5 Veterans To Be Excited About in 2021

Image by Zachary Rosenbaum – https://www.instagram.com/zacharyrosenbaumdesign/

Summer’s here. The sun is out. Crowds are flocking to Wrigley Field once again and $30,000 beer snakes are dominating the news. Life is starting to feel normal again and for Bears fans, that can only mean one thing; Training Camp (Tuesday July 27) and the road to Week 1.

As a Bears fan there’s so much to be pumped about for the upcoming season. Those wheels were set in motion of course on April 29 when the Bears pulled off that incredible trade with the Giants to move up nine spots to select franchise quarterback Justin Fields. A move that will be spoken about by generations to come. The selections of Teven Jenkins, Larry Borom, Khalil Herbert, Dazz Newsome and Khyiris Tonga, all making up the delicious icing on top of that sweet, sweet cake.

Fans are finally united and there is a genuine buzz happening in Chicago. We can all feel it. The direct result of the off-field moves made by Ryan Pace, Matt Nagy & Co. that have complimented the roster so nicely and will take the organization closer to that elusive dream of winning its second Super Bowl.

Now I’m proud enough to admit that following the Draft, I was more than happy to eat myself a big ‘ole serving of humble pie – and then go back for a second helping.

As we follow the progress of the draft class at Training Camp, and the on-going debate of who QB1 will be, there are five veterans that I am super excited about and ones that I can’t wait to see in 2021. Let’s take a look.

#1

Roquan Smith

Linebacker

Age: 24

Coming off a break-out year at Chicago in 2020 with a career-high 139 tackles (including 5 sacks), Roquan is showing that he is as much an important piece of the Bears defensive puzzle as Khalil Mack and Akiem Hicks.

With much of the attention, and the usual double, and even triple-teaming of Mack, expect to see Roquan go a little under the radar again in 2021 as he did last year.

Pro Football Focus has Roquan ranked as the 8th best linebacker in the league heading into the 2021 season.

In 2020, Roquan ranked #7 for combined tackles (139) and #2 in the league for solo tackles (96) for 4 sacks and 2 picks.

Roquan was also the only Bears defensive starter to take the field at voluntary OTA’S. Yes, OTA’s are voluntary and whether a player decides to show up or not, it is a discussion that continues to divide the media and fans.

Irrespective of where you sit on the debate, as a Bears fan you can’t help but catch some major feels when you hear Matt Nagy’s glowing endorsement of Roquan’s attitude and commitment during the pre-season:

“The way that he has grown into the player and person, to me it’s just, it’s super special.”

“They don’t make many players like Roquan Smith, I’ll just tell you that right now. They just don’t. And we are so lucky to have him as one of the main leaders of this defense.”

“And for him to come in here and just, every day, do his thing and just run around, fly around, help teach these younger guys that’s really neat. And so we appreciate that. He knows that.”

With the level of commitment and leadership shown by Roquan at OTA’s and the disappointment of being robbed of Pro-Bowl honors in 2020, I am predicting an even bigger year for the hungry Roquan this year and one where he will earn Pro-Bowl selection, and finally get the respect that he deserves around the league.

#2

David Montgomery

Running Back

Age: 24

David Montgomery is another elite talent that has made a strong impression during training camp. There’s been a lot to love with Montgomery’s renewed focus and apparent chip on his shoulder heading into the 2021 season.

Montgomery’s media conference last Wednesday certainly raised more than a few eyebrows:

“It wasn’t enough for me last year, just knowing the untapped potential that I had within myself. As far as my leadership was concerned, I didn’t do as well as I could have done.”

Montgomery enjoyed another productive year in 2020 in which he ranked equal 5th for most rushing yards in the NFL, and bettered his rookie year in almost every key metric including; rushing yards (+5), first-down yards (+9) and rushing yards per game (15.7).

Montgomery also improved in the areas of receiving yards (+253) and total touchdowns (+3), achieving these despite playing one less game than he did in 2019. 

Not only do I expect Montgomery’s performance to continue in an upward trajectory, but he has clearly made a point of putting his name up in lights as a leader of this team.

This was Montgomery’s response when asked in what ways he wanted to become a better leader:

“Just be more vocal. Be able to stand behind what I say and allow my words to carry a lot of strength when I speak. You can’t be a half-assed leader, you have to be a full-on leader. You have to let the guys know you’re here for the greater good of the team at all times.”

