Heart of the defense: Why it’s time to appreciate Bears LB Danny Trevathan
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Adam L. Jahns’ “Inside the Huddle” Bears column appears in game-day editions of the Chicago Sun-Times.
A hit during Danny Trevathan’s freshman year at Leesburg (Florida) High School changed his career trajectory.
“I was a running back, but I didn’t have the juke moves,” Trevathan said. “I used to run people over.”
But then . . . WHACK!
“I had got hit one time, blindsided-ly,” Trevathan said. “I was like, ‘I don’t know. I’m thinking about joining the band. I don’t know about this.’ My coach moved me to defense one time. I was like, ‘OK, if they can hit people like this, let me see how I feel this. I might like this.’ ”
He did. In fact, he said, he fell in love with defense on his first hit. He became a three-year starter at linebacker at Leesburg, then a coveted recruit for Kentucky and eventually a Super Bowl winner with the Broncos. His Bears teammates now consider him the heart of a defense that should be one of league’s best this year and beyond.
“I’m just trying to be whatever my team needs me to be, but still be myself,” Trevathan said. “We can’t do this for a long time. We’ve just got to enjoy it and have fun with the guys when you’re out there. And let’s make a splash while we’re out there. Why not do it big when we’re out there? That’s my whole saying: ‘Why are we out here if we’re just going to play? Let’s go play to win.’ ”
For defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, the difference in Trevathan’s play in his third season with the Bears starts with his availability. He missed a portion of training camp with a hamstring injury but still participated in the full offseason program.
“His first year or two, between the injuries, he was up and down because he really wasn’t honed in on what we’re doing,” Fangio said. “And Danny is a guy that needs to practice and he needs to play. And finally, this past offseason, he got to partake in all of that.”
When Trevathan is there, Fangio sees a difference throughout the defense.
“He’s one of those guys that when he’s out on the field, his intensity level even heightens,” Fangio said. “He loves tackling people. It’s the physical contact part of the game, and I think, that’s contagious.”
It’s partly why safety Eddie Jackson considers Trevathan the heart of the unit. Trevathan has the responsibility of relaying Fangio’s calls, but he gets his teammates’ blood flowing, which matters more.
“Even in the game, when we’re tired and he’s tired, he’s like, ‘Let’s go. Let’s finish. I know we’re hurting. Let’s finish!’ ” Jackson said. “[It’s] just that mindset he has, that mentality.”
In a sense, Trevathan is overlooked. He never has been voted to the Pro Bowl or named an All-Pro. The Broncos drafted him in the sixth round in 2012 and didn’t re-sign him after his fourth season and their victory over the Panthers in Super Bowl 50. The NFC Player of the Week award that he received for his performance against the Seahawks last Monday night was the first of his career.
Is Trevathan, with his long injury history, capable of being an All-Pro player?
“I never want to put a ceiling on a guy, but he certainly can,” Fangio said.
Simply put, the defense is better with him. The Bears are 2-9 when he doesn’t play.
“I think there’s a lot of respect for him in the NFL,” defensive lineman Akiem Hicks said. “I think people are afraid of his speed. I feel like he can cover anybody. I feel like he can come and hit with the best of them. He’s an elite linebacker.”
Following a champion
Outside linebacker Khalil Mack might be the new face of the Bears’ defense, but Trevathan has something he wants — that Super Bowl ring.
“You can tell he won a championship,” Mack said. “That’s definitely what he’s bringing to the table. [It’s] that communication and that vibe that you feel from your vocal leader.”
Trevathan, of course, knows better than anyone at Halas Hall what it takes to win a Super Bowl. He’s been on both sides of it. The Seahawks blew out the Broncos, coached by future Bears coach John Fox, 43-8 in Super Bowl 48. Two years later, Trevathan was part of an outstanding Broncos defense that pummeled Panthers quarterback Cam Newtown for a 24-10 win. Trevathan led the Broncos with eight tackles and recovered two fumbles against the Panthers.
“His intentions and his passion for the game are Super Bowl-caliber,” Fangio said.
So when Trevathan says he sees something special brewing on defense for the Bears, it shouldn’t be ignored.
