For a Chicago Bears roster that has gotten progressively younger the past two-plus seasons, who will emerge as the leaders for a rebuilding team during the 2017 campaign?
In order to create any type of franchise optimism this season, the Chicago Bears will have to show some sort of progress coming off a 3-13 campaign.
To fill some glaring holes on the roster, GM Ryan Pace was very active in free agency. His biggest move came at the quarterback position when he signed veteran Mike Glennon shortly after the start of free agency. Just weeks later, Pace traded up and selected Mitchell Trubisky with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft.
The moved created some questions regarding the team’s short- and long-term future.
Despite drafting Trubisky, Glennon will head into training camp as the projected starter. The Bears will need him to be a leader, not only for the offense but for the team as a whole. Head coach John Fox made sure Glennon knew he was still expected to fill that role, even with the franchise quarterback waiting in the wings.
“Yeah, we communicated quite a bit. We do and continue to,” Fox said during minicamp. “Those are all kind of personal things but … we had that same conversation when we took Leonard Floyd a year ago and Kevin White the year before that. You have positional people that you need to have those conversations [with].”
For his part, Glennon has accepted his role as a leader and plans to meet with his offensive teammates in the weeks leading up to training camp.
“Yeah, I’ll be heading back to North Carolina for a little bit and then I’ll come back here and hopefully along the way I’ll get together with some of the guys so we can continue to get some work in,” Glennon said.
For Trubisky, finding mentors at this early stage in his career is crucial, whether that’s Glennon, Mark Sanchez or quarterbacks coach Dave Ragone.
“Coach Ragone and all the coaches have really been great so far,” Trubisky said. “He really took me under his wing right away and just taught me the offense and everything I need to do. There’s a lot of attention to detail with him, and I feel he’s really passionate about coaching, which I love that and I love learning from him.”
Ideally, Trubisky can maintain his role as a student throughout his rookie season and soak up the NFL system by watching an established veteran. Yet Trubisky knows that, eventually, it’s going to be his show, which will require him to instantly step into a leadership role, quite possibly as early as this season.
“Yeah, you’re the face of the franchise, so everything you do is going to be under a microscope,” Trubisky said. “So I’m just going to do the right things like I’ve always done; stay true to myself and you’ve got to be a leader — you’ve got to be the first one in the door and last one out. You’ve got to be the hardest working guy. You’ve got to be the most knowledgeable and you’ve got to be competitive. I don’t think anyone wants to win more than I do. Hopefully, I can bring that to this organization.”
With a relatively young roster, the Bears will look to veterans to establish themselves as leaders and guide the younger players on the team.
When Chicago brought in free agent linebacker Jerrell Freeman in 2016, he adapted to that leadership role right away. Freeman produced one of the best seasons of his career and anchored a front seven that could be one of the best in football this year.
A candidate to fill a similar role on the offensive side is veteran WR Victor Cruz.
The 30-year-old wide receiver is entering his sixth season in the NFL and was part of a New York Giants team that won the 2012 Super Bowl. Cruz has already accomplished what this Bears team is out to achieve.
Cruz joins a Bears receiving corps that lost its leader when Alshon Jeffery signed with the Philadelphia Eagles as a free agent. To replace Jeffery, the team will lean on Cameron Meredith and Kevin White, two young receivers they hope can carry the passing attack for years to come.
For Cruz, he’s in a role that he’s never been in before but he fully understands what he has to do with this young roster.
“Yeah, that was part of [me coming here], I understood that coming in,” Cruz said. “In the NFL you kind of just fall into that leadership category. After a certain number of years it’s like, ‘OK, you’re the veteran.’ I think I fold into that mold very well. I think it’s natural for me and I’m excited to help these young guys get better and watch them grow.”
Cruz’s presence is already being felt among his fellow receivers. White, who is looking to get his career back on track after playing just four games his first two NFL seasons, has already begun to benefit from Cruz’s experience.
“Leadership,” White said. “He’s a vet, been around, done it all, so he brings a lot of things to the table.”
The Bears will also lean on offensive veterans like Josh Sitton, Kyle Long and Bobby Massie, while Akiem Hicks, Jaye Howard, Pernell McPhee, Willie Young and Quintin Demps will spearhead the defense.
Expectations are low for the Bears this season, which puts even more onus on the current veterans to help mold the youngsters so that, when their time comes, they’ll be prepared to take over that leadership role and carry the franchise into the future.