Hoge: The Football Column, Week 6

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Willie Young. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

Willie Young. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

In Willie Young’s three seasons in Chicago, the Bears are just 12-25. Almost none of the blame for that record can be attributed to Young — who has been one of their better players the last three years — but it’s still a reality for the outside linebacker who still calls himself a “defensive end” and has seemingly battled through every obstacle throughout his seven-year NFL career.

Just Monday, Young stood bruised and battered at the Halas Hall podium after his team’s latest loss — a game in which he registered three sacks.

Podcast — Intentional Grounding, Episode 56: Week 6 Bears, NFL Preview

“It’s been something with me every week. Whether it’s a sprained toe, a sprained finger, some bruised ribs, some sprained shoulders, a few knees. I’ve dealt with it all,” Young said.

And yet, he’s played through it all, including an elbow injury that popped up in practice last week.

The truth is, the Bears need more Willie Youngs, a former seventh round draft pick who hasn’t let up, despite battling through a torn Achilles in 2014 and various injuries since then.

Despite all the injuries and losses, Young didn’t hesitate to re-up with the Bears, signing a two-year extension in August that has him under contract with the Bears through 2018.

Putting all of this into perspective, I asked Young: What keeps him optimistic about this franchise going forward?

“We’re so close,” Young said. “Just to sum up (John Fox’s) message to the team, we’re so close. And when you go back and look at the film and you see a couple of plays, I guess every game, wins or losses, come down to a few plays. And to see how close we are is a lot of motivation to see that maybe if we can just avoid having this mistake, this offsides penalty, this dropped ball, ya know what I’m saying? If we could eliminate that, then we come away victorious.”

Indeed, the Bears were close last week against the Colts, and, given the amount of players out with injuries, you could argue that the arrow is pointing up the rest of the season. That’s why, if you are rooting for the Bears to tank for a better draft pick, you may be disappointed going forward.

Pernell McPhee will likely play again for the Bears this season. Eddie Goldman will be coming back. Jeremy Langford will come back to complement Jordan Howard in the backfield. Even Jay Cutler, yes, that Jay Cutler, will probably get his job back at some point this season.

The schedule doesn’t exactly get easier, but there are winnable games in the second half of the season. If the Bears lose to Jacksonville on Sunday, they will be staring 1-7 right in the face, but if they get healthy, three or four wins in the second half of the season are not out of the question.

That, of course, gets the Bears nowhere near the playoffs, but it may be enough to carry some momentum into 2017. More importantly, the Bears need to find more players like Jordan Howard, Cameron Meredith and Bryce Callahan, young kids who have emerged in the last few weeks who can help this franchise going froward.

If they accomplish that, maybe Willie Young can play for a winning Bears team before his new contract is up.

Three Key Questions: 

1. Can Brian Hoyer convert yards into touchdowns? The quarterback’s numbers the last three weeks are outstanding, but the Bears are still struggling to get in the end zone consistently enough. Penalties have been an issue, but Hoyer’s accuracy and decision making have also taken dives in scoring situations. The Bears are ninth in total offense, but 30th in points scored. That has to change.

2. Do the Bears have a real player in Cameron Meredith? Lost in all the talk about Alshon Jeffery’s lack of targets was that Meredith played like a legitimate No. 2 wide receiver, taking advantage of Jeffery’s double coverage by catching nine passes for 130 yards and a touchdown. The film proved the numbers were not a fluke as Meredith ran crisp routes, showed an ability to pick up big yardage after the catch and plucked footballs out of the air in tight coverage. The only blunder, of course, was his untimely fumble late in the fourth quarter.

3. Will Leonard Floyd lose another week of development? Just two days after John Fox said Floyd (calf) would “hopefully be back this week,” Floyd did not practice Friday, creating doubt about his status for Sunday. The rookie had practiced in a limited capacity on Wednesday and Thursday. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio has already expressed frustration with the ninth overall pick’s availability and Fox echoed those sentiments this week.

“Probably one of the frustrating things, not just for us but for him too, is the continuity of it, consistently in clumps of time,” Fox said. “There hasn’t been enough clumps yet. We’re working on that and hopefully that shifts soon.”

It better. It’s already Week 6 and, so far, Floyd’s rookie season isn’t going much better than Kevin White’s did.

