Bears Young Players to Watch – Offense

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports /
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Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports /

With the Bears record at just 2-6 and already an extreme longshot to make the playoffs, the rest of the season should be focused on developing core players for the future on both sides of the ball. The Bears have had so many injuries this season, that they have been forced to put players on the field who are not necessarily ready for NFL action. The inexperience of many Bears players is a big reason their record is so poor this season, but the NFL snaps should speed up their learning curve and benefit the Bears in the near future.

The Bears should have some of their injured players returning to the lineup soon, but with the playoffs a pipe dream, the young players should still see plenty of snaps. You never know with John Fox, but hopefully he realizes that the rest of the 2016 season should be about player development.

I’ll break down the players to keep on eye on in the second half of the Bears 2016 season on offense below and then cover the defensive players in my next post. If there is anyone you think I missed, let me know in the comments.

Offensive players to watch

WR Cameron Meredith – The Bears future at the receiver position in uncertain with Alshon Jeffery a free agent and Kevin White’s inability to stay on the field. Meredith has already started to earn attention as a possible replacement with two 100+ yard receiving games after another Kevin White injury opened up a spot in the starting lineup.

The former Illinois St quarterback is in just his second season at the receiver position, but has proven to be a natural route runner with reliable hands. Meredith also has shown the ability to break tackles and make something happen after the catch, which we haven’t really seen from Jeffery or White the Bears other outside receiving threats.

Most of Meredith’s success has come with Brian Hoyer at QB, he was only targeted a couple of times in Jay Cutler’s first start back, so it’s yet to be seen if he will be a primary target in the second half. If Meredith can continue to play well through the rest of the season, it will give the Bears some leverage in negotiations with Jeffery and could possibly give the Bears one of the best receiving cores in the NFL with Jeffery, White, Royal, and Meredith in 2017.

Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports
Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports /

G/C Cody Whitehair – Despite being bounced between guard and center his rookie year, Whitehair has been one of the most pleasant surprises on the Bears this season. He really struggled in the season opener at center, but in his defense he had only been moved to the position a few days before week one after the Bears signed G Josh Sitton.

Whitehair has gotten better every week with possibly his most impressive performance coming last week against the Vikings fierce d-line with two new starters at guard on either side of him. He was able to take over the calls at the line of scrimmage without Kyle Long or Sitton next to him and made some key blocks that helped RB Jordan Howard rush for 153 yards against one of the best run defenses in football.

Whitehair will be the Bears center for the rest of 2016, but with 2015 3rd round pick Hroniss Grasu expected back next year, Whitehair may be moved back to guard or even right tackle in 2017. Regardless of where he ends up, he’s proved he can handle NFL d-lineman and should be a key member of the Bears future offensive line.

LT Charles Leno Jr – It feels like he’s been around for awhile, but Leno Jr just turned 25 last month and is only in his 3rd NFL season. The 2014 7th round pick is now halfway through his 2nd season as the Bears starting left tackle but is still a developing player.

Leno had his ups and downs (more downs admittedly) in 2015, but he’s improved significantly this season. He still gets beat occasionally by elite rushers, but since playing NFC sack leader Ezekial Ansah to a draw in the last game of 2015, Leno has played with more confidence and skill. Coming out of the 2014 draft, Leno’s biggest weak spot was a lack of strength. After a couple of years in the league, Leno has had time to bulk off and combined with his quick feet he is looking like one of the steals of the 2014 draft.

Coming out of the 2014 draft, Leno’s biggest weak spot was a lack of strength. After a couple of years in the league, Leno has had time to bulk off and combined with his quick feet he is looking like one of the steals of the 2014 draft.

Going into next season, the Bears will have to decide whether they want to pick up Leno’s option year in 2018 and also if he is the left tackle of the future. He’s shown so much improvement in just a year and a half, but still needs to get better if he’s going to be in the future plans at a premier position. How Leno plays the 2nd half of this season will go a long way in determining whether left tackle is a position of need or not for the Bears in next year’s draft.