The Most Important Bears: Defense

| July 3rd, 2018

Returning most of their defensive roster, the common thought is the Bears are going to take a big step up next year. That’s only true if their key players stay on the field and improve.

As badly as the Bears were hurt by injury last season, they managed to keep most of their key defensive players on the field. They had injuries to players like Quintin Demps and Jerrell Freeman, but those are two positions at which they proved to have great depth.

Three of their four starters in the secondary played at least 80% of snaps, the fourth was Adrian Amos, who played every snap in eight games. Their best defensive lineman played 85% of snaps. Their best linebacker came in at 67.4%.

The biggest injury loss last year came when Leonard Floyd went down, but they were fortunate it happened toward the end of their schedule when they played several horrendous teams.

A repeat of last year’s success is far from a guarantee, but it’s also possible they take a huge step up. In any event, these five players just might be the most crucial:

5. Bryce Callahan

In the modern NFL, the slot corner is basically a starter. Callahan played just under 50% of the team’s snaps and they missed him when he wasn’t out there.

According to NFL Game Statistics and Information System, no regular player had a bigger impact on the team’s passing defense in terms of net yardage. Partly because Cre’Von LeBlanc was his backup. As feisty as LeBlanc is, he’s too small and slow and his biggest strength — aggressiveness — often comes back to bite him.

Unless the Bears have an undrafted gem, the slot corner is surely going to be manned by the duo of Callahan and LeBlanc again, which really means they need Callahan.

4. Roquan Smith

It’s a lot to put on the shoulders of a rookie, but Smith is the future of the second level of the Bears defense.

Danny Trevathan is a good player, but he’s better suited in a role where he can roam freely to make plays and not have to call the defensive plays. Smith just might be calling the plays Week 1, as he did at Georgia, and the Bears will rely on his ability to run sideline-to-sideline, drop back in coverage and chase quarterbacks to take their defense to another level.

Smith’s backup is Nick Kwiatkowski, not a terrible player, but he struggled badly in coverage last year. It was at the point where the Bears were taking him off the field late in the season. With Smith, they’re expecting a three down player who can do it all. It’s a lot to put on a rookie, but he can handle it.

3. Kyle Fuller

You can pretty much bank on Prince Amukamara missing time. The Bears can’t have both of their cornerbacks be iffy.

Fuller’s 2017 season wasn’t a fluke; he played at a similar level in 2015. Of course, he missed all of the 2016 season and the team had to rely on a handful of non-NFL talents to replace him and it showed. The Bears have Marcus Cooper as their third cornerback, but a bunch of question marks outside of that. If both Fuller and Amukamara are down, it could be bad, bad news.

Just being on the field isn’t enough for Fuller. If he’s going to earn the contract the Bears gave him, he needs to start taking the ball away. He’s shown flashes of being able to do so, now he needs to do it regularly.

2. Leonard Floyd

If Floyd is merely as good as he was last year, the Bears shouldn’t have a problem maintaining their defensive success. But life isn’t that simple.

Floyd’s biggest problem in his first two seasons has just been staying on the field. He had numerous injuries as a rookie and suffered a knee injury late last season. The Bears hope that as he continues to get stronger and learn better fundamentals, he’ll be able to stay on the field. He better. They don’t have another surefire pass rusher on the team.

Where the discussion around Floyd gets interesting is the fact that he has the talent to become one of the most dominant pass rushers in the league. He just has rare tools and has shown flashes of being absolutely dominant. If he can be that player consistently in 2018, the Bears defense will be one of the best in the league.

1. Akiem Hicks

The Bears were a little too reliant on Hicks last year and it showed. He had just 13 tackles and 1.5 sacks in the team’s final seven games.

Hicks anchors the team’s run defense with his ability to hold up against double teams and shoot gaps. He’s also the team’s premier interior rusher and pocket crusher. There just aren’t many, maybe any, 330-pounders who can do the things that Hicks does.

It’s hard to imagine the team’s defense without him largely because they haven’t had to. The Bears have been extremely fortunate that they’ve gotten 32 games out of their mammoth defensive end the last two years. Not only has he not missed a start, he’s barely missed any time, playing 85% of the team’s snaps last year and 86.5% two years ago.

Big guys aren’t usually this durable and the Bears can’t rely on Hicks to play that many snaps in 2018. He’ll turn 29 early in the season — not old, but not young — and the snaps on teams that won a combined eight games are bound to add up.

