On November 19th, Leonard Floyd laid on Soldier Field, grabbing his right knee after a violent collision with Kyle Fuller. Bears fans feared for the worst, dreading that Floyd suffered a torn ACL from the impact. Bears’ head coach, John Fox, described Floyd’s situation as ‘fairly serious’ after the Bears’ 27-24 loss to the Detroit Lions. But, a day later, Fox calmed many by saying that he believed the young pass-rusher did not tear his ACL. This was later confirmed to be true by NFL Network Insider, Ian Rapoport. Ian stated that Leonard Floyd suffered an MCL and PCL injury, a much less worrisome injury. Floyd would require season-ending surgery, and the Bears announced that they would place him on the IR, effectively ending his season early once again. Leonard leaves many questions, both short-term and long-term, for himself and for the Bears.
Better Look at Other Young Linebackers
With the injury to Leonard Floyd, the Bears will finish the 2017 season without three of their opening day linebackers. These include Jerrell Freeman, Willie Young, and Leonard Floyd. Bears have also been without, starting inside linebacker, Danny Trevathan due to a calf injury that has kept him sidelined for the past three games. So, Chicago’s depth will be tested once again. Bears have been forced to sign four linebackers from their practice squad since the start of the season to cope with the losses of the ones on the IR. Howard Jones, Isaiah Irving, John Timu and Jonathan Anderson were all called up to increase depth. Bears also recently re-signed the outside linebacker, Lamarr Houston. The linebacker we will most likely see the most, in place of Leonard Floyd, will be Isaiah Irving, the rookie outside linebacker. Irving earned himself a practice squad spot after his tremendous play in the preseason. Irving was then brought up to the active roster in early October and wasn’t brought to action until more than a month later. Isaiah Irving drew a lot of eyes in the Bears’ loss to the Lions Sunday on special teams. Irving grabbed three total tackles as the gunner against the Lions’ return men and enforced some violent hits. Irving then shifted his focus to the defensive side the following Sunday against the Eagles. Irving was able to snag two tackles and a fumble recovery in the Bears’ embarrassing loss to the Eagles. I personally believe his athleticism will make him a solid replacement for Leonard Floyd. He does have the strength and speed, but he will likely not be used in the same role as Leonard Floyd (edge-rusher). Sam Acho will likely take over much of Leonard Floyd’s role, instead of Irving. But, as we near towards the end of another season where once again games become less important, Irving will likely gain many opportunities to prove himself that he belongs on the roster in 2018.
Howard Jones, the third-year outside linebacker, is a very interesting name. Howard snagged five sacks as part of the Buccaneers defense in 2015. But, he then tore his ACL early in 2016 and had his season end early. Jones was signed to the Bears’ practice squad in October of this year after a full recovery from the knee injury and Jones was eventually promoted to the roster on Thanksgiving in response to Floyd being placed on the IR. Howard Jones played three snaps in his first game against the Eagles, but his role may be capable of increasing from now to the end of the 2017 season due to Floyd’s injury. His main struggles in his days with Tampa Bay was getting consistent pressure on the quarterback. Jones plays a similar role to Leonard Floyd, as an edge-rusher, and it may be interesting if Vic Fangio uses Jones in this role instead of Acho sometime near the season’s end It may be obvious to see that Jones is much more athletic to the veteran Sam Acho. But ultimately, this is Jones’s prime opportunity to show that he’s still an effective rusher, as he is hoping to find himself back on the Bears’ roster in 2018.
Loss of an Effective Pass Rusher
Leonard’s pass-rushing ability was something that was missed in the Eagles’ win over the Bears. Eagles’ Quarterback, Carson Wentz, was capable of comfortably getting out of the pocket and running with it. Wentz ran for 29 yards on five attempts, including a 16 yard run on third and long. Leonard will be missed, but Bears may be capable of still providing pressure on the quarterback. Three of the final five teams that the Bears play are within the top six in sacks allowed. The 49ers (Sixth-T), Browns (Third-T), and Lions (Third-T) all rank in the top six in sacks allowed. Most of the Bears’ final five opponents also struggle with their run game. Three of the Bears’ final opponents are in the bottom 10 for rushing yards, including the 49ers (23rd), Bengals (31st), and Lions (30th). While the defense may take a hit without Leonard Floyd, they should survive while he gets healthy for the Bears’ 2018 season. After all, Bears are in the top 10 in sacks, and they have an NFL All-Pro candidate in Akiem Hicks.
