By Robert Zeglinski
If the Marc Trestman Bears era was known for anything, it was complete and utter dysfunction. A regime that left the Bears in pieces during the close of a miserable 2014 season, there wasn’t much to look forward to in Chicago.
Almost three years ago to the day, the Trestman Bears entered their bye week at 3-5 following a disheartening 53-21 loss to the Patriots — a sign of things to come in one of the worst seasons in franchise history. Former wideout Brandon Marshall told reporters to “put their ears closer to the door” following the sound defeat, as a locker room was coming apart at the seams.
Two years ago, under current coach John Fox, the Bears were also 3-5, but with nowhere near the same level of young talent now. That team would finish an identical 3-5 down the stretch, maximizing the juices of a roster with long-time stalwarts such as Matt Forte playing on its last legs.
After a heartbreaking loss to the Saints on Sunday in the present, the Bears are similarly again 3-5, but there’s a different aura surrounding this team.
Following years of listless, directionless football, this Bears squad built by Ryan Pace is actually and perhaps, unbelievably on the upswing. In the face of a dark tunnel once paved by Trestman and former general manager Phil Emery, these Bears have carved out actual hope for the future.
The biggest reason these Bears have begun to rise? There’s tangible young and in-prime talent across the board to point to, particularly on defense. A franchise rebuilt from the ground up after years of horrid drafting and misguided free agency spending is finally seeing the dividends pay off.
Fox has been impressed in particular by that defense of late, which enjoyed one of the most dominant months in football in October.
“Our defense has been pretty salty for a month now,” Fox said. “We just don’t have a lot of room for error. It’s not lack of competition, for sure.”
He’s not lying.
In October, Chicago’s defense allowed just four offensive touchdowns while scoring three themselves. The unit had 14 sacks, eight takeaways, and a safety. It also allowed but one passing touchdown — a ridiculous statistic in the modern pass-happy NFL.
This isn’t a good Bears team, yet. However, it has the makings of a roster that will be in every game while the pieces come together for a little longer. Those pieces are why to hold on hope for contention very, very soon.
Pay attention well, because some examples on this list can get lengthy.
There’s 2016 first-round pick, Leonard Floyd, who is slowly becoming one of the NFL’s best edge defenders and is currently on pace for double-digit sacks in 2017.
Jordan Howard, Chicago’s 2016 fourth-round pick, is one of football’s best tailbacks. Currently, he’s on pace for over 1,000 yards and would be the first Bears running back to ever run for 1,000 yards in his first two seasons. Yes, not even Walter Payton or Gale Sayers could accomplish that.
Believed to be an afterthought just this past off-season, 2014 first-round pick Kyle Fuller has experienced a career resurgence. The 25-year-old has carved out a season worthy of a Pro Bowl berth at this rate with newfound and aggressive confidence.
And then there are 2016 free agent signings Akiem Hicks and Danny Trevathan, who have been godsends for the Chicago defensive tradition.
The 27-year-old Hicks, who currently has seven sacks, has been the Bears’ best and most disruptive player this season. He’s not only worthy of an All-Pro berth, but Defensive Player of the Year consideration. Meanwhile, after a down year, the former Super Bowl champion Trevathan has been absolute dynamite at linebacker, coming off of a 13-tackle ho-hum game in New Orleans.
You go on down the line of a budding Bears core and there’s Eddie Jackson, Adrian Amos, Eddie Goldman, Cody Whitehair, Kyle Long, Josh Sitton, Christian Jones, and even Nick Kwiatkoski waiting. You run out of superlatives with quite the gauntlet of guys Chicago can easily rely upon.
Of course, above all, one would be remiss not to mention the raw but promising Mitchell Trubisky at quarterback, who is the key to this whole equation. Trubisky’s play and development admittedly hasn’t been, even to this point. Still, he’s shown occasional flashes of why he was the No. 2 overall pick in April and why he can be the man to take this franchise to the top of the mountain.
Logistically, this was supposed to be one of the worst rosters in football according to many preseason prognostications. Instead, with another solid off-season, the Bears look like they’re on the verge of sustained postseason success and more — something they know little about historically.
Even while comfortably sitting out of the playoff race this season, for now, there’s still a lot to play for these Bears. Coming out of the bye, a no doubt united team on the rise with a leader such as Trevathan won’t go quietly.
“We’re communicating. Guys love being out there together. I think that’s the difference. Guys are like, ‘I want to make the next play.’ That grows on everybody.” R
Robert is your guy for all things Bears. Find him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.