Bears' 2021 Draft class will help team get tough, win close games

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Why 'toughness' is most important trait for Bears rookies originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

On the surface, players like Justin Fields and Teven Jenkins/Larry Borom could not be more different. One is an athletic quarterback, known for his great arm, being groomed as the next face of the franchise. The other two are maulers in the trenches. They’re known for raw power, not flashy highlight plays. But if you listen to how Ryan Pace talks about the new rookies, and how they talk about themselves, you might start to pick up on a trend, or an identity the Bears are trying to build in Halas Hall.

“You know, I was at the Michigan game a couple years ago when he came back in from a knee,” Pace said of Fields after the first round of the draft. “And we know about the ribs and the hip, and this guy’s toughness on a scale of 1-10 is an 11. And you just love that about him.”

"My edge to me is about being able to finish anybody in the dirt,” said Jenkins when he was picked. “I don't care who you are lining up against me, I don't care what you earn against me, I don't care who you are, I'm going to attack you. ... Basically, I want to impose my will against another man and use that force against him until he gets worn out and tired. And I don't care how long it takes. I'm going to do that 24/7 and I'm going to do that all game."

“As a player, I’m a mean, physical, dominant big person that’s going to displace people off the line of scrimmage,” said Larry Borom in his introductory press conference.

Sounds like a bunch of guys you’d want on your side if a scrap breaks out. And it’s no mistake that all these tough guys are in Chicago now.

“That’s something we’re stressing,” Pace said after Day Two of the draft. “It really is. That toughness in all areas of our team. It’s been something we’ve talked about for a while now… so it’s been something that we’ll continually strive for.”

Adding that toughness is something that could help the Bears win more close games in the future. Last season, they were 6-5 in one-score games. That’s not bad, but if the Bears want to make a deep playoff run, they’ll probably want to perform better when the score is tight. And the Bears’ toughness, coupled with their opponents’ perception of their toughness, could affect the outcome of the game. That’s something former Bear Alex Brown noted last month on the Under Center Podcast.

“When we played the Saints back in ‘06, we thought they were soft,” Brown said. “There’s no way this soft team’s going to beat us. Just don’t give up the big plays… limit those and we’ll beat this team, because they’re not tough enough.”

The Bears did limit the big plays to one explosive Reggie Bush run in that game. And the Bears were able to take a small 16-14 third quarter lead, and turn it into a 39-14 blowout win.

According to NBC Sports Chicago’s Adam Hoge, the Bears were perceived to be that soft team in 2020.

“That is a reputation that the Bears have on offense,” Hoge said on that same episode of the Under Center Podcast. “It just is. It's just how people view–  whether it's people in the media, fans, I'm talking about their opponents. That matters… The Bears just haven't been an offensive line that will beat you down throughout a football game, that will wear you down so that you win in the fourth quarter.”

“The nastiness, you need that guy,” Brown said. “You need that guy that if there's a fight that breaks out, he probably started it. When I look at this offense currently constructed… I don't know who that guy is.”

Well now there’s no question about it. Over the draft the Bears added a bunch of nasty in Jenkins and Borom. They’ve got a leader with unquestioned grit in Fields. If the Bears get pushed around, they’ve got players who are going to push back.

“Now we might have something,” Brown said. “Now when Montgomery gets going, he's not going to be afraid to go, ‘Hey man, let's just run the ball, right here, right behind me, this B gap right here, or get outside, because my guy is nervous right now.'

“All of them will follow that. All of them will follow that. Rookie or not, all of them will follow that nastiness, because they need it. They need an injection of nastiness on the offensive line.”

With spotty quarterback play, and questionable toughness in 2020, the Bears still managed an 8-8 record. The team is reportedly confident that even a marginal uptick in QB play will give them a bump in the W-L column alone. With Andy Dalton plus Justin Fields leading the way, instead of Mitchell Trubisky and Nick Foles, that seems like a given. Add in their newfound grittiness, and the Bears may turn a few heads around the league.

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