Reserve strength counts among greatest Bears assets for 2019
An emphasis made by Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Pace during the offseason before 2018 was building team depth.
Pace had seen what happened to the Bears during the John Fox era due to injuries, and wasn't about to let it happen again under new coach Matt Nagy. In fact, he tried to start building the depth before the 2017 season but didn't really make tracks until last year
Football Outsiders had them ranked first at losing games to injuries, with 155.1 adjusted games lost, in 2016.
Good fortune or perhaps better conditioning combined to help the Bears rate among the least injured last year, but they have the depth to handle a few injuries now.
Reserves are critical in a 17-week NFL season and the Bears benefit from six key reserves this season who can make all the difference if injuries hit. Reserve value takes into account the importance of the position, the number of snaps they provide and whether there is someone else who can handle those duties. For example, Roy Robertson-Harris and Jonathan Bullard are important because they play a good number of defensive line snaps, but remove one and the other can take over those chores. It's difficult to be considered valuable if you're easily replaced.
SIX KEY RESERVES
No. 6 Cordarrelle Patterson
Patterson played 21 percent of offensive snaps and 16 percent of special teams snaps for New England last year but managed to score five touchdowns. He's going to impact field position with kick returns for the Bears, and can be a big-play maker with the way coach Matt Nagy will use him as a counter punch or on trick plays. If they didn't have Patterson, they'd simply have someone else doing his job who would be less effective like last year when Anthony Miller, Benny Cunningham and Taquan Mizzell did most of the kick returns.
No. 5 Nick Kwiatkoski
Last year Kwaitkoski probably carried more value than this season because the other backup inside linebacker was Joel Iyiegbuniwe, and he hadn't played in an NFL game. Kwiatkoski proved his value in 2016 and 2017 while playing for John Fox, who couldn't pronounce his name. He had to start seven games as a rookie and six in his second year due to injuries or suspensions, mostly to Danny Trevathan. He proved an asset, with 87 tackles and five for losses in his first two seasons. It also was obvious he lacks the pass defense skills or talent needed to be an NFL starter. This year Kwiatkoski's value is not only diminished because of Iyiegbuniwe's 16 games in the league, but because the Bears signed veteran inside linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis.
No. 4 Aaron Lynch
Anyone who helps keep Khalil Mack fresh has to rate high among reserves. Lynch didn't have quite the impact they would have liked from a No. 3 outside linebacker last year, but also had injuries. Lynch has good value as a run stuffer because he's a bigger outside linebacker at 6-6, 270. His sack totals will be limited by this size. Lynch's value is heightened by the fact the players behind him, Isaiah Irving and Kylie Fitts, haven't proven much.
No. 3 Ted Larsen
When a guard can step in and play either position or also move over and play center he always becomes more valuable. It's really almost a requirement for the third guard on NFL teams to be a backup center. No one is going to keep a center, who plays only that position, active on game days. It's part of the reason Hroniss Grasu never could stick with the team after it was determined he wasn't capable of being better at center than Cody Whitehair. Having a backup back in Chicago who has been here before is also an asset, although Larsen was playing in a much less dynamic offense in 2016 during his one Bears season. Larsen is all the more valuable considering he is really the only other experienced backup guard/center on the roster.
No. 2 Chase Daniel
There were plenty of questions outside the team about Daniel's capability last year based on the fact he'd started only two games in an eight-year career and none since 2014. Daniel's 76 passes thrown replacing Mitchell Trubisky in 2018 were two short of what he'd thrown prior to last season for his entire NFL career. A 69.7 completion percentage and 90.6 quarterback rating were more than the Bears could have expected. Considering bonafide NFL backup quarterbacks were 20-41 starting games last year, Daniel was ahead of the curve at 1-1. The Bears can be confident they have a system quarterback and one who is proven as they head into 2019.
No. 1 Tarik Cohen
Regardless of website analysts from outside Chicago trying to pencil Cohen in as their starting running back, he's a backup. He started less than half the games (7) and played less than 50 percent of the offensive snaps last year (46 percent). Wide receiver Anthony Miller played more offensive snaps and has to be regarded a starter (53 percent) because of the amount of times the offense begins in three-receivers sets. Cohen played 21.2 percent of the special teams snaps last year. Although a sub, he also accounted for 21.2 percent of their offensive yardage in 2018 (1,169). It's the reason Nagy was still sensitive during organized team activities to complains he hadn't put the ball in Cohen's hands enough during the playoff game. Cohen is playing about the right amount of snaps considering his size and the chance he'd be injured running inside the tackles. It would be easier to see him taking on even less of a role this year if David Montgomery delivers and Patterson has an impact on offense.