By Bryan Dietzler
The 2016 NFL season has ended and to fans of the Chicago Bears, it has been one of the most painful in recent memory. There is no way that Bears fans want to go through another season like that. It was simply horrible.
But through all the darkness and despair there has been a silver lining to the 2016 season. There have been players who have stood out and played well, giving the Bears hope for the future. But then there have been some guys that have struggled and caused the Bears problems. They have helped make this season a miserable one.
Now that the season is over, it’s time to hand out some honors to a few Bears players and coaches. We should recognize some of the good and just a tiny bit of the bad that was part of the Bears season. Some people deserve recognition for what they did or didn’t do in 2016.
What do you say Bears’ fans? Let’s go back to the “dark ages” one more time before we close the book on the 2016 season.
So, without further ado, here are a few honors to hand out to the 2016 Chicago Bears for what they did and didn’t do last season.
Team MVP/Offensive Player of the Year/Offensive Rookie of the Year/Bears Rookie of the Year-I have covered this a previous article so I won’t say too much about it. Jordan Howard should easily be considered the MVP of the Bears in 2016. When he was utilized effectively, the Bears had some success and he proved that, for a fifth round pick, he can play. He came in second in the NFL with 1313 yards earning player of the week and player of the month honors along the way.
Howard was productive and consistent. He proved himself to be the best player not only on offense but on the entire team. Let’s just hope he can continue the effort next year.
Honorable Mention-Akiem Hicks- (See Below)
Offensive/Bears Rookie of the Year Honorable Mention-Cody Whitehair-Whitehair played in and started in all 16 games at center for the Bears. He was their most consistent offensive lineman in 2016 and played well for it being his first year in the league. For someone who was supposed to play guard and maybe see time this year, he stepped up and had a remarkable season. He leaves the Bears with a tough decision next year with Hroniss Grasu coming back.
Defensive Player of the Year-Akiem Hicks-Trying to find someone who was consistent and productive on the team in 2016 was difficult. There were so many injuries which forced players in and out of the lineup, you could hardly rely on any player to put a string of games together. But there was one guy who played in and started in all 16 games and was productive. That player was Akiem Hicks.
Hicks, in his first season with the Bears, he recorded seven sacks and was the leader of the defensive line. He put together a strong of good games when some couldn’t even put together back to back games. With so many injuries, he was the most consistent of all the defenders the Bears put on the field last year. He made general manager Ryan Pace look brilliant.
Defensive Player of the Year Honorable Mention-Jerrell Freeman-Had Freeman not missed four games due to a suspension for PEDs, he would have easily been the defensive MVP. Freeman was all over the field making plays in every game he played in. He was another free agent that made Pace look like he knows what he is doing. Freeman has a lot of potential and could easily be a Pro Bowl player.
Defensive Rookie of the Year-Tie-Nick Kwiatkoski and Leonard Floyd-It’s hard to pick between Floyd and Kwiatkoski for this honor. Floyd did not play in every game due to injury. Kwiatkoski didn’t play in every game because of the talent ahead of him. He played in 14 games with seven starts while Floyd played in 12 games with 12 starts. Both have very good futures with the Bears especially Floyd if he can stay healthy.
These are two of Pace’s better draft picks. If they can stay healthy and not hit the “year two” wall, they might be Pro Bowlers someday.
Special Teams Player of the Year-Joshua Bellamy-Most fans know Bellamy for his dropped passes and not his special teams play. However, Bellamy quietly had one of the best seasons of any special teams player in the league. He wreaked havoc acting as the “gunner” on coverage units keeping opponents from gaining a lot of yards on returns.
Did you know that he even received one All-Pro vote for his play this year? Not bad for a guy who is known more for what he didn’t do than what he did.
Special Teams Player of the Year Honorable Mention-Pat O’Donnell-Although he didn’t have his best season statistically, he did keep Bears’ opponents somewhat at bay in 2016. Good coverage units helped too and allowed just one touchdown on a punt return all season. There weren’t too many bright spots for the Bears on special teams but O’Donnell did help at least a little.
Game of the Year-The Bear’s 20-10 win over the Minnesota Vikings on Halloween was their most dominant game of the season. The Vikings came into the game with a highly-ranked defense but had stumbled the previous week. Everyone thought they would get back on track against Chicago. No one thought the Bears could win but they not only won, they also dominated the game. It was perhaps the Bears’ best performance since head coach John Fox came to the Bears in 2015. It was easily the best performance of the season.
Dud of the Year-Chicago Bears Strength and Conditioning Staff- If there was one glaring, huge issue on this team throughout the entire season, it was injuries. Now some injuries cannot be avoided but you can prevent them and come back quicker if you have a good medical staff.
A few years ago, the Bears had a strength and conditioning coach named Rusty Jones. When he was in Chicago, the Bears enjoyed excellent health and suffered few injuries. He proved that a strength and conditioning coordinator can make a big difference. The Bears need to find someone who can keep their players healthy and be an asset .
Coach of the Year-Vic Fangio-Fangio deserves a lot credit for what he was able to do despite the team’s record. He also accomplished some good things despite the obvious glaring weaknesses his defense had. He managed to have the leagues’ number seven pass defense. Chicago’s defense ranked 15th in total yards allowed as well. Not bad for being one of the worst teams in the league.
With the right, healthy, pieces in place, Fangio should be able to put together a solid defense in 2017. He is seasoned and knows how to call a good defense. The Bears have been lucky to have him.
Coach of the Year Honorable Mention-Dave Magazu-Magazu was the team’s offensive line coach until he got fired last week. He took a unit that was wrought with injuries and made them into a dependable group. Magazu took a rookie and made him one of the best centers in the league (Whitehair). It was truly quite a piece of work. He will be missed.