By Bryan Dietzler
The Bears go into the bye week with a 2-6 record but they have a little bit to hang their hat on. They are coming off of a win against the Minnesota Vikings in a game in which they dominated for the most part. They have their starting quarterback, Jay Cutler, back and are poised to do a lot better on offense than they had previously. Their defense is fairly healthy now and had a solid previous performance against Minnesota. The positives are starting to show for the Bears.
You may think that on a 2-6 team finding stars is going to be difficult. But even those teams that are dwelling in the basement at this point in the season have their top players. The Bears are no exception. While they don’t have a lot of stars right now, there are some guys that can be labeled as stars and given some Pro Bowl consideration. These guys are receiving accolades from the media and from fans. They are showing themselves to be playing as hard as they can game in and game out. These are guys you can count on.
After a close analysis of the Bears games this season and a look at their roster, this writer has found a few “diamonds in the rough” through the first eight games of the season. The following is a look at a few players that have played very well for the Bears so far this season.
Jerrell Freeman-If you want to find the perfect Chicago Bears defender, you need to look no further than Freeman. The Bears picked him up in the offseason, from the Indianapolis Colts, to come in and play inside linebacker for them. He was almost an afterthought as the signing of Danny Trevethan got a lot more attention. So many thought he would be a silent contributor to the defense this season. But from the very first snap of the Bears first game, you could tell Freeman was something special.
From the outset, Freeman has consistently led the team in tackles and has been the defense’s top performer. Not only does he push out great statistics, his play on the field is representative of the kind of player that he is. He had a huge stop on third down in the Bear’s last game, against the Minnesota Vikings, where he threw the running back in reverse to avoid him gaining a first down. Its plays that like that that epitomize what kind of player Freeman is.
The Pro Bowl voting has begun and you can’t deny that Freeman’s name has to be mentioned among those being considered for the honor. He is solid game in and game out, healthy and a big part of the Bear’s defense. Don’t be surprised if you see him in the Pro Bowl at the end of this season.
Jordan Howard-Yes, the Bears have a rookie in the spotlight this season. Chicago went into the 2016 season with Jeremy Langford as their starter at running back. Langford had a mediocre start to the season but then got injured. Seasoned veteran Ka’Deem Carey was also ailing. What would Chicago do?
They turned to Howard, the rookie running back and he started off very well. They were encouraged by his play and with not too many other players to turn to, let him take the reins of their running game. His start was fast but he started to struggle and soon Carey was in taking snaps away from Howard. It seemed as if his fast start had ground to a halt and it appeared that may not see to many snaps the rest of the season.
But in the Bear’s last game Howard went off. He gained a ton of yards and helped the Bears win the game. And he did it with a patchwork offensive line (missing starters Josh Sitton and Kyle Long). Perhaps he has finally started to hit his stride. Things could only go up for him from this point forward. But he has been a little streaky but some of that hasn’t been his fault. The Bears have gone with the hot hand (Carey) at times and have also faced some tough run defenses.
Howard should be able to continue his solid play and help become the focal point of the Bears rushing attack from this point forward. He is proving himself to be a well adept three down back and is even a reliable receiver out of the backfield. Barring injury, Howard could easily eclipse 1000 yards this season and give the offense another added dimension.
Akeem Hicks-The Bears went with defense in free agency this past offseason and one of the players they picked up, to help them out, was Akeem Hicks. Hicks had a rather inauspicious start to the season and you didn’t hear his name called too much as he wasn’t making a ton of plays. But over the course of the last few games, Hicks has come on strong and can now be considered the leader of the defensive line group.
Keep in mind that Eddie Goldman, the line’s best player, has been out with an injury for a while and so Hicks has had to step up and play strongly in Goldman’s absence. And Hicks has done well in the team’s last few games. He needs to continue his strong play and give the Bears the pass rush they need from the line. If he can continue to ramp his play and stay strong, he could be a force on the line.
There are a couple of players that deserve honorable mention for their play this season. One is Kyle Long. You can always count on Long to be the stout one on the offensive line and play to the best of his abilities. He has had some injury issues this season (he missed the Vikings and a better part of the Packers game) but he should be back soon and contributing. That will be a huge plus for the Bears offense.
A big question about Long is whether or not he is going to make the Pro Bowl this season which would be his fourth in a row. He is missing some time and the Bears aren’t a well-recognized team so that might hurt his chances. But the Bears have been on the down side of things for a few years and Long has still made the Pro Bowl. He is playing at his usual high level but has been hurt. Here’s hoping he gets the honor for another year and cements himself as one of the Bear’s best linemen in their long history.
Speaking of offensive linemen, there is one more player that deserves an honorable mention. Rookie Cody Whitehair, who was supposed to come in and be the backup at a guard spot this season has been doing very well. He was thrust into the lineup after projected starting center Hroniss Grasu was injured. Since then Whitehair, nor the Bears, have looked back. He may not be an All-Pro center at some point in his career if the Bears let him stick with it and he is doing a very good job for what he has been asked to do this season.
It will be interesting to see what the Bears decide to do with Whitehair and Grasu when the latter is back and healthy. Could they slide Whitehair to guard? Maybe they could put Grasu at the guard positon and leave Whitehair at center. Time will tell. But one thing is for sure, Whitehair is a star in the making and could be the Bear’s next Pro Bowler on the offensive line.
There aren’t that many “star” quality Bears on the team through the first eight games of the season. Hopefully some additional players will step up and play better as the season moves forward and this should happen. By the end of the season several more players could step up and be considered stars, you never know. This team has a lot of talent and there will be more players stepping up and helping this team compete. Some of the guys that we may see performing better as the season goes on include Alshon Jeffery, Eddie Goldman and even Jay Cutler. Don’t be surprised if the list grows by the end of the season.
If you feel that there are other players that deserve to be added to this list please let me know.