Hope springs eternal in the weeks and months between the start of the offseason training program and summer training camp, and the Bears aren’t excluded from the spikes in optimism. Indeed, one of the Chicago Bears’ newest additions, Jaye Howard, believes the pieces for an elite defense are in place.
Over at CBS Chicago, Chris Emma writes that the Bears’ defense has potential to be great. Being great seems like a tall task for a unit that allowed the ninth most points in football, but the newly acquired Howard sees something in the Bears that reminds him of his experiences with the Kansas City Chiefs.
“It can definitely become a top-10 defense,” Howard told Emma.
Now, those are great expectations. Unrealistic? Perhaps. But the Bears should be a much-improved team, especially on the defensive side of the ball.
In late May, we discussed how the Bears put together what amounts to the “best” starting lineup of the four teams in the NFC North thanks in part to their offseason additions. Some of the Bears’ unexpected newfound value came from the defensive side of the ball. Using Pro Football Focus’ grades as our guide, the Bears defensive starters in their base and nickel packages features one elite player (Jerrell Freeman), one high-quality defender (Quintin Demps), three above average players (Akiem Hicks, Eddie Goldman, Adrian Amos), and six average players (Pernell McPhee, Willie Young, Prince Amukamara, Cre’von LeBlanc, Bryce Callahan, and Danny Trevathan).
At minimum, this has the makings of a defense that won’t rank among the bottom half of the league – especially if the players who graded as below average (Howard, Leonard Floyd) or poor (Marcus Cooper) play to their potential or show an improvement from how they performed last season.
Let’s go back to Howard for a moment, if only because strength in the front seven will be key for a defense that overhauled its secondary with three new cornerbacks and two new safeties. If you’ll recall, Howard signed a one-year “prove it” deal with the Bears in the offseason, looking to recapture the magic that earned him a two-year deal worth $12 million from the Kansas City Chiefs in March 2016. If the Bears are going to live up to what Howard thinks the team can be, he will likely play an important role.
Despite playing in an injury riddled season that resulted in a sub-par grade from Pro Football Focus in 2016, Howard still projects to provide an improvement at defensive end over Mitch Unrein. And if Eddie Goldman can stay healthy and keep up his performance at nose tackle, that duo – along with free-agent-to-be Akiem Hicks – the Bears’ defensive line will be in better shape than it was last season.
Add on a trio of pass rushing outside linebackers who want to “bring the pain, destroy, and dominate” in 2017 and a solid core of linebackers up the middle starring Jerrell Freeman – a top-50 snub, the Bears’ front seven is shaping up to be a force that could surprisingly turn some heads for the right reasons this season.
If it all clicks, maybe the Bears won’t be the worst team in the NFC after all.