By Jeff Joniak–
(CBS) The Bears open the 2016 season by facing the Houston Texans on the road Sunday. Here are my observations leading up to the game.
The Bears will be a tough, hard-nosed team in 2016. That’s my first impression after watching offseason and preseason practices and games. How many wins that equates to or where that puts the franchise in the NFC playoff picture remains to be seen. I can’t remember so much discussion and chatter from coaches, players and front office personnel about toughness. General manager Ryan Pace is looking for tough players, and coach John Fox demands tough players. Therefore, the Bears will be a tough team. It also can’t be contrived toughness. Those lacking toughness won’t play for the Bears.
Second-year players drafted or acquired in Fox’s debut 2015 season learned what it takes to be a Bear under the veteran coach. Now, that group of talented players becomes the budding core of the future for this team. They’re Fox guys. Scan the rosters of Fox draft picks and acquisitions in his early years, and you will see a trend of eventual impact and not necessarily superstars. Fox embraces the lunch-bucket players who are available and dependable. I have high expectations for this group, which includes nose tackle Eddie Goldman, safety Adrian Amos, running back Jeremy Langford, receiver Kevin White, safety Harold Jones-Quartey and defensive back Bryce Callahan.
On the Bears’ 53-man roster, 40 players were acquired in the last two years. It now makes the Bears one of the youngest teams in the league.
Fox repeatedly insists it’s a young man’s league, which is true for just about every position but quarterback. I am often asked, “Where are the playmakers on this roster?” It’s a fair question. My answer is they’re in categories.
Quarterback Jay Cutler has to be the biggest playmaker. Receiver Alshon Jeffrey is when healthy. Tight end Zach Miller has the ability to be one consistently. A healthy Eddie Royal fits that category.
Defensively, linebacker Danny Trevathan and defensive lineman Akiem Hicks can be playmakers. Ditto for edge rusher Willie Young. Cornerback Tracy Porter loves the fourth quarter for big interceptions. The Bears obviously need more playmakers to emerge, and there some to watch in that next group: Langford, White, Goldman, rookie outside linebacker Leonard Floyd and rookie defensive end Jonathan Bullard.
Houston’s defense will be challenging to move the ball against. I guess a lot depends on how well star defensive end J.J. Watt is capable of playing just weeks removed from surgery to repair a herniated disc in his back. When he’s double and triple teamed, he springs others to make plays up front. The Texans have many good players to account for and a secondary that’s rock solid at both cornerback and safety.
Jeff Joniak is the play-by-play announcer for the Bears broadcasts on WBBM Newsradio 780. Follow him on Twitter @JeffJoniak.