“It’s just that feeling: confidence,” Trevathan said. “I remember what Mrs. Virginia McCaskey said about the ’85 Bears. She said they were so confident, it was scary. I want us to be confident, on the verge of cocky. It’s OK to be that. You’ve got to believe that, and you’ve got to work like that, too. You’ve got to show up. If you feel like that and we have that working, nobody can stop us, man.”
He said the defense has to prove itself every week.
“You’ve got to stay hungry,” he said. “Let’s take it on, man, and let’s be great while we’re out here. Let’s not go out there and [b.s.]. Let’s not just go through the phases and miss our opportunity to be great and bring this city back to life.”
Playing it quick
With the Cardinals and other opponents expected to focus on stopping Bears running back Jordan Howard, it will be interesting to see how much coach Matt Nagy uses the quick passing game that worked well for quarterback Mitch Trubisky in the second half against the Seahawks.
“[It was] just getting the ball out quick, playing within myself and in this offense and just doing my job,” said Trubisky, who only had two incompletions over the final two quarters of the Bears’ 24-17 win Monday night.
An 11-play scoring drive in the second half that didn’t include a third down was especially encouraging. Trubisky went 4-for-4 for 31 yards and a 10-yard touchdown pass to receiver Anthony Miller. That included two quick receiver screens and two plays where Trubisky’s launch points were changed off play fakes.
“When you stay out of [third-down] situations, then they’re not able to bring their more exotic blitzes,” Trubisky said. “[It’s] keeping them off-balance. We were just in a rhythm as an offense. That’s the type of rhythm you could see our offense getting into in the future, if we just stay on track and everyone does their job and focuses.”
Rotating in the rookie
Miller and linebacker Roquan Smith weren’t the only Bears rookies to play well against the Seahawks. Defensive tackle Bilal Nichols also was noticeable in his debut.
“It was a great opportunity for me,” Nichols said of playing 11 snaps after being inactive in Week 1.
Nichols, a fifth-round round pick, improved the Bears’ interior pass rush. Outside linebacker Aaron Lynch’s sack of Russell Wilson started with Nichols’ push in the middle. He forced Seahawks center Justin Britt into Wilson, who shuffled into Lynch.
It was a powerful move that bodes well for the Bears and Nichols’ playing time going forward. Third-year defensive lineman Jonathan Bullard only was on the field for 19 plays in Week 2.
“I can definitely say since I’ve been here that my pass-rushing technique has consistently gotten better,” Nichols said.
Send your questions for the Sunday Twitter mailbag to @adamjahns.
Why is [wide receiver] Kevin White getting more reps than [Javon] Wims even though he’s not producing? — @sabirsalah1
A: I received plenty of questions about White this week. White isn’t producing because he isn’t playing. He only was on the field for two snaps against the Seahawks after getting 12 at Green Bay. It’s telling that the Bears have called a screen for special-teams stalwart Josh Bellamy – a six-yard gain Monday night – but not for White this season. It’s also telling that rookie Anthony Miller plays on special teams while White doesn’t. At this point, White’s role is minimal. But the same would be true for Wims if he were active. That said, Wims, a seventh-round pick, did show more promise than White did during the preseason. I’m not really sure where White fits in this offense.
Would Kyle Fuller lead the league in interceptions if he just turns around? — @greatnxss_
A: I made an appearance with former Bears cornerback Charles Tillman on NBC Sports Chicago on Tuesday night. Asked about Fuller’s performance (two touchdowns allowed in two weeks) and specifically about turning around to see the ball, Tillman said one reason cornerbacks don’t turn to the ball during plays is because they’re out of position. So I’ll take Tillman’s word for it when it comes to Fuller. He’s the best Bears cornerback of all time. But Fuller does need to start playing up to his four-year, $56 million contract extension.
What sense do you get on the timeline for [rookie guard James] Daniels’ insertion into starting lineup? — @Matt_9730
A: This is another question that several people on Twitter had. My sense is that the Bears are content with Eric Kush at left guard for the time being, but that they also want their ground game to improve as soon as possible. Could Daniels fix that? Possibly. His athleticism and strength could make the difference on the Bears’ zone runs. But let’s see what happens against the Cardinals. Daniels turned 21 last week and has a lot of football ahead of him.