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7 things to love about the Chicago Bears in 2021

There wasn’t much to love about the Chicago Bears’ performance following a disappointing 2020 season. But in the spirit of Valentine’s Day, we’re focusing on some of the things to love about the Bears.

Whether that’s some promising young players or Chicago’s new defensive coordinator, we managed to find some optimism heading into the new season.

Here are seven things to love about the Bears heading into a make-or-break 2021 season.

1 RB David Montgomery

AP Photo/Brett Duke

We finally got to see what running back David Montgomery was capable of last season when the Bears finally committed to running the football. Of course all it took was Matt Nagy handing over play-calling duties for it to happen, but it happened. Montgomery had a breakout season in the final half of the 2020 season, which helped him close the gap and finish fifth in the NFL in rushing yards (1,070) and scrimmage yards (1,508).

Makes you wonder what his stats would’ve been had they committed to the run and found an offensive line grouping earlier. Assuming the Bears remain committed to the run in 2021, look for Montgomery to help bring balance to this Bears offense that will likely have a new quarterback under center.

2 ILB Roquan Smith

AP Photo/Kyusung Gong

Where it stands, inside linebacker Roquan Smith remains the only first-round success in Ryan Pace’s tenure as Bears general manager. Smith had a breakout season in 2020, where he was among the NFL’s best linebackers. Smith led or was near the top of most statistical categories, including total tackles (139), solo tackles (98) and tackles-for-loss (18).

Smith was named second-team All-Pro in 2020. Heading into a contract year with Chicago, Smith’s future has never been brighter. While he did suffer a season-ending injury for the second year in a row, he’s been the backbone for the linebacker group and should certainly garner some more recognition next season.

3 Young players on the rise

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While Pace has been criticized for his ability to find talent in the first-round of the NFL draft, something he’s been known for is finding some gems in the later rounds. Or any round outside of the first. There is some hope for the future with some of the young talent on the roster, which starts with the 2020 draft class. Pace found some potential studs on offense with second-round tight end Cole Kmet and fifth-round receiver Darnell Mooney, who played a big role in 2020 but look to be the future for this offense.

Then there’s second-round cornerback Jaylon Johnson, who was the best rookie cornerback from the 2020 draft class before he suffered a shoulder injury that held him out of the final four games. The Bears also appear to have found a stud at center in undrafted free agent Sam Mustipher, who took full advantage of his opportunity amid a COVID-19 scare on the offensive line.

4 OLB Khalil Mack

AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack

Following a bit of a down year, outside linebacker Khalil Mack rebounded with an impressive season. Mack, who led the Bears with nine sacks, was Pro Football Focus’ highest-graded edge rusher in 2020, which goes to show you that Mack’s impact extends beyond the box score.

Mack was voted to the Pro Bowl, named second-team All-Pro and named to the  Pro Football Writers of America All-NFL team. The Bears pass rush certainly had its struggles, especially with Robert Quinn, but Mack remains a consistent force on Chicago’s defense.

5 New defensive coordinator Sean Desai

AP Photo

Following Chuck Pagano’s retirement, the Bears found their new defensive coordinator in Sean Desai, who was promoted from safeties coach to the position. Desai has been with the Bears since 2013, and he was instrumental in the development of this Chicago defense that thrived under former defensive coordinator Vic Fangio.

Desai has been hailed as a Fangio’s right-hand man having helped build that defense with Fangio. With the Bears choosing to promote from within, they’re able to retain consistency on the defensive coaching staff and give a rising star an opportunity. More than that, perhaps they’ll be able to get back to the dominant unit they were back in 2018.

6 Bears found their kicker in Cairo Santos

AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh

Remember when the Bears’ biggest issue was kicker? Too bad they didn’t have Cairo Santos back in 2018. The Bears kind of backed into finding Santos this season after Eddy Pineiro suffered a groin injury that held him out for the first few weeks. Santos was their back-up plan, but he soon became the plan. By the time Pineiro got healthy, it was too late.

Santos was one of the best kickers in the NFC, where he connected on 30-of-32 field goals (93.75%) and broke Chicago’s franchise record for consecutive made field goals with 27, eclipsing Robbie Gould’s record of 26 and exorcising the team’s kicker demons. Santos is set to hit the open market this offseason, and the Bears should do whatever it takes to keep him on the roster and focus on other roster needs.

7 Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy on the hot seat

AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh

Following a six-game losing streak that disrupted a 5-1 start, many assumed that Pace and Nagy would be out of a job at season’s end. Instead, Bears brass reaffirmed their belief in both of them heading into the 2021 season. Almost celebrating that six-game losing and how the team responded with a 3-1 finish and late postseason appearance.

The good news is that this 2021 season appears to be a make-or-break year for Pace and Nagy. While Bears brass appears to be content in mediocrity for right now, that won’t always be the case. If the Bears have another 8-8 season and don’t figure out the quarterback situation, it’s likely that Pace and Nagy will be shown the door.

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