Jon Bullard might improve in 2018. Eddie Goldman should be better. Bilal Nichols is interesting. None of them can do what Hicks does and it’s unreasonable to expect any of them to fill his shoes.

He’s the most important player on the defense and one of the most important on the team.

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  • Good list Andrew. I definitely agree Hicks is the most important defender, and the Bears need to play him fewer snaps to keep him producing at a high level all year. I think an ideal amount is probably more in the 65-70% range than the 85% he’s had the last 2 years, which means that Bullard and RRH need to step it up so the coaches can be more confident with Hicks on the sidelines.

    • SC Dave

      Amen. Hicks cannot be expected to hold up.

      • KentuckyBearsFan

        Floyd I hope holds up.

    • leftcoastdave

      I expect to see Fangio mixing it up on the line and using RRH more like an Alan Page D lineman with his quickness and length. Bullard can penetrate through people and is more like Goldman. The new kid may also flash and additional reps by those three should help both Goldman and Hicks.

      Now that Fangio has returning peeps who know the system, it will be fun to see what he does with them.

      • SC Dave

        With you on the last sentence to be sure.

        The rest? Show me first.

    • Running Hicks down in a lost season stinks of Fox. Trestway did that to Forte, and Lovie did that to Lach.
      Signature bozo move.

      I think Nichols will play a big role in rotating in as Fangio trusts him more

      • CanadaBear

        Regarding Lovie/#54, at least #54 was in fabulous shape and usually dealing the punishment. I never blamed Lovie for not taking #54 off the field. He was the heart and soul of the D and really the whole team after Olin was sent packing.

        • I sorta get it for the reasons you said. LB is a bit diff, but he still should’ve taken him out in that last game when the Bears had no chance at the playoffs. But Lovie wanted his stupid 8-8. Lach got hurt, and that was the start of his decline.

          But Lovie also did the same with Peppers. He rode him the whole season like a donkey, and often Pepp would be battling double/triple teams every play.

          Some fans thought he was taken plays off, but he was probably just pacing himself.

          No one accused Hicks of loafing late last season when the last 2-3 games his tank was empty.

          Peppers still had some gas left late season. Prolly from pacing himself.

          • SC Dave

            Peppers is clear cut 1st balloy HoF material.

            Never quite understood the loafing rep… he is one of the 25 best DEs in league history IMO.

            And that says a fuckload when you consider the competition.

          • I always liked him. He’s a lil quite and mercurial going back to the Panthers, but he always made impact plays, and seemed to rise to the occasion (even now nearly 40).

            He may have taken some plays off, but shit, he was playing for a whole season and playoffs. He knew if you go full hard on, shoot your wad early, nothing will be left week 15 and on.

            And he was a straight killa. He might’ve been quiet, but he had a a seek and destroy mentality.

            Still one of my fav bear plays of all time (and yes, that was a kill shot!)

          • CanadaBear

            His last year with the Bears he was coasting. He had 2 or 3 games where he didn’t even register on the stat sheet. Found the fountain of youth in Fudgeland.

          • True, but now we know why. Trestman…

          • AlbertInTucson

            …and got himself back into shape.

          • CanadaBear

            Yeah, he lost about 20-25 lbs that off season.

  • Fishstick

    They still sorely need edge help ( a Houston return would help some ) and same goes for better rotational interior guys to spell both Hicks and Goldman and aleve potential breakdowns ! I HOPE Nichols can do some of that and help keep someone fresher and off the trainers table .

    • antityco

      I agree with your point about Houston. That would have provided a bit of insurance, anyway.

      • CanadaBear

        Not sure what Pace/Fangio have against Houston but he never seemed to be an option going forward.

        • He was by far our best pass rusher late season, and he was signed off the street.
          Would be prudent to sign him given the INJ histories of Floyd and Fitts

          • CanadaBear

            Other than his first year when he suffered “the injury”, I thought he was decent. Towards the end of last year when he got a lot of playing time, he seemed like the only guy that was fresh. Odd that he doesn’t even get any interest from the Beloved.

    • Your avatar is a 1999 Mercedes S-Class.


      • Fishstick

        Great car and my wifes baby ! Like new and only 17,500 original mines !

      • Sactowns#1

        SL not S class

      • Irish Sweetness

        So that’s you GP?

        It just ain’t the same without Jimmy ….

  • Sactowns#1
    • KentuckyBearsFan

      I think it’s a bad look for him.

