BOURBONNAIS – New Bears inside linebackers Danny Trevathan and Jerrell Freeman haven’t been to a Pro Bowl, but that shouldn’t matter.
The Bears don’t need Trevathan and Freeman to be a pair of Luke Kuechlys to make their defense better than it was last season.
Being themselves will do.
Last year at this time, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio was in the early stages of turning Shea McClellin and Christian Jones into his starters.
“It’s a big overnight jump between them two this year,” running back Ka’Deem Carey said.
As the Bears’ offensive players see it, here is how Trevathan and Freeman have changed the defense:
They can fly
Asked if Trevathan and Freeman’s speed was a noticeable difference from last season, wide receiver Eddie Royal smiled and his eyes widened.
“Jesus, yeah,” Royal said. “Those two linebackers, they can fly.”
Royal has tested that speed more than others. His routes often take him through the middle of the field.
“I get matched up with them sometimes,” said Royal, who in his ninth season. “You’re just impressed by it. [It’s] the quick-twitch, the fast-twitch, whatever you want to say, they got it. Their closing speed has been pretty amazing to see.”
They’ve run step-by-step with No. 1 tight end Zach Miller down the field, blown up screens to running back Jeremy Langford and shot gaps to beat Langford and other backs to the edge.
“You’ve got to play fast when you’re in the game with them,” Carey said. “They’re on you faster.”
They ‘freaking’ hit
Fullback Paul Lasike received the text message of his dreams this offseason: The Bears were installing formations with two backs.
After spending last year on the practice squad, Lasike would have a chance to prove that he could be a punishing lead blocker.
“It’s awesome,” he said. “I’m making the most of my opportunities.”
And most of those opportunities have come against Trevathan and Freeman.
“If you’re going to gain their respect as a fullback,” Lasike said, “you better be a freaking meathead.”
Their physicality demands it.
“Oh, man,” Lasike said. “You definitely feel it.”
It’s a fact of life that applies to any player who encounters Trevathan or Freeman. Carey is known for lowering his head at the point of contact, and he has felt the difference.
“Be ready when they’re in the game because they’re going to hit you [and] they’re going to thud you,” Carey said. “They’re going to play with that type of swag, and that’s the type of swag that we need.”
Right guard Kyle Long said he prepares for what essentially comes down to a fistfight when he gets to Trevathan.
“If you do get your hands on him to block him, he will fight like a crazy SOB to get off you, and he’ll get in your face and he’ll go after the ball,” Long said. “I think him and Jerrell do a lot of that the same.”
They’re smart, instinctual
Veteran right tackle Bobby Massie has one goal in mind when he reaches the second level of the defense in search of Trevathan or Freeman.
“I’m trying to smoke them guys,” Massie said.
It’s not easy.
“They’re so fast, and they play over the top of blocks and everything,” Massie said. “Their instincts are so good. It’s a good duo.”
As fast and tough as Trevathan and Freeman are, it’s their experience that shows up the most.
They’re able to play fast because they know what they’re doing with their assignments and reads, but they also can feel what’s going on around them.
It hasn’t taken Trevathan or Freeman long to understand their responsibilities in Fangio’s scheme. The Bears’ offensive players see it, whether it’s in coverage or against the run.
“You really just see how smart they are right away,” Royal said. “All they have to do is see a route one time, and the next time, they’re pretty much on top of you.”
Massie said Trevathan and Freeman call out the offense’s plays. But their smarts show up in other ways, too.
Carey said Trevathan will freeze backs he has in man coverage by faking blitzes.
“He just knows how to suck you in there when he has you,” Carey said. “He holds you in there on pass protection instead of [letting you] out on your route.”
Lasike said squaring up Trevathan and Freeman for a block requires an emphasis on fundamentals.
“You really have to have good [helmet] placement and good leverage if you want it to be a successful play,” he said. “You’ve got to keep track of where they are. You have to understand what the play is, too, where we’re going because ultimately they’re reacting off what we do.”
They have an edge
Lasike expects the banter to pick up during short-yardage situations.
“Especially when we’re doing third-and-one drills, there’s going to be some yapping and all sorts of stuff going on,” Lasike said.
One clear difference between this season and last is the bark that Trevathan and Freeman have.
They talk, yell, shove and celebrate, just like outside linebackers Pernell McPhee, Lamarr Houston and Willie Young and defensive end Akiem Hicks do.
Trevathan and Freeman have brought a bravado that was undoubtedly missing in the middle of the defense.
“[It’s] a different attitude, a different swagger to them, if you will, especially the two inside guys,” quarterback Jay Cutler said. “I mean those guys are flying around. They’re making the football team better.”
McClellin and Jones weren’t making the Bears better last year at this time. The team was too busy investing time and energy into making them better players.
“You want your defense to be aggressive and competitive, and that’s exactly what we got,” Royal said. “Every day [Trevathan and Freeman are] bringing it. They’re not going to back down from anybody. It’s going to be a fight every single day.”