With about two months before training camp, it’s safe to say the Chicago Bears have completed a solid roster overhaul, especially on the offensive side of the ball. But even with a defense that finished in the top 10 last year, there still remains a major void opposite Leonard Floyd at pass rusher.
Despite not having a Pro Bowl selection in 2017, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio was able to get a lot out of his no-name unit.
|Points Per Game||Yards Per Game||Team Sacks||Interceptions||Fumble Recoveries||Opponent Passer Rating|
|20 (9th)||319.1 (10th)||42 (tie 7th)||8 (tie 29th)||14 (1st)||89.9 (18th)|
Fangio returns for a fourth season with almost the same group intact. While they were able to finish tied for seventh in sacks last year, there wasn’t a player who finished with more than 10 sacks. Aside from Akiem Hicks, who tallied 8.5 sacks, no one was able to reach five or more.
Part of Fangio’s brilliance is that he’s able to piecemeal sacks out of different players by using unique disguises and blitz packages in his 3-4 scheme. No matter your size, age or position, he can find ways to have you get to the quarterback.
Floyd has been touted by Ryan Pace and company as a potential pass-rushing demon. While he’s shown some flashes throughout his first two seasons in the NFL, there is no substantial proof he’s going to consistently finish with double-digit quarterback takedowns every season. In fact, he currently has just 11.5 sacks for his career, albeit in only 22 games due to injuries.
Still, Floyd is going to get every opportunity at outside linebacker thanks to his length, speed and draft status (No. 9 overall in 2016). But the key to his success could come from the person who starts opposite him.
When Floyd is double teamed, who can capitalize? Also, can this mystery man at least occasionally command a double team to let Floyd loose?
Sure, Hicks has shown he can generate pressure from the 5-technique, but that role isn’t really designed to garner a boatload of sacks. While Fangio can keep coming up with alternatives, the bulk of the pass rush has to come from the outside linebacker spots.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a surefire answer opposite Floyd.
Sam Acho is a solid contributor on defense and very valuable on special teams, but no one is counting on him to be a viable pass-rushing option. After all, Acho has only registered 17 sacks over the course of his seven-year career, recording just three last season.
Aaron Lynch, who spent his rookie year with Fangio in San Francisco, signed a one-year, prove-it deal with the Bears. Lynch looks the part, standing 6-foot-6 and weighing 270 pounds with plenty of athleticism and strength to be a viable option.
The production on the field hasn’t been evident, though. The last two seasons have been especially brutal for Lynch, but some attribute that to being miscast in a 4-3 scheme. Of his 15 career sacks since 2014, 12.5 came in his first two years when he was in a 3-4 defense.
Rookie Kylie Fitts was one of the Bears’ late-round draft gems and possesses the skill set you want to see in a pass-rushing specialist. He has plenty of speed and a wide array of moves to escape blockers. In his only full season at Utah, Fitts finished with 41 tackles, seven sacks and four forced fumbles.
Injuries were his biggest drawback, causing him to play in just nine games over the last two seasons. Not to mention, one solid collegiate season doesn’t really inspire complete confidence, especially when it occurred almost three years ago.
Options are scarce outside the roster as well. At this time of year, there are never elite pass rushers on the market. Most guys who could be available via trade or in free agency are either on the downside of their careers or haven’t lived up to their draft stock.
Dante Fowler Jr. and Shane Ray didn’t receive fifth-year options from their respective teams, making each potential trade targets for teams in need of pass-rushing help. Fowler is set to turn 24 in August and Ray just turned 25.
Given their youth, Pace might be willing to take a flyer on either guy for a late-round pick or even a mid-round choice with heavy conditions. But with the Bears still in some form of rebuilding mode, giving up draft equity might not be an ideal move.
Meanwhile, veterans Connor Barwin, Junior Galette and Tamba Hali remain on the scrapheap and wouldn’t cost the Bears a lot of money. While any one of those options could turn in a productive campaign, Pace likely isn’t interested in plugging an outside linebacker spot with someone who’s long in the tooth.
No matter which route the Bears go, Fangio has shown he’s capable of tapping the most potential out of any player. If he can continue to tap into Floyd and get the most out whoever starts at the opposite edge-rushing spot, the defense can take a major step in 2018.