Payton Presser: Bears have a lot of work ahead

Chicago Bears head coach John Fox watches from the sideline during the first half of an NFL football game against the Minnesota Vikings Sunday, Jan. 1, 2017, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

The Bears 2016 season was filled with so much disappointment! From the injuries, to the two suspensions for PED’s, the Bears were never able to take a step forward like most thought John Fox would do in his second year as head coach of the Monsters of the Midway. As fans, we are blinded by their record and rightfully so. Jay-Z said it best: “Numbers don’t lie.” However, we don’t want to overlook some of the progress this team made in the midst of a losing season. Yesterday the Bears lost their 13th game of the season and ended up 0-8 on the road. What’s next for the organization, you ask? Well there will be changes, but not the ones you might be hoping for.

The feeling that Fox needs to go is something that I hear on a daily basis on social media and walking the streets of Chicago. The intel that I have says the Bears are not going to give Fox the axe. I think the Bears have to keep Fox around for at least another year. The Bears organization has lacked one thing that they desperately need in order to get things back on track, and that is stability. Some might say that Fox isn’t the guy to turn things around, and you might be right. But one thing that you can’t deny is his players work hard and play hard for him. After blowing up the roster trying to build a new foundation, the one thing the Bears couldn’t afford was injuries to the main contributors. With having to strip down the roster, there was one major flaw that was exposed, and that was depth. Fox did what he could with what he had, and the injuries are likely giving Fox the ability to stay in Chicago for one more year. It might not be what you want to hear, but it’s the truth.

We saw some young players take big steps forward for the Bears in 2016, but none bigger then rookie RB Jordan Howard. At the start of the season, he was the third RB on the depth chart. Howard had his coming out party in week 3 against the Lions, rushing 23 times for 111 yards and never looking back. Howard ended the season with seven 100-yard games and broke Matt Forte’s rookie rushing record. His ability to run with a forward lean and get yards after contact is impressive. Center Cody Whitehair has been another bright spot for this team. At the start of the season the rookie was the starting left guard, but an injury to center Hroniss Grasu changed his future. He would switch positions and take over the center responsibility. He has been phenomenal starting all 16 games as QB of the O-Line. The other bright spot has been LB Leonard Floyd. The jury was still out about the youngster, but after he got settled into the game plan and started to use his pass rushing strengths, he would show Bears fans why Ryan Pace selected him 1st overall. He finished the season with 7 sacks. One thing that worries most fans is his concussions this season, having suffered 2 concussions in a 5-week span. Let’s hope this doesn’t become a common occurrence. The youth movement gives me hope for the future.

The Bears defense has had its share of issues this season. We saw flashes of greatness at times, but also inconsistencies which will need to be addressed in the offseason. Injuries, once again at key positions, set the unit back. We really didn’t see the wheels fall off until the end of the season in the Green Bay and Washington games where the Bears defense gave up back-to-back 400-yard games. Another big issue with this team was the inability to create turnovers. The defense would end the year with only 11 takeaways. With all that being said, the Bears defense did the best with what they had. Guys would get hurt and then other guys would have to step up, but the only problem was the guys stepping up didn’t have much experience. In my heart, I believe they are headed in the right direction on defense. The biggest plus is they have DC Vic Fangio at the helm for now. From my sources, there is a rift between Fox and Fangio and there is no telling if they can mend their relationship. If Fangio walks away, the Bears would be losing one of the best defensive minds in the game. Remember I talked about continuity earlier in the presser, right? They can’t afford to lose that on the defensive side of the ball. Wining in the NFL takes a defense and there only a few guys in the NFL that I trust more than Fangio to make something out of nothing. The two “old guys,” as Fox described last week, have to find some way to coexist. If not, the Bears defense in my opinion will take not just steps back, but leaps.

There needs to be a trust factor between the fans and Ryan Pace. As fans, we are very quick to see the bad in a situation. Pace made some moves that I didn’t agree with — like moving Bennett and Marshall in his short tenure — but after a while I understood why he did what he did. He was trying to establish a culture in the locker room that was lost over the past regimes. My thought is he is doing a pretty good job at evaluating talent through the draft and free agency. Look at his draft picks that have been playmakers. He also brought in Freeman who led the team in tackles and Travathan who, if he doesn’t get hurt, is a huge playmaker. Let’s not forget about Hicks who has been a nice pick-up as well. The jury is still out about the young GM. But we won’t know until he has more drafts and free agency periods under his belt. I know we want things changed now, but we have to give him time before we feed him to the wolves.

With just 3 wins on the season, the Bears now are slotted at the 3rd spot in this upcoming draft. The question is, which way will they go with that pick? There is no QB that I would take at 3. But the potential to get an impact player excites me. There are 3 positions that jump out to me where the Bears need help other than the obvious QB position. They could use a stud offensive lineman, secondary help all over and you can’t go wrong with another dominant pass rusher. I just hope the they don’t reach for a QB if it’s not the guy they really want.

There are so many other questions to address this offseason. What’s the future of Jay Cutler? I think the consensus is that his time is done here in the Windy City. Like I’ve said before, the Bears need to cut ties with the signal caller and move on. It’s like a bad relationship that can’t be fixed. To add on to this question is will OC Dowell Loggains be back next season? The next question is will Alshon Jeffery be back in a Bears uniform? The Bears gave him a one-year franchise tag as a “prove it” season. It wasn’t the season he would have hoped for. He hasn’t had a 100-yard game since Week 1 and only has 2 touchdowns all season. Plus, he had to serve a four-game suspension for PEDs. The biggest issue the front office has with him is ability to be available. My take on the situation is if this team is 3 years out, why spend the money on him when you have other needs. It’s tough, I know, when you don’t know what you really have in Kevin White and the other still uproven wideouts. I’m a huge Alshon fan, don’t get me wrong, but giving him 17 or 18 million dollars on a one-year deal shows me you still want him to prove himself. I mean, if they loved him, wouldn’t the organization have given him a big deal last season? I’m just saying.

This year has shown me something about my favorite football team. There is a lot that needs to be done before they can be back in the conversation about playoffs or contending for a Super Bowl. The Bears record is an indicator of the work that needs to be done. But I’m not going to dismiss the progress that I saw out of a team that fought hard when everyone counted them out. I’ve been in locker rooms all my life. I’ve never seen a losing team kick out the noise from outside of their locker room like this team. I’m proud of them for how they worked with the chips stacked up against them. Am I satisfied with this season? Heck no, and I think there need to be changes and additions. But we’ve come a long way since the Trestman era, I can tell you that. The one thing that I’ve told you through this entire year has been patience. The way this roster was left to Pace and Fox was a joke. To clean up anything takes time. Moving forward, we will have to see how things play out. With only 3 wins this season, something has to change. I would be lying if I said this season wasn’t tough on me. But I came to an understanding on the timetable I set in my head. The Bears have nowhere to go but up from here. We need to think about getting to the playoffs before we start talking about winning a Super Bowl. The NFL Draft can’t get here soon enough. #Beardown

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