Prediction: Jaguars 24, Bears 20

For the second straight week the Bears are playing in a game featuring two one-win teams, but don’t be fooled by Jaguars — they have a lot more young talent than the Bears do. I thought they had one of the best drafts in the league this year, adding Jalen Ramsey, Myles Jack and Yannick Ngakoue in the first three rounds. Offensively, their receiving weapons are scary and will stress a banged up secondary (the Bears really need Bryce Callahan to play). Yes, Blake Bortles has a tendency to turn the ball over, but the Bears’ defense doesn’t take the ball away. After spending a whole offseason emphasizing the need for takeaways, the Bears have the second fewest in the NFL with just four.

Around The League

Former Bears special teams coach Joe DeCamillis served as the Broncos’ interim head coach Thursday night in Denver’s 21-13 loss in San Diego after Gary Kubiak (complex migraine) was ordered to take the week off. Kubiak’s absence marked the second time in four years that a Broncos head coach missed time for health reasons, after John Fox missed time in 2013 because of an aortic valve replacement. “Sometimes we disregard our health, probably not the smartest thing in the world to do, but nobody’s ever accused us of being real smart anyway,” Fox said this week … While DeCamillis received a brief promotion this week, his former boss in Chicago was fired. Marc Trestman was canned by the Baltimore Ravens after just 21 games as their offensive coordinator. As the coaching carousel goes, Trestman was hired to replace Kubiak, who took Fox’s old job in Denver. Meanwhile, Trestman was hired by the Ravens over Adam Gase, who instead took over Trestman’s old offense in Chicago and parlayed a successful season into becoming the head coach in Miami. The hiring of Trestman over Gase in Baltimore seemed questionable at the time and even more questionable now that we’ve seen the results. The prevailing reason for why Trestman was fired? The answer will surprise no one in Chicago: a lack of commitment to the run game … Keeping with our theme of connecting the dots, former Bears and Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen last played for Trestman and the Ravens in Baltimore last season and has been out of the NFL since, but he’ll have a new gig this weekend. Clausen will join NBC’s studio coverage for Notre Dame’s primetime game against Stanford Saturday. And with that, we move on to college football…

NFL Draft Game Of The Week

No. 1 Alabama at No. 9 Tennessee (+13.0) — 2:30 p.m. CT on CBS

It seems like Tennessee is featured in this column every week, but they’ve played a juggernaut of a schedule and there’s no rest this week as the Volunteers host loaded Alabama.

NFL prospects to watch:

Alabama LB Reuben Foster

Alabama DL Jonathan Allen

Tennessee DE Derek Barnett

Tennessee RB Jalen Hurd

The Saturday Itinerary

Here’s what I would be watching if I was sitting on my couch all day Saturday:

11 a.m. (ABC) — North Carolina State at Clemson (-17.5)

North Carolina State shutdown Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer last week… or maybe it was the hurricane. Now they’ll get tested by another coveted NFL quarterback prospect.

NFL prospect to watch: Clemson QB Deshaun Watson

Alternate Games: Kansas State at No. 19 Oklahoma (-13.0) on ESPN; No. 20 West Virginia at Texas Tech (+1.0) on FS1

2:30 p.m. (ABC/ESPN2) — North Carolina at No. 16 Miami (-7.0)

This is a good matchup between two intriguing quarterback prospects as UNC’s Mitch Trubisky takes on Miami’s Brad Kaaya.

NFL prospect to watch: Miami WR Stacy Coley

Alternate Games: No. 10 Nebraska at Indiana (+3.0) on ABC/ESPN2; No. 24 Western Michigan at Akron (+12.0) on CBS Sports Network

7 p.m. (ABC) — No. 2 Ohio State at Wisconsin (+10.5)

Ohio State is loaded with NFL talent, but they’ll face the toughest defense they’ve seen so far in a hostile environment.

NFL prospect to watch: Ohio State safety Malik Hooker

Alternate Games: No. 12 Ole Miss at No. 22 Arkansas (+7.5) at 6 p.m. on ESPN; Stanford at Notre Dame (-3.0) at 6:30 p.m. on NBC

The Nightcap: 9:30 p.m. (ESPN) — UCLA at Washington State (-7.5)

Upset Alert: 2:30 p.m. (ABC/ESPN2) — No. 10 Nebraska at Indiana (+3.0)

The Top 10

Adam Hoge covers the Chicago Bears for WGN Radio and WGNRadio.com. He also co-hosts The Beat, weekends on 720 WGN. Follow him on Twitter at @AdamHoge.