Bears Rookie Midseason Progress Report

Bears Rookie Midseason Progress Report

A little more than halfway through the 2016 season the Chicago Bears find themselves entrenched in the cellar of the NFC North division with a record of 2-7.

With only seven games left in what is sure to be another season without a playoff berth the focus should now shift to the young talent on the team and their continued development.

While several members of the 2016 draft class have seen meaningful snaps this season the three primary contributors all along have been the top two picks in Leonard Floyd, and Cody Whitehair, along with fifth-round running back Jordan Howard.

Here is a look at how all three have fared halfway through their rookie campaigns.

Leonard Floyd (Stats: 23 tackles, 5 sacks)

Leonard Floyd’s recent play on defense has been both noteworthy and impressive. The rookie defender has continued to show improvement in his overall game from week to week. He has recorded at least one sack in the Bears last three games, and his five sacks tops all other rookie defenders from the 2016 class.

Floyd appears to be a lot more confident out on the field and it shows in the way he is utilizing his athleticism and speed to move freely from sideline-to-sideline pursuing the play. He no longer appears to be thinking and reacting and is instead allowing his natural ability to take over and simply reacting to what he sees.

Floyd’s length and speed have always been his strength, and what he has successfully done is use his long arms to keep blockers off his frame while improving his hand usage to break loose and that allows him to run to the ball. He possesses that rare ability to quickly change directions at full speed without needing to slow down, coupled with his long strides, you can see how he is able to make up ground quickly.

Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio has started to stand Floyd up at the line of scrimmage and allowed him to flash that change of direction skill by looping him back up the middle attacking the A and B gaps.

He is now drawing the attention of opposing coaches as you will see him draw chip blocks from both the guards and tight ends when he is rushing the passer.

With the return of a healthy Pernell McPhee the two are starting to generate a consistent outside rush, forcing the opposing quarterback to climb the ladder up into the pocket which has caused some hurried throws and incompletions.

While there are still plays where Floyd will get bullied by opposing lineman, which will hopefully be rectified with some offseason strength training, the fact that Floyd has provided a presence out on the field, and has started to appear regularly on the stat sheet is an encouraging sign towards his development.

Cody Whitehair (Has started every game at center)

Whitehair has done a nice job of settling in at center as the season has progressed. Having two Pro Bowl guards in Josh Sitton and Kyle Long line up next to him hasn’t hurt the rookie’s development either. Whitehair even did an admirable job versus Minnesota’s formidable defensive front, a couple weeks ago, when both Long and Sitton sat out due to injuries. With Long now on injured reserve and out for the season we’ll see if his long-term absence will negatively affect Whitehall’s play.

Whitehair ability to quickly spring out of his stance is very evident on tape. He is good at chipping and releasing into the defenses second level; able to quickly latch onto a linebacker or safety. On a couple of running plays Whitehair can be seen out in front of the play blocking at the third level of the defense as well.

He has also been solid as a run blocker, successfully sealing off interior defenders and opening small lanes for the running back to get through.

Whitehair will still have plays where he is put on skates and pushed back into the backfield, shining a spotlight on the fact he will need to get stronger to be stouter at the point of contact.

However, it does appear that the Bears have secured their long-term starting center with the 56th overall selection in the 2016 draft.

Jordan Howard (Stats: 114 carries, 605 rushing yards, 2 touchdowns, 18 receptions, 177 yards 1 touchdown)

The rookie rusher has been one of the Bears bright spots on offense this season. His 605 rushing yards are second only to Dallas rookie sensation Ezekial Elliott, while his 5.3 yards average per carry is second to the Dolphins Jay Ajayi.

Howard has rushed for over 100 yards in four games this season. Offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains has been the only one to really contain Howard, by limiting his touches. When he’s had at least 15 carries he has rushed for over 100 yards with the exception of the Jacksonville match.

Howard is quick in processing what he sees in front of him. He hits the hole hard and can quickly get through it for a bigger back.

Howard continues to display good patience and vision as a runner. He will allow his blockers to set up and is quick to find a secondary opening developing either to the play’s backside or out on the edges.

Howard is also adept at getting “skinny” and can slither through a slight crack using his quick feet and terrific balance to break into the defenses second and third levels.

Defenders usually bounce off Howard when they go to tackle him as he is rarely ever brought down by the initial contact.

Howard has also been effective as a pass catcher out of the backfield. He does a nice job of cleanly catching the ball with his hands, and quickly heads up field behind his blockers for a big gain.

There is no reason why, barring an injury, that the offensive game plans for the remaining games this season are not built around Howard and the running game.

Howard has not only eliminated the need for a running back committee, but he has also quietly ushered in a new era in the Bears backfield, and successfully replaced the departed Matt Forte.

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Danny Shimon

Danny Shimon

NFL Draft Columnist for http://Todayspigskin.com NFL writer for National Football post and NFCNBarroom


Tags assigned to this article:
Cody WhitehairJordan HowardLeonard Floyd

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