Monty scrambles and fights for every inch. Expect him to not only do that again in 2021….but to also go that extra mile (and more) as a leader in the Bears camp. A huge season awaits him.

#3

Tarik Cohen

Running Back

Age: 25

It has been a rough 12 months for fan favorite and 2018 Pro-Bowler and First Team All-Pro punt returner Tarik Cohen. In Week 3 last year, Cohen blew out his ACL in the Bears win against the Falcons.

Ironically, and just one week earlier, Cohen had signed a three year extension that would tie him to Chicago until 2023.

The question is whether “The Human Joystick” can trust the knee and recapture his 2017 – 2019 form when he ran for 370, 440 and 213 yards in 2017, 2018 and 2019 respectively, amassing a total of 9 touchdowns (including 2 passing touchdowns). The shared load between him and Montgomery may also be a determining factor for Tarik’s success upon his return.

Despite concerns with the knee, Tarik’s recovery appears to be on schedule and his long journey back to the team now is almost complete. It will be a warm welcome for Tarik’s return to mini-camp and I think I speak for everyone when I say how great it will be to see him back out on the field again.

We wish Tarik every success in 2021 not just in his return, but also to him and his extended family with the tragic passing of his brother Tyrell Cohen during the off-season.

The Bears family are all behind you Tarik and we wish you well this year.

#4

Darnell Mooney

Wide Receiver

Age: 25

One of the surprise packets of 2020, it is fair to say that Darnell Mooney exceeded all expectations. Selected in the 5th round at pick 173, Mooney pulled in a whopping 61 receptions setting a rookie record on the way to 631 yards and helping himself to four touchdowns.

With Allen Robinson’s long-term future as a Bear still undecided and the recent shoulder injury to rookie Dazz Newsome, expect to see an increase in game time and a reliance on Mooney in 2021 and beyond.

Coach Nagy last week:

“He’s a threat in this offense, and what he’s doing out here right now in OTAs, he’s literally gotten even better. He has that inner drive. It’s that DNA thing that not everybody has. But he has it and we’re lucky.”

A more functional offense and dare I say it, the introduction of a more agile and dynamic quarterback with the ability to throw fire on the deep pass (wink wink, nudge nudge), the sky could be the limit for Mooney.

Watch out Jalen Ramsey, Week 1 embarrassment awaits you.

NB: For a comprehensive break-down of why Darnell Mooney could explode with Justin Fields under center, do yourself a favor and check out Bear Down Report’s Nick Henderson’s film room review.

#5

Cole Kmet

Tight End

Age: 22

Perhaps as a result of training limitations due to COVID-19 last year, Cole Kmet was a little slow to get going in his rookie year. 

Following the bye however, was when we really got to see what Kmet is made of. In his final six games, Kmet had 22 receptions for 157 yards and one touchdown.

In the Bears Week 17 loss to the Green Bay Packers, Kmet notched a season-high seven receptions for 41 yards, equal to his second best effort for the season.

These performances down the stretch I believe, had more to do with the apparent belief and trust by Nagy in Kmet and the subsequent increase in playing time that he received as the season rolled on.

Stats provided by Sports Injury Predictor show that Kmet’s playing time increased to 78% or more for each game following the bye and then up to 84% or more in each of his final 5 games. These increases were up from playing times that started at around 40%, and rose up to 70% just before the bye.

Reports out of Bears training camp suggest that Kmet is burning up the track and is benefiting from normalized practice and sessions that don’t involve Zoom.

Coach Nagy expects big things from Kmet. Speaking this week Nagy commented:

“I envision a lot for him, we weren’t sure going into (2020) with new tight ends, Cole and Jimmy, how that thing was going to play out.”

“Cole did such a great job of digesting the offense, his role will continue to expand.”

Andy Dalton’s direction and leadership appears to be rubbing off on Kmet.

Cole Kmet:

“The more reps I can get with Andy on the field and these quarterbacks, it’s only going to benefit me when the regular season comes around.”

If Kmet can use the back half of last season as a spring-board for 2021, coupled with a continued increase in playing time, and his being utilized as a target in the red zone, I envisage an exciting season ahead for Bears fans and one that we will be looking back on as Kmet’s break-out year.

Should Roquan, Montgomery, Tarik, Mooney and Kmet all have seasons that live up to expectation (and some cases exceed that expectation once again), the Bears should again make the playoffs.

And with the on-going saga over at Green Bay, there’s no reason why the Bears can’t win the North if Rodgers decides to take his ball and go home.

What happens from there?

Well, anything is possible.

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