Last time out, I ran down the offensive position groups of the Chicago Bears to look for any signs of regression from last season to 2019. I couldn’t find any. We’re talking about a relatively young group heading into the second year of the system, and historically speaking, offenses in this situation have an uptick in production.
But what about the defense and what about the specialists?
Chicago’s special teams will get a boost from new kick returner Cordarrelle Patterson, and after last season’s disastrous kicking game, there’s really no where to go but up for the placekicker. Right?
History does also suggest that such a good defense -- and the Bears had the top defense in DVOA a year ago -- is bound to regress, but I already addressed that when I predicted the Bears would repeat as the top defense in the league.
Is a regression likely, sure, but it won’t be because of lack of play-makers on the defense. New defensive coordinator, Chuck Pagano, is a bit of an unknown, but history suggests he can thrive with all the talent he has to work with. It’s talent plus scheme that has me predicting no regression for this unit, but let’s break it down position by position to look for any holes in my theory.
Just like I did last time, let’s go position group by position group to see if they’re trending up or down from where they were a year ago. The names in bold are this year’s players, and the names in italics were here last season.
DL) Akiem Hicks, Eddie Goldman, Bilal Nichols, Roy Robertson-Harris, Nick Williams, Abdullah Anderson (Jonathan Bullard)
This year the only difference is Anderson instead of Bullard, but with Nichols, the 22-year old second year pro expected to build off a solid rookie season, and with Robertson-Harris still ascending, they compliment Hicks and Goldman so well. Stock Up
ILB) Roquan Smith, Danny Trevathan, Nick Kwiatkoski, Joel Iyiegbuniwe, Josh Woods, Kevin Pierre-Louis (Piere-Louis and Woods added from 2018)
The top four remain the same, and the two new faces will be mostly special teamers. The key for this group is the 22-year old Smith, who didn’t sign with the Bears last year until after the preseason, and even with no camp he led the team in tackles as a rookie. I’m predicting big things for him in 2019. Stock Up
OLB) Khalil Mack, Leonard Floyd, Aaron Lynch, Isaiah Irving (Sam Acho, Kylie Fitts)
The Bears rolled with six outside linebackers to open the 2018 season, but this year it’s only four. Since Mack was picked up a few days before the opener a year ago, I think it’s safe to assume he’s in a better place in the defense this season after being in the offseason program. Floyd is also fully healthy this year as opposed to wearing a cast on his hand last September. Stock Up
CB) Kyle Fuller, Prince Amukamara, Buster Skrine, Duke Shelley, Kevin Toliver II (Bryce Callahan, Sherrick McManis, Marcus Cooper)
A year ago the Bears opened up with six cornerbacks, but this year it’s only five. The starters remain the same, but there’s a possible downgrade at nickelback. Skrine, while an experienced nine year veteran, has never played as well as Callahan did a year ago with the Bears. Then again, Skrine has never played with the kind of talent that Calklahan did in 2019 either. Skrine has also played outside corner, so in the event of an injury he could move outside with rookie Shelley taking the nickel job. This one will be a wait and see for me, but the potential is there. No Change
S) Eddie Jackson, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Deon Bush, Sherrick McManis, DeAndre Houston-Carson (Adrian Amos)
The big change is Clinton-Dix for Amos, and while I think Clinton-Dix could get his career back on track in this talented defense, Amos was a very good football player the last couple years in Chicago. The Bears will miss his steadiness, but Clinton-Dix has more tools to play with and if he can stay focused the defense shouldn't miss a beat. McManis is also new to the group after playing corner previously, but his number one job with the Bears is on special teams. Jackson is becoming one of the best safeties in the game today, and Bush had a fantastic camp and could play in some three safety sets. Stock Up
ST) Eddy Pineiro, Patrick O’Donnell, Patrick Scales (Cody Parkey)
The only change among the specialists is at kicker, where Eddy Pineiro looks to replace the double-doinking Cody Parkey. Even though Pineiro has yet to kick in the NFL, he would have to be really awful to be as bad as Parkey. The playoff miss is all most fans remember, but there were 29 other kickers better than his 76.7% field goal percentage from a year ago. O’Donnell just ended the preseason with the highest average per punt. Stock Up