The youngsters have come and gone during Danny Trevathan’s five seasons at inside linebacker for the Bears, and he has fought off every one of them. Even when the draft-and-develop plan materialized beautifully with Nick Kwiatkoski, the Bears let him walk and paid Trevathan instead.
It’s surprising, then, that the newest — and perhaps most threatening — challenger arrived in the form of a peer. It’s not a feisty, fresh-faced upstart trying to pry into his playing time this season. It’s ninth-year veteran Alec Ogletree, an accomplished almost-30-year-old whom the rest of the NFL had given up on.
Ogletree walked into Halas Hall on Aug. 4 and vaulted himself into a roster spot within days. This week, coach Matt Nagy acknowledged that Ogletree had gained enough ground on Trevathan to earn a share of the snaps.
“It’s always great to have guys that can play linebacker with me,” Trevathan said Thursday when asked about Ogletree pushing him. “I’m always competing, so it doesn’t matter who’s out there or whatever. I’m trying to make the best of each situation while I’m out there.”
Age hadn’t come up much for Trevathan, now 31, until last season. Once that enters the conversation, it’s difficult to silence.
Inside linebacker is a position where top players rarely leave the field, as Roquan Smith demonstrated by playing 94.9% of the snaps last season. Trevathan was just shy of that mark in 2018, back when you couldn’t imagine the Bears’ defense without him.
But last season, there were concerns about decline early, no matter how much Nagy and former defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano tried to downplay them.
The Bears nearly lost their opener when Lions running back D’Andre Swift beat Trevathan to the end zone before dropping what would’ve been the game-winning touchdown pass with six seconds left. Trevathan played fewer than half the snaps the next week and was under 80% for 11 of 16 games.
He got better as the season went on and finished with 113 tackles, the second-most of his career. He also had five pass breakups and a forced fumble.
But again, questions about age tend to be persistent.
“I’m not thinking about the age situation,” Trevathan said. “I’m not losing my hair like [reporters] are, nothing like that. I feel great.
“I like when people don’t think that I can do something. It motivates me more.”
It’s good that he feels that way because it’s hard to envision anyone more desperate than Ogletree as he claws to save his career. The Giants cut him after 2019, he spent most of last season either on the Jets’ practice squad or unemployed and went without a job offer this year until the Bears called.
No wonder he got busy so quickly, with six interceptions in his first four practices.
“He’s played well, and that’s all you can do,” Nagy said. “We love Danny to death, and we understand the leader that he is, the player he is. But ’Tree has come out here since day one . . . . Depending on where Danny is — status-wise, health-wise, etc. — we feel good with the way that ’Tree’s played.”
There’s no doubt that raises the pressure on Trevathan, but that seems to be how he likes it. His voice is still among the loudest on the Bears’ defense, and no one questions his will to fight — whether that’s against an opponent, a challenger on the depth chart or time itself. If Trevathan truly is facing the end, he won’t go quietly.