By Greg Gabriel–
(670 The Score) While we knew the Bears weren’t going to be a playoff team, their 5-10 mark with a week left in the season is nonetheless disappointing when it comes to hope for the future.
The reality is the Bears are still need plenty of pieces before they’r a playoff contender, but as we have seen with the Rams this year, a turnaround can happen quickly when key components are in place. And already, the Bears have some of those important components in place, which is why there are a few positives to take away from an otherwise lost season that will likely result in coach John Fox’s firing next week.
By playing since Week 5, rookie quarterback Mitchell Trubisky has gained the valuable experience he needs to be successful. Come next training camp, many of the growing pains will be behind him.
In the last few games, Trubisky has been asked to do more within the offense and, for the most part, has come through. While he has thrown some poor interceptions, the bottom line is he has grown as a player. At worst, the Bears will finish the final quarter of the season at 2-2, perhaps 3-1 if they upset the Vikings in the season finale, and much of that is because of the improvement of Trubisky.
I believe Trubisky has some special qualities and that it won’t be long before he becomes one of the elite quarterbacks in the NFL. It won’t happen overnight, but the physical and intangible traits are in place. He wants to become a great player, and he will do whatever it takes to become that. That alone is part of the battle in developing an NFL quarterback.
Now it’s the job of the Bears front office to get him the coaching and supporting cast that can help spur Trubisky’s development. That includes improving the offensive line and finding some quality receivers in free agency or the draft.
The other positives also revolve around the quality development of some young players who could be key parts of the future. Headlining that group is cornerback Kyle Fuller. At the beginning of training camp, some thought Fuller wouldn’t even be a part of this team. He had a poor 2015 season, missed all of 2016 and looked as if he’d be a first-round bust. Probably the best thing that happened to Fuller was the Bears choosing not to pick up the fifth-year option on his original rookie contract, putting him on a path to free agency after this 2017 season.
Fuller has 67 total tackles and two interceptions. He easily could have had a couple more interceptions, but his ball reactions have nonetheless been excellent. At 25, his best football is in front of him, and it’s now imperative that the Bears sign him to a long-term deal. As good as Fuller has played this year, he can be even better.
Looking elsewhere on defense, with Jerrell Freeman under his second performance-enhancing drug suspension, I doubt he will be back in 2018. In his absence, we’ve found that Nick Kwiatkoski is more than just an adequate replacement. While Kwiatkoski doesn’t have the speed that Freeman has, he’s bigger and has outstanding instincts. At inside linebacker, instincts are the most important trait a player has to have. Kwiatkoski is tough, strong and makes plays, and he will be an ideal partner to Danny Trevathan inside moving forward.
The Bears haven’t gotten it right at safety since Mike Brown has been here, but rookie Eddie Jackson is the real deal. He has everything in place to be a top safety in the league — good size, speed and athleticism as well as great instincts. Thanks to his training at Alabama, he looked more like a three-year veteran than a rookie.
Many people expected too much from rookie tight end Adam Shaheen. If you look at his history, he didn’t play a lot of football in college. He originally went to college to play basketball, then transferred to Division-II Ashland College to play football.
The jump from Division-II to the NFL is huge, and when you look at what he was asked to do at Ashland compared to what he’s being asked to do now, it’s remarkable that he made the plays that he did. You can argue that the Bears over-drafted him in the second round, but he no one can argue that he has the talent to become a good NFL player. Shaheen needs to learn the game and develop. When a team drafts a player, it’s not for his rookie year, it’s for a career. The Bears drafted for talent and upside, and Shaheen has both.
At Ashland, Shaheen was mostly flexed out and was a mismatch to opponents just being on the field. With the Bears, he had to learn how to block, make sight adjustments and run routes at full speed. When a player is unsure of what he’s being asked to do, he doesn’t play at full speed. That was the case with Shaheen. In many cases, players make a big jump in their rookie year to their second season. The light turns on and they feel more comfortable.
I believe that will be the case with Shaheen. While I doubt he will ever be a Pro Bowl-type tight end, he can be what we call a solid red-chip player. The definition of that is a player whom a team can win with. That definition fits Shaheen well.
Greg Gabriel is a former NFL talent evaluator who’s an on-air contributor for 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter @greggabe.