It is likely safe to say that Ryan Pace is worried about the health of some of his draftees. Bears’ 2015 First Rounder, Kevin White, obviously hasn’t been able to stay on the field. Fractures have been usual for him. The following year, their 2016 first rounder, Leonard Floyd, has had his fair share of injuries in his first two years. Leonard suffered a calf injury halfway through the 2016 campaign that left him questionable for three weeks. A month later, Leonard suffered a severe concussion against the New York Giants, where he had to be carried off the field on a stretcher. That left him sidelined for one game. Then, Leonard suffered yet another concussion in a contest against the Redskins about a month later that left him out for the season, by missing the season-finale against the Vikings. His 2016 season ended with six games missed. Now, in 2017, Leonard was able to climb through the regular season without a scratch until Week 11 against the Lions. Floyd suffered an MCL and PCL injury that left him on the injury reserve, ending his season early once again.
This amount of injuries isn’t the usual, and it should leave the Bears’ organization worried for their young, elite, pass rusher. The concussion issues from the 2016 season should be the most concerning point. It is an obvious fact that football is a sport that induces concussions, which can breed many different health concerns that will hurt your way of life, including CTE. If these concussion issues are a regular instance for Floyd, there would be no mistake in leaving the game early for the sake of your health. This has happened before to the San Francisco 49ers a few years ago with Chris Borland Their young, promising, inside-linebacker left the game of football early over his concerns about concussions. Nobody should give him any nonsense because it is just him caring for his future and body. As much as we could be selfish, and continue to want Leonard Floyd’s explosive presence on the field, we have to understand the amount of strain his head and body may feel after these continuous injuries.
Future of Roster
The Bears’ current set of linebackers are likely to change before we see they reach their contention. While there are some players like Floyd, Nick Kwiatkowski, and Trevathan who will be around for longer based on their age, current contract status, and play, there are a handful of players that will likely not be sufficient for when the Bears reach contention status. These final few games may bring up a possible need for another outside linebacker to get through the draft. Bears currently have other linebackers in Pernell McPhee, Christian Jones, Sam Acho, John Timu, Isaiah Irving, Lamarr Houston, Jonathan Anderson, Jerrell Freeman, and Willie Young on their roster right now. All of these players have their reasons to why they may not be around for much longer.
Pernell McPhee: Injury Concerns/Decrease in Play Making
Christian Jones: Contract
Sam Acho: Age/Decrease in Play Making
John Timu: On Edge of Roster
Isaiah Irving: On Edge of Roster
Lamarr Houston: All of the above
Jonathan Anderson: On Edge of Roster
Jerrell Freeman: Injury Concerns/PED Concerns
Willie Young: Injury Concerns/Age
Howard Jones: On Edge of Roster
Bears will get to begin to get an idea of their need for new linebackers from the draft or free agency due to their likely struggles at the linebacker position to finish the season. I’m sorry, but having players like Sam Acho, Lamarr Houston, John Timu, and a young, unpolished Isaiah Irving gaining the majority of snaps at linebacker positions concerns me, and it should concern you. It is quite obvious this year that Pernell McPhee isn’t the same pass rusher that he once was, and injuries have really torn him apart. He isn’t nearly as explosive, nor does he have the same strength coming from his legs to push by linemen. Bears need a man to replace McPhee. A man in the first or second round of the 2018 draft should change that. It is already being projected in mock drafts that Bradley Chubb (defensive end from NC State), or Arden Key (defensive end/outside linebacker from LSU) will fall into the Bears’ lap in the first round of the 2018 draft. Their sizes and speed would be a great addition to the already impressive defense in Chicago, and could possibly finish off the young foundation of an elite defense.