Bears believe healthy defensive front could be team strength
BOURBONNAIS, Ill. (AP) If nothing else, Chicago Bears linebacker Danny Trevathan is undaunted.
He had to be helped off the field with a torn patellar tendon in his right knee the last time he played. But eight months later, he's practicing on a limited basis as he works his way back from an injury that has ruined careers.
''I feel like I'm right where I need to be, even a little bit more,'' Trevathan said. ''The plan is to keep easing me into things and keep trying to push toward greatness.''
Greatness is a word rarely used to describe the Bears.
They're coming off a last-place finish in the NFC North at 3-13 and one of their worst seasons in decades, yet they believe they have the makings of a strong front seven if they stay healthy.
That's a big ''if,'' considering Chicago had 19 players finish last season on injured reserve.
That list included quarterback Jay Cutler and star guard Kyle Long. But the defense wasn't spared, either.
Besides Trevathan, the Bears lost linebacker Lamarr Houston to a torn ACL in his left knee in the second game. Nose tackle Eddie Goldman was limited to six games and also wound up on IR because of an ankle injury.
Other players shuffled in and out of the lineup because of injuries, such as outside linebackers Leonard Floyd and Pernell McPhee.
Floyd was slowed by hamstring and calf issues and twice exited games because of concussions, fueling questions about his durability in an otherwise promising rookie season. He also had surgery on both shoulders at Georgia. But after being drafted No. 9 overall in 2016, he had seven sacks and four pass breakups.
McPhee missed the first six games last year following surgery on his left knee and sat out the finale because of a shoulder injury. Once again, he is on the mend.
McPhee showed up to camp with pain in his right knee and had arthroscopic surgery on Friday, meaning he is out indefinitely. That countered somewhat the good news about Trevathan.
''I think the health of our front seven is going to be important,'' general manager Ryan Pace said. ''Eddie Goldman coming back healthy is going to be significant. (Defensive end) Akiem Hicks playing at a high level. Signing (lineman) Jaye Howard in the offseason. The two inside linebackers. We know our depth at outside linebacker. I really feel like that could be a strength of this team. We've just got to keep that group healthy.''
A healthy and disruptive front seven would no doubt boost a defense that performed well last season before tailing off at the end. It would also go a long way toward producing turnovers - a big sticking point for Chicago a year ago. The Bears had a league-low 11 takeaways and intercepted just eight passes.
It would also take the load off an offense with a new starting quarterback in Mike Glennon.
''We've got quarterbacks who are going to need some time to adapt to the scheme,'' linebacker Willie Young said. ''So for us to play lights out ball, it's going to give them that freedom. It's going to give them that room for error. It's going to give them the ability to make those throws into those tight windows without hesitating. Because they've got so much confidence that the defense is going to get them the ball right back. So that's why it's going to be really important that we hunker down and get our job done.''
Trevathan is also thinking positive.
He insisted there is ''no doubt in my mind'' he and Jerrell Freeman can form the NFL's ''best tandem'' at inside linebacker if he makes it all the way back. Trevathan also knows what it takes to recover from a major injury. He bounced back from a dislocated kneecap in 2014 and subsequent surgery with Denver to start 15 games for the Broncos in the 2015 championship season.
''It's not my first rodeo,'' he said. ''The great ones come back from injuries, and there's nothing to them.''
NOTES: WR Markus Wheaton had his appendix removed Sunday morning after experiencing stomach pain and was expected to spend a night in the hospital. Coach John Fox said appendix did not burst. He said Wheaton started feeling pain around 4 a.m. and had surgery five hours later. ... G Kyle Long (ankle) returned after sitting out Saturday. But OL Taylor Boggs (concussion symptoms) and OL Eric Kush (hamstring) exited practice. RB Benny Cunningham has a sore neck.
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