Chicago Bears defensive end Mitch Unrein is earning his keep

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 22: Quarterback Cam Newton
CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 22: Quarterback Cam Newton /

Mitch Unrein has earned his playing time, and may earn a chance to play in 2018 as well

Coming into the season many have pointed out Mitch Unrein as being the weakest link on the Chicago Bears defense. Unrein was thrust into a role last season due to injuries and was exposed as a rotational player. The hope was that either Jonathan Bullard, or Roy Robertson-Harris, both at age 24 would eventually unseat the 30-year old Unrein this season, and the Bears would head into 2018 with proven talent across the defensive front. However, Unrein has had none of that and has proven to be a relied on player not only for this season but potentially moving forward as well.

In fact, to the extreme contrary of his role being reduced this season, his role has increased, from playing 40% of the team’s snaps in 2016 to just over 50% in 2017. Unrein has earned that extended time. His five tackles last week put him at a career high already with six games left to be played. His sack on Sunday also put him at a career high, albeit at 1.5

Unrein is a player who will not always see the statistics if he plays to his role. However, he has taken that a step further into actually making impacts on the game. Sunday was arguably his best game of the season and a bright spot on a dreary game for the Bears.

Below, you can see how doing his job can end up without statistical reward at times. His responsibility is to hold down the line and make sure that the running back does not want to run towards him. In this particular play, the strength on the backside of Eddie Goldman and Akiem Hicks set Unrein up for the tackle. However, Unrein doing his job put him in line for the tackle.

Again, it is the initial push off of the line that forces him away from Unrein to the outside. The Bears set the edge well again, and Ameer Abdullah fell back into the arms of Unrein. His initial push off of the line is paying off.

Below is a sack that he absolutely earned. He uses force to push center Travis Swanson all the way back, forcing Matthew Stafford to adjust. Unrein is then able to break free from the center and catch up to Stafford for his first solo sack of the season.

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Unrein is a free agent this offseason at age 30. While the obvious idea would be to let him walk, it may be worth looking into bringing him back on a cheap two-year deal. They can still reduce his role, but he can take snaps at any spot on the line and is still playing serviceable football. He will have to finish 2017 strong, but it would not be surprising to see him back in Chicago in 2018.