Shutting up the critics: Bears’ 2017 draft (Pro Bowl) class was great one

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Bears receiver Josh Bellamy interviews his Pro Bowl teammates: Tarik Cohen, Mitch Trubisky and Eddie Jackson. | Adam L. Jahns/Chicago Sun-Times.

ORLANDO, Fla. — Mitch Trubisky’s “Zero Dark 10” break from social media amounted to a span of six months and 20 days between Twitter messages. Or 204 days to be exact.

But on Monday, he returned.

“See y’all in Orlando!” he said in a message shared on Twitter and Instagram. “Can’t thank my family, teammates, friends, and Bears fans enough for all the love and support this year. Very thankful, much love!”

Trubisky was back — and back in style. It was more than an everyday post on social media. His first message in months was a loud-and-clear statement about the Bears and himself.

Trubisky was off to the Pro Bowl. He was an alternate replacement, but it still was a meaningful honor for a young quarterback who remained a lightning rod for criticism despite his obvious improvements under coach Matt Nagy.

“I got a positive welcome,” Trubisky said at ESPN Wide World of Sports in Disney World. “Usually, social media has been negative for me.”

Back on the grid, Trubisky noticed the conversation had changed about the Bears, himself and particularly about the 2017 draft class.

Trubisky saw some of the old draft grades from media outlets — a D-plus from Yahoo! Sports, a D from Bleacher Report and an F from Rotoworld.

And Trubisky was reminded of old, anonymous quotes that ridiculed the Bears’ trade for him and their ensuing selections of tight end Adam Shaheen, safety Eddie Jackson, running back Tarik Cohen and offensive lineman Jordan Morgan.

“People were bashing us,” Trubisky said. “Who are these guys? Where are they from? Why did we bring them to Chicago?

“And that’s why … ”

Why?

The Bears went 12-4 this season, won the NFC North and sent three players from that 2017 draft class to the Pro Bowl.

• • •

After the NFC team’s final practice Friday, the Bears players in the Pro Bowl received a special visit from teammate Josh Bellamy.

Playing team reporter, Bellamy interviewed Cohen and Jackson … and then Trubisky ran in and interrupted them from behind.

All three players went nuts.

“Tru! Tru! Tru!” they chanted.

It was another fun moment in Florida for Trubisky, Cohen and Jackson, the Bears’ three Pro Bowl players from their once-ridiculed 2017 draft class.

“It’s funny because we felt so good about that draft,” director of player personnel Josh Lucas told the Sun-Times in a recent interview. “We got our quarterback, and we only had four more picks, but we had a lot of love for all four of those guys.”

It’s funny to look back at the criticism, too. The worst came in an article from CBS insider Jason LaCanfora on April 30.

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“We don’t know what the hell they were doing,” said an anonymous executive who was described as being “routinely” in the postseason with his team. “… I don’t know anyone who likes their draft.”

It got worse, too.

“Either the Bears know something no one else in the league knows, or that draft just got a lot of people fired, only they don’t know it yet,” another anonymous executive said in the article.

That’s fine. As if the Bears cared.

The Bears loved what they did, starting with their trade for Trubisky. The Browns, Jets and Bills didn’t get him. That’s all that mattered.

“When you’re that far into it and you’re this close to getting the guy you want, there was zero chance we were taking any kind of chance,” said Lucas, who played an integral role in scouting Trubisky.

“Knowing that you might be giving up some picks like we did to move up a spot to take Mitch, it makes each and every other pick that more important, as far as you have to hit on a guy.”

And the Bears nearly hit on all of them.

• • •

Don’t forget about Shaheen. That’s what Jackson wants everyone to know when the Bears’ 2017 draft class is looked at.

Having guarded Shaheen in practice, Jackson knows what the Bears’ second-round pick from that year is capable of when he’s healthy. He just hasn’t been in his first two seasons.

“We’re very close, especially us three [in Orlando] and Adam, as well,” Jackson said. “Our mindset was all on the same page, to come in and try to get this thing rolling and turned around. Work hard and do our part.”

Jackson and Cohen did that and more this season. They make the Bears’ 2017 draft class a special one. They’re not only Pro Bowl players but first-team All-Pro selections.

“Obviously, to get two guys that are in the Pro Bowl in their second years — both in the fourth round — we’re ecstatic about [it],” Lucas said.

The Bears’ evaluations of Jackson and Cohen were different, yet similar.

Jackson was a star at a powerhouse school in Alabama, but he had durability issues, especially after having a rod inserted into his broken leg.

Cohen was a small-school star at North Carolina A&T, a college that some NFL teams will overlook year after year.

“We’re trying to narrow the board down as much as possible to take guys that have the right makeup and character that we’re looking for,” Lucas said. “So we exclude a lot of guys. After that, we really do try to stick to the best player available.”

The Bears’ best players will differ from other teams’, too. General manager Ryan Pace has five traits that he wants his scouts to identify. It’s how they’ve built their new culture. Morgan, the Bears’ fifth-round pick from 2017, is the only selection no longer on the team.

“We, as a staff, have done better each year really knowing and really being able to identify what a Bear is,” Lucas said.

As always, the selections of Jackson and Cohen became a matter of conviction for the Bears.

The Bears traded up to draft Jackson, who had first- and second-round grades before his injuries at Alabama. Jackson made too much sense in the fourth round because he displayed too many special attributes. It’s not easy to find ball-hawking safeties. So the Bears made sure to get one.

“The talent was worth the risk,” Lucas said.

Area scout Sam Summerville, meanwhile, continuously went to bat for Cohen, displaying the type of bold conviction that Pace and Lucas want from their scouts. In a deep year for “joker” backs, selecting Cohen worked at any point in the fourth round. They envisioned a potential steal.

“That story really only happens, No. 1, when you have really good scouts like Sam, but also when it’s a real small-school guy,” Lucas said. “If Tarik Cohen was at Alabama, he would have been drafted higher, for sure. There would have been so many more eyes on him.”

• • •

After the second day of practice, the Bears’ seven Pro Bowl players — Trubisky, Cohen, Jackson, defensive lineman Akiem Hicks, cornerback Kyle Fuller, center Cody Whitehair and left tackle Charles Leno Jr. — gathered in the middle of the field for a family photo.

“It’s definitely significant to have an impact on a team in the NFL as crucial as we did,” Cohen said afterward.

But Cohen isn’t done. The Pro Bowl will come and go.

“When this week is over, you snap back to reality,” Cohen said. “The nice reminder is that there’s going to be a game played after this week. When that game comes on, you’re going to be reminded that you’re not in that game.”

The Bears’ 2017 draft class isn’t a complacent bunch.

“That’s why we draft these guys,” Lucas said. “We want sore losers. We want guys that when the game is over, that it takes them a while to get over it.

“It’s such a part of the fabric of what we’re trying to build behind Mitch, Eddie and Tarik and a lot of other guys.”

In the end, it was a franchise-changing draft for the Bears. Next year, the same might be said about the 2018 class with linebacker Roquan Smith, guard James Daniels, receiver Anthony Miller and defensive lineman Bilal Nichols.

“People always will underestimate you and give you grades or whatever, but we’re here,” Trubisky said. “There is nothing they can say now, really. We just got to keep getting better and enjoy it.”

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