Mark Potash: Final thoughts on the Bears 2016 season

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Packers wide receiver Jordy Nelson burns the Bears and cornerback Cre’Von LeBlanc for a 60-yard catch that set up a game-winning field goal in the Packers 30-27 victory at Soldier Field. (Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

With a 3-13 team, general manager Ryan Pace knew he didn’t have much to sell Bears fans. So with coach John Fox at his side, Pace made a promise:

“We’re going to get better. We will improve. I hear you. But I also understand this is just talk and we’ve got to show actions. We’ve got to show results. I fully get that.”

With Pace’s words in mind, here’s a look back and ahead:

This year’s MVP is …

Jordan Howard. The rookie running back was second in the NFL in rushing (1,313 yards) and second in yards per carry among rushers with 200 or more carries (5.2). He not only gives the Bears a running game they can build upon but also provided evidence that Ryan Pace and the Bears scouting staff can find talent anywhere in the draft.

The biggest disappointment was …

Nobody in the secondary — particularly at safety —stepped up in the second season under Vic Fangio. The Bears’ front seven was generally effective this season, but the back end of that equation — better secondary play — did not happen. In fact, the safeties Adrian Amos and Harold Jones-Quartey were no better in their second season than in their first and Deon Bush played like a rookie. They combined for just eight pass break-ups. There’s more hope at cornerback, where Bryce Callahan, Cre’Von LeBlanc and Deiondre Hall showed enough to provide hope they can take a big step next season.

My solution to the QB issue is …

Brian Hoyer should be the low-bar minimum — with a running game, an improved offensive line, a healthy Kevin White and an improved defense he should not be an impediment to a playoff run. But no doubt Ryan Pace will look to upgrade off that — a high (first or second round) draft pick, Jimmy Garoppolo or a free agent.

Keep your eye on Connor Shaw, whose accuracy under pressure gives him a chance to be something with a solid supporting cast.

Would you sign Alshon Jeffery?

Yes. Bears shouldn’t break the bank to sign Jeffery — who missed seven games in 2015 and four in 2016. But if they have enough cap space to overpay somebody, he would be the one — because he’s a home-grown talent who has proven that when healthy he can be a difference-making player. The question is: how badly does Jeffery want to be here?

With the third overall selection, I would take …

At this early stage of the draft evaluation process, I would trade down and take Ohio State safety Malik Hooker, who played only one season of college football, but looks like an instant playmaker in the secondary.

Are the Bears trending in the right direction?

If they can get healthy and stay healthy, yes. Bears have a foundation for growth at running back, the offensive line, and the front seven on defense. An upgrade at safety and an efficient quarterback are keys to taking the quantum leap toward playoff contention.

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