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Top Ten Chicago Bears Potential Breakout Players for 2013 NFL Season
Everyone knows pretty much what to expect from certain names on the Chicago Bears roster. Lance Briggs will make his tackles. Julius Peppers will sack the quarterback. Brandon Marshall will catch his passes. With the new coaching staff in place though there is brimming optimism about some of the other players on the roster taking a big step forward in 2013. Since the NFL playoffs are the goal which names have the best chance to break out and become a key piece to that run?
A lot of fans were disappointed when Phil Emery used the Bears' 2012 first round pick on McClellin. They felt he was a reach both for how early they took him and how little he fit their defensive scheme. That disappointment was compounded by his injury problems during the season including a concussion issue. He finished the year with just 2.5 sacks. However, what is lost in that modest stat line is the 14 quarterback pressures he had. That speaks to a kid who knows how to beat an offensive lineman but can't finish the play. McClellin has since used the off-season to bulk up, adding seven pounds of muscle so far. Combining this with another year in the system and more playing time means his numbers should see a significant spike.
It sounds crazy. The last time fans even thought about Bowman playing anything other than special teams was in 2009 when he had six interceptions in twelve starts. Sadly a year later he was supplanted by Tim Jennings and never recovered the faith of Lovie Smith. Things have changed though. Smith is gone and Mel Tucker is in charge of the Bears defense. He is a versatile defensive coordinator with a knack for coaching and developing defensive backs. Since injuries are a part of everyday life in the NFL, there is a great chance Bowman can see time on defense this season. If he takes the coaching of Tucker to heart he could resurrect what was once a promising career on defense.
One would understand if the young safety fell into a slight depression after 2012. A bad neck injury robbed him of most of the preseason last year and since the team already had good depth at the position they chose to place him on injured reserve. This was hard to swallow since the neck was fully healed by week 5. The inability to play even on special teams was difficult, but Hardin has since made it clear that this season is different. He spent his off time buried in the playbook and watching film. With Major Wright in the last year of his contract and Chris Conte always a injury risk, there is a chance Hardin can work his way onto the field. If his studies pay off, his speed and athleticism will take care of the rest.
Fellow rookie Jon Bostic is the more experienced linebacker Chicago brought in via the draft but one thing that is always clear about the NFL is playmakers find their way onto the field. Greene makes plays. After moving from safety to linebacker in 2011, he piled up 144 tackles, 9.5 sacks, two interceptions and eight forced fumbles in two seasons. He's fast, athletic, and only getting better as he gains experience. Given the injury risk for starting linebackers, the chances that he makes it on the field are very good. When that happens it shouldn't take long for him to show the fans why the team drafted him.
The jury is still out on the 2011 second round pick. Everybody already knows he has the upper body strength to dominate in the NFL. People still talk about his record 49 bench press reps at the scouting combine. Regardless, his first year starting at nose tackle wasn't a big hit. He had just ten tackles and a half sack more than his rookie year. In order to prove he deserves the starting job next to Henry Melton he must improve his lower body drive so he can take proper advantage of his powerful arms. Once that happens opposing offensive lines are in trouble.
His rookie season was a mixed bag of good, bad and ugly. Injuries marred his development process, not to mention he looked positively stymied at times against press coverage. Still, there is a lot to like about the second-year receiver. Despite playing only ten games he managed 24 catches for 367 yards and three touchdowns. That averages out to 38 catches for 587 yards and five touchdowns if he had played in all sixteen games. Good numbers for a rookie. As new head coach Marc Trestman brings in the receiver-friendly West Coast offense the expectations for Jeffery will and should go higher. His excellent size and hands coupled with good speed and improved route running (not to mention the threat of Marshall on the other side) means he will see plenty of opportunities.
Everyone expects big things from recent free agent pickup Martellus Bennett. What nobody knows is they may have picked up a carbon copy of the big, athletic tight end at dirt cheap in Onobun. Both were teammates when they played basketball together in Houston and coaches have begun to take notice of the 26-year old. Fans will question his worth since Chicago is his fifth stop on his pro football circuit. However, he would quickly point out those other teams never gave him a fair chance to stick on the roster so he could learn a position he hadn't played at until late in college. At 6'6", 260 lbs he is built like a prototypical tight end. Yet it is his 4.45/40 speed and soft hands that has people talking. Since the roster spots behind Bennett are wide open, Onobun has a real shot at not only making the team but giving the offense another big target for defenses to deal with.
Expectations were high for Bush when Chicago signed him to pair with Matt Forte in the backfield. Sadly 2012 didn't go according to plan. Bush managed just 411 yards and five touchdowns. He struggled with injuries as well, missing three games. Not that it should discourage him or fans. The 2013 outlook is far better. Chicago gave the entire offense some serious help when they added three potential new starters to the offensive line in Jermon Bushrod, Matt Slauson and Kyle Long. Run blocking is not their best value, yet the protection they offer in the passing game will force defenses to play less men at the line of scrimmage to deal with the receivers. This in turn will open holes for Bush to use his powerful and deceptively nimble frame to chew up big chunks of yards. He should also get more looks in the passing game as well.
The forgotten man of the Bears offense. After a resurgent push in 2011, Bennett fell off the map for the most part last season. He once again struggled to stay healthy and never found his stride in the offense. There is no doubt 2013 is a pivotal year for him, which is why he should feel fortunate that Trestman is bringing back the West Coast scheme. Bennett played in that offense for one season back in 2009, a year he posted career bests with 54 receptions for 717 yards. If he can replicate that impact again then his spot on the roster is secure and the Bears can move forward with a solid, deep group of wide receivers.
There is no doubt the one player that should (and must) have a breakout season in 2013 is the Bears enigmatic quarterback. Like several other players he is in a contract year. He's coming off a difficult season where he barely managed to break 3,000 yards passing while only notching 19 touchdowns to 14 interceptions. Trestman figures to straighten those stats out but it is up to Jay to accept the teaching and get back to playing the position at the Pro Bowl level he reached a few years ago. Better protection and improvement from receivers will make that much easier to accomplish. It is playoffs or bust at this point.