After a 3-13 season, a free agency period in which the team whiffed on its top targets and settled on adding depth by way of one-year “prove it” deals, and a shocking draft weekend, optimism isn’t easy to come by when it comes to Chicago Bears fans.
To be fair, a roster loaded with inexperienced youngsters (albeit, some with major upside) and players serving as stop-gaps isn’t going to drum up much confidence in even the most optimistic fans. But what if I told you help could be on the horizon? Because over at Scout.com’s Bear Report, Zack Pearson writes about where the Bears can find leadership at this point of the rebuilding process and it put my mind in motion thinking about how the Bears were going to grow in 2017.
The Bears project to be one of the NFL’s youngest teams, with seven players lined up for starting roles who are in their age 25 season or younger. This means the roles of the veterans scattered throughout the roster will have quite the task on their hands this season. Interestingly enough, there are experienced players with much to prove at the positions where the Bears are youngest – which possibly could explain their signings in free agency. So let’s explore who projects to be in a position to embrace a leadership role.
John Fox believes Victor Cruz has enough in the tank to be a contributor as a slot receiver, which means his duties won’t be limited to that of a leadership role. However, Cruz could be a beacon of light and a positive example for the younger players who reside on the depth chart. Cruz made the climb from undrafted free agent out of a non-powerhouse school to a Pro Bowl receiver with multiple 1,000-yard seasons and a Super Bowl ring. He is also out to prove he is fully recovered from injuries that stripped him of some prime years with the New York Giants. Players would be wise to listen closely when Cruz speaks and watch how he goes about his business.
Wheaton is another player who figures to be a prominent piece of the Bears offense in 2017. But even entering his age 26 season, Wheaton projects to have leadership qualities after growing up in the Pittsburgh Steelers system catching passes from Ben Roethlisberger and playing alongside Antonio Brown. It’s still early in Wheaton’s career in Chicago, but he is already speaking like a leader on the offensive side of the ball as he recently shared his opinion of his underrated teammates.
Quintin Demps is the most experienced player the Bears signed in free agency and will play 2017 in his age 32 season. Demps is a seasoned vet who had starting gigs with the Kansas City Chiefs and New York Giants, as well as a bit role for the Philadelphia Eagles before settling into his best years as a starter in his second stint with the Houston Texans.
In fact, Demps has already taken to a leadership role during the Bears’ offseason training period:
Deon Bush, whose Instagram post is featured above, joins Adrian Amos and Harold Jones-Quartey as young safeties who will play 2017 in their age 24 seasons. And we can’t forget about Deiondre’ Hall, who is making the move from cornerback to safety for his age 23 season.
Prince Amukamara is experienced, but also young, making him a player who represents the best of both worlds for a growing Bears secondary. Amukamara has a first-round pedigree and the motivation to prove how valuable he can be to a secondary – if he can stay healthy for a full 16-game season. Amukamara has set some high standards upon arrival, wanting to get back to the prime days of the Bears defense in forcing more turnovers in 2017.
Mike Glennon enters the familiar situation of being a starter, only to have his replacement drafted in the first round. To his credit, Glennon hasn’t been shaken by Mitch Trubisky’s presence. Further, Glennon has said he wants to help the No. 2 overall pick any way he can – while also letting it known that 2017 is definitely his season.
Mark Sanchez arrived in Chicago with no delusions of being a starting quarterback. Instead, Sanchez resumes a role as a mentor and backup, which he was familiar with while playing for the Dallas Cowboys behind rookie Dak Prescott. Sanchez has drawn some rave reviews as a mentor, in part because of the experience he has gathered over the years. So perhaps that can rub off on Trubisky, too. Despite suffering a knee injury late in camp, Sanchez has already provided a positive first impression.
As you can see, examples of leadership aren’t too hard to find on the Bears roster. How long these leaders are apart of the Bears still remains to be seen. Which means the young players on the roster would be wise to soak up as much information as they can before they are entrusted with bigger roles.