Bears Improvement Left Unmentioned – Sports Illustrated

The hits keep on coming for the Bears, or rather, against them.
It wasn't enough for ESPN's Mike Clay to throw a cloud over Justin Fields' second season by predicting the Bears QB will lead the NFL in interceptions. He also says he sees the Bears with the third pick in the 2023 draft.
Now Clay's ESPN colleague, Bill Barnwell, has ranked the playmaking group for each team in the league and as usual the Bears get little respect. Barnwell puts them 31st among players who are capable of making plays, ahead of only Houston.
If you pay much attention to Barnwell's assessments, you'll be glad to know that the Bears defense has seven games against teams in the bottom 10 of playmaking groups.
Pro Football Focus has chimed in with it's 50 best players in the league and of course the Bears have no one on the list. There are two former Bears on it, Khalil Mack and Adrian Amos. In fact, Amos is ranked higher than Mack.
However, no Bears.
Clay ranked the Bears offensive line last in the NFL and PFF puts their receiver corps last in the league, their offensive line 31st, defensive line 31st and their secondary 31st.
They're while downgrading the Bears in every possible way, they're missing several key areas of improvement made in the offseason.
Here are all the ways the Bears have improved most.
This goes hand in hand with age but it's not the only reason the Bears are faster.
Ryan Pace had 17 players on the roster last year age 30 or older and Ryan Poles has reduced it to 11. Pace, in fact, had nine who were older than 31 and currently the Bears have only three of those.
Younger is usually faster, but it goes beyond this.
The schemes they've installed on offense and defense require faster players. The offensive linemen are included in this. They need to pull and move in the wide zone. They need speed and have all been losing weight.
The defensive line is in a single-gap scheme and as a result it's been smaller, faster, lighter players to get into gaps and drive upfield rather than 330-pound defensive linemen who occupy blockers so others can make the tackle. Justin Jones
Velus Jones is a big upgrade at receiver speed-wise. The same is true for safety Jaquan Brisker over former starting safety Tashaun Gipson.
"Get your track shoes on because we're running," was coach Matt Eberlus' demand.
They might be able to win a track meet. A football game might be another matter but eventually that speed will pay off.
Somehow ESPN's ranking has the Bears safety corps 30th and cornerbacks 29th. Last year's safeties and cornerbacks rated way down in this area, without doubt. They finished last in the league at passer rating against.
They just invested second-round picks in safety Jaquan Brisker and cornerback Kyler Gordon. Brisker and Eddie Jackson won't rate in the bottom half of the league for closing speed and they're backed up by two solid contributors in Dane Cruikshank and DeAndre Houston-Carson. With the safeties, cornerback Jaylon Johnson and Gordon, and slot corner Tavon Young, the Bears have a greatly upgraded group covering the pass.
Another reason for better pass defense is the scheme. Eberflus' defensive group in Indianapolis immediately got a struggling pass defense turned around and into the top half of the league by causing more takeaways and preventing big gains. They did it without a real edge rusher of prominence applying pressure to make it easier. Now they have one in Robert Quinn. A similar quick defensive turn can be anticipated here. Considering the poor talent level in the secondary Eberflus inherited in Indianapolis, it should happen even faster with the Bears.
Actually, it's the same quarterback but a year into Justin Fields' career now. Also, he will be playing in every game and is being prepared to be starter.
Last year he was prepared like a backup and had to pick it all up on the fly.
They also used Andy Dalton as the starter and he dragged down overall production, as well. The four-interception game against Arizona was brutal.
The offseason has been a slow parade of Bears expressing confusion over what Matt Nagy and staff tried to accomplish last year. Even Darnell Mooney had some criticism for Matt Nagy and Mooney rarely says a negative thing about anyone.
Meanwhile about any player who has been with Ebeflus in Indianapolis has expressed only positives over his coaching and on Thursday he even earned a thumbs-up from former Colts punter and talk show host Pat McAfee while being interviewed by Dave Kaplan.
Beyond Eberflus and Nagy, there's the Luke Getsy and Bill Lazor comparison at offensive coordinator and that's a short discussion. 
Yes, the shocking truth is the Bears do have receivers and they're better than last year.
Allen Robinson had 38 receptions last year. Byron Pringle is an upgrade over 38 receptions based on 43 catches last year when he was playing regularly just about half the season.
Mooney is stronger and now in his third year as an overachieving No. 1 for the team.
The third and fourth receivers last year were Marquess Goodwin and Damiere Byrd. Now it's Velus Jones Jr. and N'Keal Harry.
The tight end group is by far better considering they have two experienced players who are still young enough to back up Cole Kmet instead of Jimmy Graham, who had 14 catches, and Jesse James, who had seven last year.
Twitter: BearDigest@BearsOnMaven publisher Gene Chamberlain has covered the Bears full time for various publications, news services and websites over 30 years, including several years collaborating on weekly NFL/Bears columns with Mike Ditka and Walter Payton for the Copley Newspaper Chain.


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