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Chicago Bears Most Likely to Ascend

Some Bears players are more suited or better situated to take advantage of the team's coaching change for 2022, some because of scheme and others because of their own skills.

When changeovers occur with coaching staffs, some players seize opportunities.

Others fade or step back. It's only logical.

Players could find their skill sets better suited to how the new coaching staff's scheme works, while others feel left out.

Different coaches can see something different in a player the past staff ignored or simply overlooked.

Different coaches can inspire players in another way, as well.

Or a player who had settled into a safe, subordinate role suddenly seizes upon new responsibilities or demands to demand more of himself, thereby ascending.

And then there are the young players who naturally get better with more experience.

Here are the eight players most likely to flourish with this new coaching staff.

9. WR DARNELL MOONEY

Mooney is not necessarily a fit for this system as a smaller receiver at 173 pounds and 5-foot-11, but offensive coordinator Luke Getsy brings along years of working as a receivers coach in Green Bay before he was a quarterbacks coach. One thing Green Bay receivers always had that Bears receivers never have seemed able to master is getting open after the play extends. Aaron Rodgers and his receivers turned this into an art form. When Mitchell Trubisky or Justin Fields got outside the pocket and bought time, they got sacked, ran it or threw the ball away. Look for Mooney to become more adept at getting open more after the plays extend and not on designed routes from the playbook. Just having Matt Nagy and his strictly defined offensive roles gone now should help Mooney, let alone the extra knowledge they can tap into from Getsy.

8. S EDDIE JACKSON

There are many who like to write off Jackson as a waste of money. His speed didn't go away. He never was known for his hitting ability, but for being able to go after the ball. The new coverage style will be simpler, decrease the chance for secondary miscommunication that existed with all the disguised coverages and rules from the old Vic Fangio defense and let a faster player play faster. Then again there's that whole $58.4 million chip people have on their shoulders about Jackson and it's an extra cross to bear. So Jackson's revival in this new system is really going to need to be something special in order to overcome everything working against him.

7. CB THOMAS GRAHAM JR.

Graham's effort and skill finally worked its way through by season's end to get him a chance on the 53-man roster. This group of coaches has no built-up impressions of players who were starters or subs or practice squad guys. They're going to judge based on the eye test from the practice field and Graham has already proven he's capable of impressing this way. He'll continue doing it and take the reset as a way to improve his status.

6. RB KHALIL HERBERT

The outside zone blocking scheme favors more of a one-cut runner and not so much runners who make people miss in the hole or utilize cutback abilities the way David Montgomery does. Herbert could get just just outside the tackle or behind him and more often display the speed he showed when he broke a TD run against Seattle, or when he was returning kicks. 

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5. OLB KHALIL MACK

He's not taking occasional pass coverage responsibility as a linebacker. Some of Mack's best rushes with the Raiders came when he exploded low and around the edge out of a down stance. Now he could be able to do it every pass play. Mack had 15 sacks in 2015 and 11 in 2016 playing defensive end in the 4-3 Jack Del Rio used with the Raiders. They were his most productive consecutive seasons. First the Raiders had to figure out he was better on the edge instead of being a strong-side linebacker in a 4-3 base package, the way they used him as a rookie. Mack made both the Pro Bowl and All-Pro in both years he played 4-3 end for the Raiders. Look for him to possibly make more tackles and force more fumbles because when he was in a 4-3 defense he averaged 4.7 tackles per game and in a 3-4 only 3.5.

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4. T TEVEN JENKINS

He's not taking occasional pass coverage responsibility as a linebacker. Some of Mack's best rushes with the Raiders came when he exploded low and around the edge out of a down stance. Now he could be able to do it every pass play. Mack had 15 sacks in 2015 and 11 in 2016 playing defensive end in the 4-3 Jack Del Rio used with the Raiders. They were his most productive consecutive seasons. First the Raiders had to figure out he was better on the edge instead of being a strong-side linebacker in a 4-3 base package, the way they used him as a rookie. Mack made both the Pro Bowl and All-Pro in both years he played 4-3 end for the Raiders. Look for him to possibly make more tackles and force more fumbles because when he was in a 4-3 defense he averaged 4.7 tackles per game and in a 3-4 only 3.5. 

 

3. CB JAYLON JOHNSON

Making Johnson run all over the field in coverage against the best opposing receiver not only should be unncessary, it's stupid. At best it's an act of desperation by a defense lacking enough good defensive backs to cover in zones. It breaks down the principle of a coverage scheme and leads to secondary confusion. Unless a team has Jalen Ramsey in his prime, there's no need for this at all. Playing his position in a zone will let Johnson make more plays on the ball. He might finally show what he is capable of doing. He had seven interceptions in college for three seasons. In two NFL seasons he has one interception.

2. QB JUSTIN FIELDS

Simply the fact Luke Getsy is designing an offense around Fields would make him better. But then there's this whole Mitchell Trubisky thing. Trubisky again last week started talking about how restrictive the Bears offense was for a quarterback how he felt even as an unused backup that he had been freed to play the game in Buffalo. This is going to be fun to watch a quarterback finding himself in the league doing it with a scheme suited to his own talents.

1. LB ROQUAN SMITH

Assuming the coaching staff decides he is weakside linebacker and not the middle linebacker, Smith will have a greater opportunity to unleash his playmaking abilities. Think 2020, when he had 18 tackles for loss-- but even more. He could also have interceptions and fumbles forced. The traditional cover-2 zone has the weakside linebacker in a shorter area of coverage, and the middle with deeper responsibility and most passes don't occur downfield. Against a Bears defense with Mack and Robert Quinn rushing off the edge, there is less time to throw downfield anyway. The passes will come in shorter range. Attacking in a gap against the run also fits Smith better than just waiting behind the block-eaters to pop out for the tackle. Then there's the whole HITS principle Eberflus uses. All-Pro weakside linebacker Darius Leonard swears by it in Indianapolis and has $95 million bucks to back up his belief.

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