Five Bears named to Pro Bowl
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For a franchise that went the last three seasons without a Pro Bowl selection, Tuesday night was nothing short of remarkable.
Five Bears — outside linebacker Khalil Mack, defensive lineman Akiem Hicks, safety Eddie Jackson, cornerback Kyle Fuller and returner Tarik Cohen — were named to the Pro Bowl on Jan. 27 in Orlando, Florida.
That is, unless the NFC North champions are playing in a more important game the following week in Atlanta.
“I definitely want to play in the Super Bowl over the Pro Bowl,” Cohen said Tuesday afternoon.
He won’t stay home either way.
The Bears, Saints and Cowboys had five Pro Bowl players, tied for the most in the NFC. The Chargers led all teams with seven, followed by the Chiefs and Steelers with six. The last time the Bears had five Pro Bowl players was after the 2013 season.
Mack, Hicks, Jackson and Fuller are the first Bears defensive players to be named on selection night since 2012. The Bears didn’t have a single defender named to the Pro Bowl under John Fox. The last one to make the team was cornerback Tim Jennings, who was first an alternate, after the 2013 season.
“I think we have several guys who are very deserving, and it’s about time,” defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said last week. “There’s been a long drought and I think we should have a good representation.”
Under Fox, guards Kyle Long and Josh Sitton, and running back Jordan Howard made the team after being alternates on selection night.
The Bears also have a whopping seven alternates, though the team didn’t specify exactly how far down the list they are: quarterback Mitch Trubisky, center Cody Whitehair, left tackle Charles Leno, tight end Trey Burton, outside linebacker Leonard Floyd, and inside linebackers Danny Trevathan and Roquan Smith.
All that recognition is the product of a 10-4 season and a division crown.
The 88-man Pro Bowl roster was voted upon by three groups — fans, coaches and players — weighted equally. Four of the Bears were first-timers — all but Mack — though none qualified as a surprise.
Mack, whom the Bears made the NFL’s highest-paid defender ever after a September trade, has 12½ sacks, the most of any player in franchise history not named Richard Dent. He has been the spark that turned a top-10 defense from 2017 into one of the league’s best.
The Bears have a league-leading 26 interceptions. Fuller is tied for the NFL lead with seven. Jackson has six, tied for the league lead among safeties. Jackson scored three defensive touchdowns this year and has five in his first two seasons. Only former Jets safety Erik McMillan can make the same claim.
Jackson sealed the win against the rival Packers on Sunday with an interception in the end zone, but sprained his right ankle during the return. He remained in a walking boot Tuesday.
Hicks is having as good of a season as any player on the team, Mack included. He has six sacks this year after posting a career-high 8½ last season.
Cohen leads the NFL with 413 punt return yards, though his 13.3-yard average is fourth in the league. Though he was voted in as a special-teamer, Cohen’s 704 receiving yards and 405 rushing yards have made him one of the Bears’ top offensive weapons.
Like Jackson, Cohen was drafted in the fourth round in 2017. General manager Ryan Pace inherited Fuller before re-signing him last offseason. He traded for Mack and signed Hicks as a free agent.
Fuller said Tuesday afternoon that any honor would reflect well on the Bears.
“I think it just shows we have a better team, we’re having a better year,” Fuller said. “So guys are playing better to get that nod, for good reason. I just think it shows the team we have and the guys we have on our team.”