      His image is supposed to be a clean cut guy that saves the franchise.

      Now he’s looking like a bad version of a young Brett Favre. I watched an interview with him yesterday….it just looked wrong.

      I’ve been through some bad facial hair in my lifetime, so I know about these things.

      • Reminds me of my friend when we were in HS. The rest of us could grow sideburns but he couldn’t, so he kept shaving everyday to try to grow some, but always came out patchy

        • Sactowns#1

          Finally saw it. It’s… uh.. I guess technically considered a beard? https://www.nbcsports.com/chicago/bears/1-1-mitch-trubisky-bears-super-bowl-eddie-jackson-matt-nagy

          • CanadaBear

            I believe it falls under the category of “don’t leave any milk on your face or the cat will lick those off” type of beard!

          • I guess he didn’t like the nickname “baby boy assassin”

          • CanadaBear

            I think it’s Pretty Boy Assassin. Either way it’s a stupid nickname.

          • “Modestly” Huge Bears Penis

            Pretty Boy Assassin is an awesome nickname.

          • CanadaBear

            Sounds too much like a Rasslin’ name for me.

          • Almost as stupid as Johnny Skidmarks

          • “Modestly” Huge Bears Penis

            or Butch DeadLift. LOL!!!!

          • were you around when we gave ourselves stupid nicknames?

            We pulled them from here, in case any of you are wondering how I got Butch.

            I think Doc, Artoo, Ender, GP, Shady and a few others adopted Crunch ButtSteak, Bolt VanderHuge, Big McLargeHuge, Smokeman Muscle…

            But I’m the only who stuck with it I guess lol

          • “Modestly” Huge Bears Penis

            shit that was a long time ago, I forgot about that. I was lurking in the shadows back then.

          • Russian Hacked Pacebot 2.0

            Haha, Bolt Vanderhuge

          • looks like a kid glued chia-pet grass on his face.

          • SC Dave

            Harsh, but I get it

    • Irish Sweetness

      The Dan Fouts approach. I like it.

  • KentuckyBearsFan

    I’m watching a movie recommend by Irish . High-Rise.

    It’s good. But not what I expected at all. I wanted to see Loki as a main character.

    The main characters in the movie just seem way richer than I expected. So it’s like about a rich guy viewing the absurdity of his class. Which is interesting.

    I was expecting class warfare reading the description. But everyone seems rich in that building.

    Maybe it’s just a message about people. Poverty ruins things. But so can decadence.

    • Irish Sweetness

      They’re richer the further you go up. And I guess living outside the building is no fun. I like those have and have-not movies. Snowpiercer was good.

      Saw ‘Gotti’ this weekend. Travolta was surprisingly good in it, it wasn’t bad. I believed him.

      • KentuckyBearsFan

        I loved Snowpiercer. One of my favorite movies of all time.

  • CanadaBear

    Typically the Beloved always get multiple injuries at the positions with the least amount of depth. If that holds true this year it will at OLB and DB. One of these years the Bears will break that streak. Hope it’s this year.

    • AlbertInTucson

      Just look at 1985.

      REMARKABLY healthy on the D side of the ball.

      Duerson missed 1 game. Richardson 2.

      The impact of those 3 games missed by starters on the back end was minimized because that hellaciously front 7, plus quality subs Hartenstine and Rivera, were there all season to keep the heat on.

      • That is remarkable, esp back then when nutrition and health science wasn’t as advanced, and football was still football.

        Even crazier cuz from all reports, they showed up to many practices hungover.

        Beer. Best medicine!

        • AlbertInTucson

          Still full contact practices back then, too.

  • KentuckyBearsFan

    I just tried to scan an Adobe flash file using Windows Defender and it could not see any files in the folder.

    Product testing is that awful now.

  • EnderWiggin

    I know I didn’t just read that Cre’Von LeBlanc is slow. What the shit?

  • Sactowns#1

    Just saw Cutty’s wife has some new “reality” show and she’s forcing cameos by Jay. It’s painful. Luckily, Jay still has the “don’t care” expression down to a T.

    • Irish Sweetness

      Link the schmink!

    • beninnorcal

      Is that show actually on now? I was wondering when it would air.

    • Johnnywad

      I will always relate to his take on the media sessions. I’d have felt the same way. Not what you’d want from your quarterback if you’re an owner, coach, or fan, but I get it.

      “Jay, on your fourth pick there, tell us what you saw.”

      “Clearly not the DB asshole.”

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