and 16 at right tackle. Now he’s moving to left guard in a position-swap experiment with a still-effective-but-aging Josh Sitton. All the while, Long has performed at a high level. We’ll see if that continues in 2017. He had a tumultuous offseason recovering from injuries and severe weight loss.
5. Second-year man Jordan Howard is the best pure zone runner in football. He can be a sustaining, defender-dragging ballcarrier on inside zone runs, working behind double-teams. And he has a superb feel for turning the corner on outside zone runs, which make up the bulk of Chicago’s rushing attack. To augment this, the Bears like to feed Howard on pitches and sweeps.
6. Eighteen-year NFL defensive coordinator (third-year as the Bears’ DC) Vic Fangio prefers to play subtly disguised zone coverages, usually with two safeties back deep. That means he can’t blitz often, which is why it’s important the Bears have a lively four-man pass rush. Hence the first-round selection last year of Georgia’s Leonard Floyd.
7. It looks like Floyd will pan out well. He improved over his rookie season and has the length and athleticism to eventually be a 15-sack-a-year guy.
8. If you’re a two-high-safety zone defense with decent edge rushers, you should be generating turnovers. Your defenders naturally have eyes on the quarterback and ball, making it easier to jump routes and go for strip-fumbles after the catch. The Bears last season forced an NFL record-tying all-time low 11 turnovers. If that doesn’t change, they’ll draft top five again in 2018.
9. Two names to keep in mind, one from the defensive front line and another from the back line. The front line: Akiem Hicks. The 27-year-old former Saint and Patriot wins “fistfights” with grown-man strength. You see it against the run and pass. From the back line: cornerback Cre’Von LeBlanc. Quietly, the Florida Atlantic product was very sturdy as an undrafted rookie in 2016, playing primarily outside. The Bears signed Prince Amukamara and underrated ex-Cardinal Marcus Cooper in free agency, drafted Deiondre’ Hall in the fourth round last year and are hoping that 2014 first-rounder Kyle Fuller can stay healthy and show the same zone coverage spatial reasoning that he did as a rookie. So there might not be many opportunities for LeBlanc. But when opportunities arose last season, he capitalized. Here’s hoping he can find some again.
10. Former Texans safety Quintin Demps is not a great player, but he’s steadier than what the Bears previously had opposite Adrian Amos. Steady safety play would have made this a different defense last season. One thing to keep in mind: Demps at times can get nosy and cheat downhill. It was fine in Houston, where he played between talented corners and behind a great pass rush. But in Chicago, he’ll have to be a little more disciplined. Otherwise, smart quarterbacks will attack him.
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