3 Bears who aren’t in offseason spotlight, but could play pivotal roles in 2024 season


3 Bears who aren’t in offseason spotlight, but could play pivotal roles in 2024 season originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

We’ve spent a lot of time talking about a lot of Bears players this offseason. Keenan Allen and Rome Odunze have generated buzz as GM Ryan Poles completely revamped the team’s wide receiver unit. Jaylon Johnson made headlines when he signed an extension to stick in Chicago for the immediate future, and Montez Sweat remains at the forefront of any conversation about the defense. We’ve even dedicated time to rookie punter Tory Taylor and how he can be a weapon on special teams. Of course there have been Caleb Williams stories. Many, many Caleb Williams stories.

The success of the team won’t depend on a handful of players, however. The buzziest guys often make the splashiest plays, but as nose tackle Andrew Billings proved last year, sometimes it’s the fellas who do the dirty work that make the biggest impact when it counts.

Along those lines, here’s a list of Bears players who may have an outsized effect on the team compared to the attention they receive outside of Halas Hall.

T.J. EDWARDS – LINEBACKER

There’s no doubt that Sweat should be considered the Bears defense’s 2023 MVP after he arrived and single-handedly boosted the team’s pass rush. But the unit probably doesn’t make the full leap that it did over the course of the year if not for Edwards’ play, which got better week after week. Edwards plays the all-important weakside linebacker position in head coach Matt Eberflus’ scheme, which requires him to fly to the ball to rack up tackles and create takeaways.

He did just that.

Edwards led the team with a whopping 155 tackles, which was good for seventh-most in the NFL. He also intercepted three passes, recovered two fumbles and forced another. It won’t show up in the stat sheet, but Tremaine Edmunds also wouldn’t have had this pick-six if not for the enormous hit that Edwards laid on Cedric Tillman.

If Edwards simply picks up where he left off last year, he’ll play a huge role in the team’s success in 2024. If he takes another step forward as he gets more comfortable in Eberflus’ defense, he could start earning national attention as one of the best linebackers in the league.

ROSCHON JOHNSON – RUNNING BACK

D’Andre Swift should be the focal point of the Bears rushing attack this season, as a multi-talented rusher who can help out in the passing game. The days of the bellcow back are all but done in the NFL, however. Unless a team has a guy like Derrick Henry, Christian McCaffrey or Saquon Barkley leading the way, most coaches opt for a running back by committee approach. The Bears might not split carries evenly between Swift and their RB2, but their RB2 probably will receive significant snaps, and that’s where Johnson comes into the picture.

Johnson showed flashes of the physical power that drew the Bears to him in last year’s draft, but he never hit 40 yards in a game and averaged just over five carries per game. The team will likely want to see more of him in 2024, since Khalil Herbert’s contract expires at the end of this season.

If Johnson looks good as the thunder to Swift’s lightning this year, Poles could feel good about moving forward with that duo, letting Herbert walk in free agency, and potentially reloading the room with another rookie. If not, he might want to consider retaining Herbert or making a more significant move. Either way, it seems like Johnson is in line for more action this year.

Most of the offseason talk about the defensive line has been dedicated to debating whether or not Gervon Dexter is ready to step up as the team’s next starting three-tech. Deservedly so, since the team will need him to generate pressure from the middle of the pocket for the defense to perform up to its lofty expectations. In a perfect world, though, the Bears want to deploy two waves of linemen in a relentless attack. That would allow the team to both present different looks to opposing offensive lines, and keep the pass rushers as fresh as possible through the fourth quarter.

In order to do that, the Bears will need Pickens to develop just as much as they need Dexter to develop. Pickens played just 25% of the team’s defensive snaps last season, working a lot as Billings’ backup at nose tackle. This year he has the opportunity to show off some of his versatility with three-tech reps, too. Defensive tackle remains one of the thinnest, if not the thinnest, position groups on the team. Poles only added Byron Cowart and a handful of UDFAs to the corps over the offseason. It’s tough for UDFAs to make a big impact in their rookie seasons and Cowart didn’t play in a game last season as he bounced between the Chiefs, Texans and Dolphins practice squads throughout the year, so Pickens appears to have the best shot of taking over as a DT on the Bears’ second unit.

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