9 things the next Chicago Bears coach can learn from the 2017 season
The Bears believe they'll eventually get their ideal head coach.
But whoever that coach is, he won't be getting the ideal team.
What exactly will the Bears' new coach inherit?
There are a few things we learned from the 2017 season -- some good and some not so good -- that will give the new boss an accurate idea of what he'll have to work with going forward.
1. The last two draft classes look like a windfall
Four of the five 2017 draft picks started a total of 39 games, including safety Eddie Jackson (16), quarterback Mitch Trubisky (12), tight end Adam Shaheen (7) and running back Tarik Cohen (4).
From the 2016 class, the Bears got 52 starts, including running back Jordan Howard (16), offensive lineman Cody Whitehair (16), outside linebacker Leonard Floyd (10), inside linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski (6) and defensive end Jonathan Bullard (4).
Those two drafts produced 97.6 percent of the Bears' rushing yards and scored 20 of their 31 touchdowns in 2017. And Cohen was the team's No. 1 punt and kickoff returner.
2. Some core pieces will be in place for many years
D-line stalwart Akiem Hicks is under contract through 2021, as is offensive left tackle Charles Leno, quarterback Mitch Trubisky's blindside protector. So, too is guard Kyle Long, a three-time Pro Bowler. Inside linebacker and defensive leader Danny Trevathan is signed through 2019. Add this group to the last two drafts, and there is a broad foundation of key players to build upon, although more of them must become impact players.
3. Kyle Fuller is key to keeping corner competitive
The 14th overall pick in 2014 finally played like a first-rounder. He's the closest thing the Bears have had to a shutdown cornerback in a long time.
Fuller led the team by a wide margin with 22 pass breakups. That included 6 against the Browns in Week 16, the most in one game by anyone in 2017 and the most by a Bear since 1994.
After missing all of 2016 with a knee injury, Fuller bounced back in 2017 to have the best season of his career.
The only problem, from the Bears' perspective, is that Fuller is eligible for free agency in March.
They can't afford to lose him, especially since Prince Amukamara, a 12-game starter at the other corner, will also be unrestricted, as will nickel cornerback Bryce Callahan.
"I can definitely see myself back here," Fuller said. "I was drafted here. I like it here. But it's my first time in free agency. I have to talk to my agents, my family and just see how that stuff works out. We'll see."
4. The Bears have the eighth pick in the first round
The last time they had the eighth overall pick, they chose Michigan wide receiver David Terrell in 2001 -- a notable bust.
They did much better with the eighth pick in 1976, selecting offensive tackle Dennis Lick from Wisconsin, and in 1973, when they chose Eastern Kentucky defensive end Wally Chambers.
It's an advantage for the Bears that they don't need a quarterback, while four of the teams ahead of them do. That means quarterbacks will be overdrafted, as usual, pushing higher-ranked players at other positions down the draft board -- ideally, to the Bears.
The Cleveland Browns, New York Giants, Denver Broncos and New York Jets all pick ahead of the Bears and could go with quarterbacks.
5. The schedule will be easier -- on paper
The Bears played the most difficult schedule in the NFL in 2017, as their opponents had a combined .559 winning percentage.
Next year's opponents had a .519 winning percentage in 2017, but the Bears will still play five games against playoff teams -- the Minnesota Vikings (twice), Los Angeles Rams, New England Patriots and Buffalo Bills.
6. The defense is already playoff caliber
Vic Fangio's defense was No. 10 in yards and No. 9 in points allowed. It was No. 6 in sack percentage and No. 7 in passing yards allowed. And the Bears did that with just four games and 2 sacks from outside linebacker Willie Young, whose 24 sacks in the previous three seasons were the most on the team by a wide margin. Outside linebacker Leonard Floyd, who tied for second on the team in sacks in 2016 with 7, missed six games in 2017. Inside linebacker and leading tackler Jerrell Freeman missed 15 games because of injury and suspension.
7. The quarterback of the future has arrived -- probably
Mitch Trubisky wasn't as spectacular as the Houston Texans' Deshaun Watson, but he didn't have anywhere close to the same weapons as Watson.
Trubisky got better as he went along, and showed he could manage a game. He avoided mistakes for the most part and did not throw an interception in eight of his 12 starts.
Trubisky gives every indication of being a leader a team can build around. He's nowhere close to a Pro Bowl player yet, but with a better supporting cast, he has that potential.
8. Good hands on defense remain in short supply
In 2015, the Bears set a franchise low with just 8 interceptions.
They tied that record for futility in 2016, then tied it again in 2017.
Ten-year veteran safety Quintin Demps was supposed to help in that regard, given his 15 picks in the previous four years. But he played just three games and had no interceptions before a fractured arm ended his season.
There is hope, though, most notably rookie safety Eddie Jackson, who tied for the team lead with 2 interceptions and demonstrated good ball skills.
9. More hands on offense would help, too
If Cam Meredith comes back 100 percent from knee surgery, and if Kevin White ever gets and stays healthy, and if 2017 leading pass-catcher Kendall Wright is re-signed -- then the Bears have the beginnings of a decent wide receiver crew.
That's a lot of "ifs."
The Bears won't know for sure what they have in Mitch Trubisky until his supporting cast is upgraded.
Trubisky was fighting with one hand tied behind his back as a rookie, and the Bears need to see what he can do with a stronger supporting cast.