WELCOME BACK: Linebacking excellence. Dick Butkus. Mike Singletary. Brian Urlacher. And now, the Bears hope, ROQUAN SMITH. At 6'1" and 236 pounds, the No. 8 pick from Georgia is just big enough to handle the run and, more important, quick enough to compete in coverage. Coordinator VIC FANGIO'S unit, regarded as one of football's best-coached defenses, presents "blurry" zone looks that are hard to read. The safeties create much of that blurriness, but linebackers provide a critical element too. Smith can make a good D great.
The most underrated player in the NFL is defensive end AKIEM HICKS. He has great initial burst and thundering strength, and the 6'5" 318-pounder's technique became more refined in 2017.
First-time coach MATT NAGY was hired from Kansas City, where he had been offensive coordinator, because his system features the misdirection, presnap motioning and multi-option plays that are now in vogue. Nagy aims to isolate specific defenders (often linebackers) and present them with run/pass assignment conflicts. He also gets defenders flowing one way as the ball goes another. Chicago needs a highly schemed approach for quarterback MITCHELL TRUBISKY, whose physical tools are good but not great.
Though coming into his second NFL season after only 13 starts at North Carolina, Trubisky's out-of-pocket vision is excellent. While he's not quite Russell Wilson, he's deft at throwing on the run. Many rollouts and bootlegs come off play-action, which is a great way to limit a quarterback's reads and get him throwing against predictable looks. Moving-pocket play-action goes well with a zone ground game, and Chicago has one of the best. Everyone on this young offensive line, except for maybe right tackle BOBBY MASSIE, is perfect for a zone-blocking attack. Plus, workhorse back JORDAN HOWARD is arguably football's best all-around zone runner.
Learn the name TARIK COHEN. Chicago will use the 5'6", 180-pound second-year gadget weapon the way the Chiefs did Tyreek Hill in 2016, when Hill was a rookie sensation.
2017 RECORD 5W 11L
SI'S 2018 PREDICTION 7W 9L
17th SEAHAWKS [Monday]
22nd @LIONS [Thursday]
LEONARD FLOYD, the ninth pick out of Georgia in 2016, missed six games last year with a right-knee injury. If the outside linebacker can capitalize on his raw talent, Chicago will be just a pass rusher away from an elite defense.