By Robert Zeglinski
If you play your cards right in the NFL, you can rebuild and become a playoff team within two to three years. There’s so much parody and roster turnover across the league each season that if you can put together a couple of decent drafts, hire a head coach with a rejuvenating message, etc. then you’ll find yourself in the postseason.
Of course, there’s a difference between a fringe playoff team and an actual Super Bowl contender. It isn’t completely immeasurable. We’re just talking the obvious difference in talent level and coaching. Ultimately it’s up to your franchise what path in contention is taken.
You’re either stuck in the middle as a team that’s just making it and getting by with no hope or the break through is imminent.
With these Bears in a pseudo rebuild, it’s too early to discern which route they’ll take. This is a franchise that has made the postseason only six times since 1991 and hasn’t made it to the dance in five years. You’d think with that kind of blemish, Chicago would be satisfied with regular playoff berths, staying convinced that as long as you’re dancing, anything could happen.
Given every free agent acquisition like Danny Trevathan and Jerrell Freeman or draft pick, the Bears are aiming higher than just a wild card playoff berth in the near future. The youthful exuberance from the draft in receiver Kevin White, defensive tackle Eddie Goldman, and outside linebacker Leonard Floyd, is what will ultimately prove to be the difference.
The Bears haven’t gathered younger talent like this since 2003 and that led to quite the core of Brian Urlacher, Charles Tillman, Lance Briggs, etc. under Lovie Smith. However, that version of the Bears was often criticized for a lack of team balance. Truthfully, there weren’t many core pieces offensively to complement the defense, unless you were a huge Rex Grossman fan, which obviously wasn’t in the stars.
Kevin White is a vision realized for the offense that will look to be special not only with Jay Cutler in the next few seasons, but for the next decade. The explosive White, who has drawn comparisons to Andre Johnson, is the homegrown talent the Bears have needed to contend.
By early accounts through camp, White has been putting on a show with his counterpart mentor Alshon Jeffery. The two have been having their way with Bears corners making receptions the equivalent of dunks in basketball. White has been so good early, that people have been almost forgetting he’s essentially a rookie after missing last season due to injury.
It’s scary to ponder what White can become with more polish if this is his early jumping point. With White 24-years-old and Jeffery at the prime age of 26, the Bears have hopes of a dunking orchestra, a wrinkle in their offense that could lead them for years deep into January provided White continues this trajectory.
To contrast, because the Bears finally understand team balance, Goldman and Floyd are integral pieces that the Bears expect to be cornerstones terrorizing offensive lines together for the next decade.
With the anchor Goldman, who made the NFL All-Rookie Team last season, you expect a leap to multiple Pro Bowl talent, the kind of guy who controls the line of scrimmage by himself in the biggest games. Now to add to that young danger, you give him one of the most explosive athletes in this year’s draft in Leonard Floyd, a potential pass-rushing dynamo off the edge.
Theoretically, the second year Goldman and rookie Floyd play off of each other on the inside and outside pass rush for years. If someone isn’t getting home to the quarterback and disrupting play, then you’re opening up space for your dynamic partner. One can’t state enough how crucial it is to have a pass-rushing duo like this in the modern NFL.
It’s the way to attack offenses on a consistent basis at all levels with your front and the Bears have given themselves that infusion.
Nevertheless, by playing the scale to a tee, the Bears aren’t looking to be an also-ran playoff team. With the proper foundation developed by great coaching, the talent will flourish to be failsafe.
Guys like White, Goldman, and Floyd aren’t the only young pieces that give these Bears hope. They’re just the inherent core symbols of a new generation transforming franchise postseason success history. The idea is to have your core exceed other contenders’ cores – or at least match them and the Bears finally have that ideal.
Living up to these expectations will be immense pressure, but if things go according to plan, that pressure will create perfect shining diamonds of White and company.
Camp observations and notes:
•Willie Young rewarded with contract extension: Everyone wondered whether the 30-year-old defensive end turned outside linebacker turned hybrid edge rusher would be able to fit into Vic Fangio’s 3-4 defense last season.
Young, after all, was a hand-in-the-ground pass rusher for 4-3 defenses his entire preceding career. Coming off of an Achilles injury, Young started slow and many speculated through the early season’s goings that he would be on his way out before the mid-season trade deadline.
Boy how things change in the flash of a pan.
After just one sack and seven total tackles through the first half of the season, Young would flourish with 17 tackles and 5.5 sacks in a supporting edge role that suited him perfectly. He proved his value and exceeded expectations of a previously to be believed limited skill set to a team reaching new heights.
Now, he’s been rewarded for it with an extension (the exact specific terms are still unknown). This kind of contract for Young is not only great for the individual player, but sends a message from general manager Ryan Pace to the rest of the Bears. Buy in and fall in line and you’ll be rewarded customarily. Young wasn’t originally courted by Pace or head coach John Fox to fit in their plans but he persevered and proved his worth.
Now, this contract will reverberate to the other Bears still looking to make their mark.
•Slot competition heats up: Chicago’s 7th round pick Daniel Braverman doesn’t appear to be your average late round player. He’s been dazzling the Bears in Bourbonnais so far with acrobatic catches and proving to be quite the reliable target. Many speculated in May, whether Braverman was the slot receiver of the future in the mold of guys like Julian Edelman and Wes Welker. No one was denying his talent level and football acumen, he just needed an opening.
Well, with the incumbent Eddie Royal sidelined and in the Bears’ concussion protocol just a few days into camp, Braverman now has his opportunity to seize and never look back. If these new repetitions confirm that he is this consistent electric talent, the Bears are in much better shape offensively than they could have ever imagined.
•Early injury concerns: In each of Fox’s previous two coaching stops in Denver and Carolina, his teams made the postseason in his second year. The Bears with their invigorated mix of talent on both sides of the ball will be looking to continue that trend provided they can stay healthy. The first week of camp hasn’t been kind in that regard.
As already mentioned, Royal is in the concussion protocol and he’s joined there by the veteran tight end Zach Miller. No matter what your thoughts are on Braverman, Royal should still be an incremental piece for this offense, he just has to be on the field. Miller, on the other hand, will be entering the first season of his career as the unquestioned starter with not a lot of proven depth behind him. He’s too important to miss any significant time.
While we aren’t particularly sure of what Rob Housler and Khari Lee will bring to the table as the back-ups, Miller needs to be the consistent workhorse. He can’t do that if he isn’t healthy and given the previous injuries in his career, you would be hard pressed to not be a little concerned if you’re the Bears on whether Miller can make it through the entire season.
And then you have a calf strain to your best offensive lineman in Kyle Long, who hasn’t practiced since the first day of camp, and an on-again off-again health parade with Floyd, who was battling the flu early and now recently sprained his shoulder.
Success in the NFL isn’t always within your control. Often the healthier team comes out on top, not necessarily better. That’s destiny out of your control.
If the Bears even want to enter the playoff conversation, they better hope this injury bug is just early bad fortune.